Tag: "minnesota"

Posted September 1, 2010 by christopher

Last night, I drove down to Winthrop (Sibley County) and then Fairfax (Renville County) to get a better sense of their discussions around next-generation broadband networks (originally covered here).

Throughout this week, they are having public meetings to discuss the potential project though the feasibility study is not yet completed. Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting, author of the feasibility study, is in town talking with folks about potential approaches. However, he made it clear that there is no guarantee they will find a business plan that can work to cover all of Sibley County and the area around Fairfax. Stay current on their project from the Sibley & Renville County Fiber site.

Winthrop's City Administrator, Mark Erickson, is committed to serving the farms though. There is little doubt that the project could succeed financially by serving only the towns, which harbor some 80% of the population. But Erickson recognizes that the towns depend on the farmers and that everyone will benefit more from the network if it is universally available.

Many of the people in towns already have access to some basic broadband - either a slow DSL (in some cases so slow even the old super slow FCC broadband definition does not cover it) or a last-generation cable network from Mediacom. The cable television comes out of Dubuque though, so it isn't exactly local.

The project was originally conceived to cover Sibley County. However, a high school in nearby Fairfax has decided to use iPads [pdf] to revamp its curriculum and it would be a travesty to have such great broadband available across the county border when so many students at GFW have iPads but little access to true broadband.

Most of the area schools have continued to do what they can with basic T.1 lines - too little broadband (at too high a cost!) to really use any modern educational applications. And the mandated state-wide testing is a nightmare across these connections. The new network will bring proper broadband connections at affordable rates.

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Posted August 18, 2010 by christopher

Update: You can watch a recording of the event here.

In anticipation of the FCC discussion on Thursday night in Minneapolis (details here), I have a short post up over at Tech.mn.

Although network neutrality can be easily distracted by partisanship, perhaps it is better viewed through the context of scale and long-term impact. Economically, for example, massive media conglomerates like Fox News, ABC and Disney (who can afford to pay ISPs to favor their content channels) could obtain crucial advantages over new and innovative startup ventures that lack both the cash and clout necessary to strike deals with ISPs.

Be sure to attend the FCC Hearing if you are able.

Photo used under Creative Commons license from AdamWillis.

Posted August 11, 2010 by christopher

If you can, come on out to influence public policy. The future of the Internet is indeed at stake - with massive corporations spending millions in a power grab for the future of the Internet. Take a few hours to show up and tell the FCC we want the Internet to be open to everyone. We'll be there to tell the FCC to ensure all communities have the right to build the network they need. Thursday, August 19 from 6-9PM at South High School. South High School 3131 19th Avenue South Minneapolis, MN 55407 More Information here

Posted July 20, 2010 by christopher

Today's Star Tribune editorializes about the importance of broadband and calls on the state to reduce the 65% referendum barrier that prevents a number of communities from building the network infrastructure they need.

The editorial recognizes the successes of Monticello, Minnesota, as well as Bristol Virginia Utilities at spurring broadband growth and lowering prices.

Just as we previously wrote about the unfairness of the 65% referendum requirement, the Strib agreed:

An antiquated state law also stands in the way of communities that want to pursue their own version of FiberNet Monticello. With research increasingly demonstrating that high-speed service boosts rural economic development, communities underserved by current providers should not be held back by the unfair 65 percent threshold for popular support the law requires to go forward. A simple majority would suffice.

Finally, they corrected noted that broadband has been a total sleeper issue. If the next governor pays as little attention to broadband as current Governor Pawlenty, the state will be in dire straits.

Posted June 19, 2010 by christopher

Sibley County plans to pay for half of a feasibility study (matching funds to be provided by Blandin Foundation) to examine FTTH possibility in this piece of rural Minnesota. It would connect cities, schools, and more, with services run by a cooperative.

According to the article,

Many rural communities are realizing the only way to get the Internet service they need is to build the network themselves.

In the spirit of the times, my response is GOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL! People who aren't fans of the World Cup can translate that as, "correct."

The involved towns apparently have some broadband options, including cable Internet (3-6Mbps down and 512/768kbps up). There is some DSL but also some unserved areas. Increasingly, we see communities building next-generation networks out of a recognition that the private companies will not invest enough for these communities to take advantage of modern technologies.

The study should be finished by the end of the year.

Photo by Jackanapes, used under creative commons license.

Posted May 9, 2010 by christopher

On Wednesday, I testified at an informational hearing before the House Telecom Subcommittee of the Minnesota Legislature. Connected Nation was giving an update on their contract to map broadband availability in Minnesota and I wanted to record some dissent regarding their claims and the usefulness of maps in general.

For those who have not used the Connected Nation tool, it is horrible. The interface is as klunky as can be, with significant lag between clicking the screen and anything actually occurring. I am happy to note that they will soon be rolling out a better tool that may be better, though it appears to still need a fair amount of work before it would really be effective.

I noted that I see no reason to trust their maps. As I have previously ranted, Connected Nation is a creature of the telecommunications industry and acts in their interests. They appear to systematically overstate availability (which may simply be a function of the unreliable information the companies provide to them).

I spot checked a few addresses where I know firsthand what is available and found claims of much faster speeds. Connected Nation has always been clear that when anyone finds discrepancies, CN will correct the map. How generous. They get millions to make inaccurate maps and we get to spend hours trying to get their tool to work and then send them corrections. This is not a good process.

Beyond the Connected Nation problem is the fact that legislatures across the country have refused to ask for the data that matters. Without cost information, how are we to make policy or even judge what speeds are "available." If the only option is a 1Mbps/256kbps connection for $80/month, is that really an option for people living in a rural area where incomes tend to be lower? Hardly.

Without cost information, there is little these maps will tell us. Unfortunately, companies like the new CenturyTelQwestLinkNetDoDah don't want to advertise their high rates and slow services, so they claim all that information is proprietary. As if the few competitors they have don't already know what they charge.

My final point was that we should not wait for maps to move forward with good policy. Lafayette did not make a map before building the best broadband network in America. They knew they already had DSL and cable options, but they also knew...

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Posted April 30, 2010 by christopher

Lake Minnetonka Communication Commission -- a group representing a number of suburban communities located west of Minneapolis -- is seeking to build a community-owned FTTH network. LMCC has decided not to seek funds from the broadband stimulus programs and instead seek private funding (likely from a revenue bond offering).

Much like Lafayette in Louisiana, these communities mostly have access to broadband already, but it is slow and overpriced. They are motivated to build a faster network that responds to community needs.

As is common with community networks, they have a significant hurdle in finding the start-up funding needed to pursue full funding for the project. Before they can approach the bond markets, they need to establish a business plan and demonstrate they are capable of building and operating the network. These costs can be substantial, but will be repaid after a successful bond offering.

We've added Tonka Connect to the links in the right sidebar and wish them the best of luck.

Posted April 11, 2010 by christopher

Last week, I spoke with Jeff Pesek and Peter Fleck of Tech.mn about telecom and broadband in Minnesota. They have also created a timeline of important broadband events in recent MN history.

Posted April 1, 2010 by christopher

Mike Schuster absolutely gets it right in his dismissal of public relations stunts to attract Google's Gigabit network:

Bear in mind, these stunts aren't even guaranteed short-term fixes -- they're one-in-a-million half-court shots. How can consumers expect to pay affordable rates for 100 Mbs download speeds when state governments would rather bet on the Google horse and act like fools than risk alienating their corporate ties and provide an open market?

I had also written about the Google networks, fearing that communities would get distracted by this longshot rather than focusing on how they can solve their own problems.

The Minnesota House of Representatives once discussed a "gig bill" -- looking at how to get 1Gbps connections to Minnesota, but corporate lobbyists and timid politicians watered it down and created a Task Force instead that largely came up with ideas that benefit lazy incumbent providers. The entire process showed a total lack of vision on the part of the state.

I would hope that a company as smart as Google will not prioritize BS PR stunts but rather build in places that will actually innovate on the ultra-fast network. But communities emphatically do not need Google to be innovative - witness Lafayette's 100Mbps to all subscribers for in-network traffic.

Moving forward, communities can choose whether they organize to win a Gigabit sweepstakes or figure out how to build their own, with a much higher chance for success.

Posted March 21, 2010 by christopher

In Mankato, the local Fox station covered the stimulus grants that will allow WindomNet to expand and offer services to nearby rural communities. This is an excellent example of how publicly owned broadband networks can partner with others nearby to expand access:

Jackson Mayor Mitch Jasper says, "Windom took the lead and brought a bunch of communities together saying hey, we can put together a program that applies for stimulus as a group rather than individuals and all of us jumped onboard and the end results is a 12 million dollar broadband project."

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