Tag: "minnesota"

Posted September 30, 2011 by christopher

As AT&T tries to buy out its competition via the T-Mobile merger, it has sent out its allies and minions to push the company line in communities around the country. Here are two events in Minnesota and Wisconsin you should be aware of.

On Monday, October 3rd, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota is going to host a debate between Amalia Deloney (MAG-Net Coordinator and friend of MuniNetworks.org) and Former Congressman Rick Boucher on the subject of AT&T's attempt to buy T-Mobile (which just happens to be the low cost provider in the wireless space).

A few short years ago, one would have expected Rick Boucher to champion opposition to this anti-competitive merger, but alas, the good citizens of his district rewarded his many years of hard work in Congress by voting for his opponent in the last election. As one often expects to see in DC, Rick took a new job and now works for a law firm with AT&T as a client.

Suddenly Rick Boucher is the Honorary Chairman of the "Internet Innovation Alliance," a group that has a name that sounds like he should head it. But the IIA is little more than a puppet for AT&T and like interests. They use it as part of their astroturf campaigns to further AT&T's agenda -- ensuring that most Americans are stuck using a network designed for AT&T's interests rather than the public interest.

We wish Amalia the best in the debate. This is a far better program than the last time AT&T came to the U's Public Policy school, which featured a blatantly one-sided program attacking inter-carrier compensation rules that have been essential for supporting rural network investment.

If you want to attend, you should RSVP to the Center for Science and Technology Public Policy. It will be at 2:00 in the Wilkins Room. Unfortunately, I have a prior appointment and cannot attend.

But the fun doesn't stop in Minnesota - it continues to Wisconsin on Oct 12 when The Internet Innovation Alliance...

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Posted September 15, 2011 by christopher

When last we looked in on the Lake County FTTH project connecting rural areas north of Lake Superior, the County had just ditched its original management team and Mediacom started trying to derail the project.

The County went on to hire "Lake Communications," a two man firm created for this project, while Mediacom presumably returned to quietly scheming against the introduction of any competition on their turf. Lake Communications has received authority by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to provide broadband in their target territory.

Kevin O’Grady, a staffer for the Public Utilities Commission, called Thursday’s 5-0 vote “uneventful.” He said that aside from a protest from the Minnesota Cable Communications Association that was withdrawn just before the vote, the application was “nothing out of the ordinary.”

The cable association, which faces competition from the fiber project, had complained that the county, without a public vote, couldn’t be the legal authority to provide telecommunications services under Minnesota law. The commission, responding to the complaint, said the authority would be granted to Lake Communications, which it deemed had a proper relationship with the county in providing the service.

The county plans to build the network and lease the lines to Lake Communications for revenue. In its original response to the cable association’s complaint, the state commission said Lake Communications’ application “complies with the requirements typically applied by the commission to applications” across the state. It also stated that Lake Communications’ financial statements were “sufficient and consistent with the financial information filed by other applicants for authority.”

Remember that Minnesota law requires a supermajority vote of 65% before cities and counties provide telephone service. In this case, Lake Communications will be offering the services on infrastructure owned by the County. If there is any sliver of a doubt about the legality of this arrangement, we can expect Mediacom or the Minnesota Cable Communications Association to file suit.

But...

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Posted September 6, 2011 by christopher

Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes, may soon also be the land of Countywide rural FTTH. Yet another County is doing a feasibility study to figure out how it can bring fast, affordable, and reliable broadband access to all of its citizens.

Redwood County’s Economic Development Authority (EDA) opted to move forward with a broadband feasibility study that would determine just what the county would need to do in order to get fiber to every premises.

The study, which is being conducted by the Blandin Foundation through what is known as the Robust Broad-band Networks Feasibility Grant Program.

The grant, which includes up to $40,000 for the county as it addresses the needs of every community and farm site from one end of the county to the other, requires matching funds, which are available through the county EDA.

Redwood County

Redwood County is in an interesting area, just north of the Windom area muni FTTH networks and west of the proposed project in Sibley and Renville counties. This study comes not long after Todd County started a feasibility study as well (the the latest on that). And though we haven't discussed it much on MuniNetworks.org, Lac qui Parle County to the northwest is working with a rural telephone cooperative to bring FTTH to many in their border as well.

And then beyond them, we have Cook County going FTTH with their electric coop and Lake County going its own way, both with the assistance of the broadband stimulus awards.

Minnesota could very well become the state with the most impressive rural connections. Unfortunately, thus far we have seen no assistance from the state in this matter, but perhaps the Dayton Administration will chart a new course. He has decided to appoint a new...

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Posted August 12, 2011 by christopher

The TonkaConnect project of the Lake Minnetonka Cable Commission, comprising many suburbs west of Minneapolis, is going to pause after some of the city councilmembers of communities within the project were unsupportive.

“I think [the LMCC executive committee] realized that if a municipal fiber network is ever going to be built, the cities need a considerable amount of time spent in educating and understanding the significance of building such a system,” said a memo from Sally Koenecke, LMCC executive director.

The $81 million proposal sought to provide 25,000 households in communities from the 17 member cities with Internet, phone and cable fiber optic services.

I have occasionally offered technical advice to this ambitious project and have watched as Mediacom and other incumbent providers spread rumors and lies to disrupt it. These companies will stop at nothing to preserve the limited competition they rely upon to maintain their market power.

“I’m personally against spending any money on the fiber optic project,” said Orono mayor Lili McMillan. “What I want to do is send a message. I don’t feel government should be in this.”

To be clear, if Lili McMillan doesn't want the government to build a next-generation network, they will have to continue relying on Mediacom cable and slow, unreliable DSL services. Their choice. Their incumbents do not have the capacity or interest to build a next-generation network themselves but they do have the capacity and interest to prevent any other party from doing so.

As Ann Treacy notes at Blandin on Broadband, this is not necessarily the end of the line and may actually serve to increase the desire of people in those communities to take action:

Unfortunately I think that having interest if the price is low enough might not be enough to motivate a community through the perils of community supported fiber. But I always remember the folks in Monticello saying that each set back in winning over the residents just made them stronger in the end. They were talking about the super majority...

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Posted July 29, 2011 by christopher

I was just reminded of an excellent presentation given by Andrea Casselton back on October 17, 2007, after the Saint Paul Broadband Advisory Committee developed this report. Unfortunately, the city of Saint Paul has not followed through on the fine recommendations of the Committee. As in so many other places, the economic downturn has made public investments more difficult. But not impossible.

Good afternoon, I am Andrea Casselton, the Director of the Office of Technology and Communications for the City of Saint Paul. Thank you for holding this important hearing. On behalf of the City of Saint Paul, I would like to present some thoughts on the role of government in broadband policy.

As part of my role for the City I acted as chair for the Saint Paul Broadband Advisory Committee which met from August 2006 to July 2007. The committee was comprised of 20 representatives from the community, government, a labor union, non-profits, education, and business associations. Some of the representatives on the BAC were also experts in the field of broadband and wireless technology.

Several weeks ago the Committee’s recommendations report was published. My comments borrow heavily from that report.

In my opinion, in order to decide whether there is a role for local and state government in the deployment of broadband in the state of Minnesota, we must first decide if we consider broadband to be infrastructure.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines infrastructure as: “The basic facilities, services, and installations needed for the functioning of a community or society, such as transportation and communications systems, water and power lines, and public institutions including schools, post offices, and prisons.”

For cities, towns and counties to successfully compete in the global economy they must be connected to the world. From harbors to railroads, from highways to airports, infrastructure has historically enabled the exchange of commerce, information, and people. Whether it is a rural town or a major metropolitan city, to remain economically competitive in the 21st century, they must be connected to a new infrastructure – affordable, high-capacity broadband telecommunications.

Broadband, viewed ever increasingly as a utility, provides this new connection to employment, educational opportunities, accessible healthcare, public...

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Posted June 28, 2011 by christopher

Todd County, a rural community "where the forest meets the prairie" along I-94 in the geographic center of Minnesota, is the latest of many counties to examine local solutions to their lack of affordable, fast, reliable, and certainly universal access to the Internet. This could be a blueprint for how to initiate a process to improve broadband in a rural community.

Todd County is quite rural, with about 10,000 households and businesses that could be wired for service.

From what I have learned, this initiative originated with a group of beef farmers who are tired of being left behind on the rural world wide wait. They pushed the Todd County Livestock Advisory Committee, which pushed on the County, which approved the following resolution [pdf]:

RESOLUTION OF SUPPORT TO ESTABLISH RECIPROCAL BROADBAND SERVICES COUNTY WIDE, KNOWN HEREAFTER AS TODD COUNTY FIBERBAND

WHEREAS, the world’s cultural and economic environment is becoming increasingly more knowledge-driven and information-based, and Todd County citizens, businesses, and agriculture need access to that information, and;

WHEREAS, research indicates that introduction of broadband in to rural areas increases the rate of job growth and income of rural areas and that the presence of broadband in a community is the greatest indicator of future economic success, and;

WHEREAS, broadband access has evolved from a luxury and entertainment item to an essential infrastructure for business, health care, education and government and the speeds needed to maintain local and global competitiveness are greater than telecommunication companies serving Todd County are willing to provide, and;

WHEREAS, demand exists for broadband access, but without a concerted and unified effort being made to obtain appropriate access for the citizens of Todd County, it is likely that demand will not be met, and;

WHEREAS, this body wants its citizens to maintain the highest quality of life and its businesses to be as competitive and productive as possible, the highest speed, highest capacity broadband, and other telecommunications services are critical for maintaining a healthy and competitive community, and;

WHEREAS, high...

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Posted May 25, 2011 by christopher

The Lake Minnetonka Communications Commission has finished its market study of some 17 communities in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. LMCC has long been examining solutions that will expand fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet.

Dick Woodruff, chairman of the Tonkaconnect working group and a member of the Shorewood City Council, said that overall the results were positive. He said that the majority of the people surveyed indicated that they had no objections to the LMCC getting into a competitive FTTP business and that they would become customers if the Tonkaconnect services were offered at a lower price than providers already in the area.

While the results of the market survey are encouraging to the Tonkaconnect group, there is still more work to be done before they can deem the project feasible. Woodruff said that the next step in the process would be to complete a business plan and financial model for the fiber project.

LMCC will consider what to do next at a meeting in June but has not budgeted funds for the next step in building a universal FTTH network in those communities that choose to take part.

Regarding the survey:

The first question, though, asked if respondents believed that the LMCC and local governments should "provide locally-owned, competitive choice of TV, Internet and telephone services to every home, business, school, governmental buildings, etc. in the LMCC area."

lmcc.png

Strong majorities consistently agreed that LMCC and local governments should get involved but the survey was also very clear that respondents were mostly concerned with price. We see the same results elsewhere, particularly in times of economic stress.

Consider a national cable network, "National Cable." In Anywhere USA, most people subscribe to National Cable at a monthly rate of $140/month for phone, video, and broadband. Anywhere decides to build a community fiber network and charge $105 for similar services but the broadband is considerably faster and more reliable using the next-generation network. National Cable responds by offering a deal for $95/month for what people had been paying $140/month for. After all, National...

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Posted May 6, 2011 by christopher

Thanks to Minnesota Public Radio for an update on stimulus broadband projects in NE MN. A massive non-profit middle-mile project called the NorthEast Service Cooperative will finally provide redundancy and modern connections to an area long neglected by Qwest.

Hundreds of miles of fiber optic cables will bring faster Internet access to the Arrowhead region of Minnesota by the end of this summer. Ground for a broadband network stretching 915 miles was broken yesterday. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and other politicians were on hand to tout the long-term economic significance of this federally funded project.

Soon, entire counties will not have to fear disastrous meltdowns from Qwest's inability to offer reliable services, as when they went 12 hours without any telecommunications, meaning police could not run background checks or run plates, credit cards and ATMs went offline, and border security had to use Canadian comms.

Northland News offered greater coverage as well as a video that would not embed here for reasons unknown.

The 915 miles of fiber optic network will stretch across eight counties in the Arrowhead Region and bring world class web speeds to the area.

State lawmakers were also on hand at the ceremony and say this type of technology is pivotal to economic development.

"I want this to be the next step in people realizing that economic diversification on the Iron Range can be done because we are wired, we're ready to go, and we have a work force that is second to none," said state Sen. David Tomassoni.

We have to wonder how many of these legislators will support removing barriers in Minnesota law to communities building their own networks.

Note that the the NE Service Coop is a middle-mile network and that Frontier will be using it to improve their services.

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Posted March 29, 2011 by christopher

Minnesota Public Radio, as part of its Ground Level Broadband Coverage has profiled WindomNet with a piece called "Who should build the next generation of high-speed networks?"

Dan Olsen, who runs the municipal broadband service in Windom, was just about to leave work for the night when he got a call. The muckety-mucks at Fortune Transportation, a trucking company on the outskirts of town, were considering shuttering their office and leaving the area.

"They said, Dan, you need to get your butt out here now," Olsen recalls. "I got there and they said, 'You need to build fiber out here. What would it take for you to do it?'"

Fortune, which employs 47 people in the town of 4,600, two and a half hours southwest of the Twin Cities, relies on plenty of high-tech gadgetry. Broadband Internet access figures into how the company bids for jobs, communicates with road-bound truckers, controls the temperatures in its refrigerated trucks and remotely views its office in Roswell, New Mexico. Fortune even uses the Internet to monitor where and to what extent drivers fill their gas tanks in order to save money.

Yet, when it was time to upgrade company systems three years ago, Fortune's private provider couldn't offer sufficient speeds.

That's where Windomnet came in. Though Fortune was a mile outside the municipal provider's service area, "We jumped through the hoops and made it happen," recalls Olsen. "The council said, "Do it and we'll figure out how to pay for it.' We got a plow and a local crew. We had it built in 30 days."

I have thought about this story frequently when I hear claims that publicly owned networks are failures. For years, lobbyists for cable and phone companies have told everyone in the state what a failure WindomNet has been - they crow about debt service exceeding revenue while ignoring the fact that all networks -- public and private -- take many years of losses before they break even because nearly all the costs of the network are paid upfront.

Toward the end of the article (which should be read in its entirely rather than in the snippets I repost here), Dan puts the matter in context:

Dan Olsen retorts that Windomnet was never designed to make money; one...

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Posted March 18, 2011 by christopher

The Roanoke Times recently published an extensive story about broadband, covering everything from what it is to why it is needed and who doesn't have it.

Aside from providing an excellent primer on these issues to those who are new to broadband discussions, Jeff Sturgeon writes about problems often ignored by the media, like the difficulties for companies and other entities can encounter when they need extremely high capacity connections:

Skip Garner directs the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, which unites the powers of biology and information technology to advance medicine. It is at Virginia Tech. Garner said he, too, finds computing power a constraint. In spite of a 1 gigabit connection, "we are limited in what we could do," Garner said.

When the lab's DNA sequencers pile up data, "we will often put it on a 1-terabyte drive ... and FedEx it to our customers," Garner said.

An upgrade to 10 gigabits is coming. He expects it still won't be enough.

It might appear that new facilities would not have such problems, but even the 5-month-old Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute near downtown Roanoke is not satisfied with its Web service. While the speed is good at 10 gigabits, the cost it pays to service providers is staggering.

"It's in the tens of thousands of dollars a month," said Executive Director Michael Friedlander.

This is one world. Communities with their own fiber networks are another -- where these connections are not prohibitively expensive. And yet another world is the world of several rural Minnesota Counties, who cannot even get T.1 lines from incumbent phone providers. In Cook County, in 2008, a company was quoted $600,000 to install a T.1 line. Yes, $600,000 - I had to hear it twice to make sure I wasn't imagining it.

The article explores Design Nine founder Andrew Cohill's thoughts on improving broadband access. Cohill mentions Wired West, a network we have written about previously.

"We think it's got to be treated like essential public infrastructure," he said.

That way, access would be open to any service provider on equal footing. Just as anyone could launch a cab company or food delivery service over the road system, anyone...

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