Tag: "minnesota"

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."

Posted March 17, 2010 by christopher

The Star Tribune ran my opinion piece on Monday, March 15

The vast majority of Minnesotans, like the rest of the country, are served by only two broadband suppliers: the cable or telephone company. These companies generally want to maintain their monopolies because they can postpone upgrades while keeping prices and profits high. Just about everyone else just wants a better choice among providers.

The result of this structure is that we pay much higher prices for slower internet connections than our peers in Europe and Asia.

Here in Minnesota, Monticello has broken the mold. It has transitioned from relying on an overpriced and slow DSL network to now offering the best broadband in the entire state. Monticello residents can choose between a symmetrical 20 Mbps connection (extremely fast) from the City for $35/month or the incumbent telephone company’s new 50 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream option for $50/month. They have better packages than Comcast’s best residential offers in the Twin Cities – and available at half the price!

Entering the local telecommunications market is quite difficult. Building a network costs hundreds of millions for large cities and tens of millions for communities from 10,000 to 50,000. Once the network is built, the costs of adding new customers actually decreases as the number of subscribers increases. This cost structure gives incumbents tremendous advantages because they can drop their prices precipitously if a new entity – public or private – tries to build a competing network. To date, incumbents have largely succeeded in fending off competition.

Given the sorry state of broadband in many communities, especially rural ones, it should be no surprise that many cities and counties have started to build their own networks. And happily, they’ve done so with great success. Creating competition forces incumbents to invest and cut prices, generating significant community savings as well as other advantages from a network that operates in the public interest.

Unfortunately, there are additional barriers for communities attempting to build their own state-of-the-art broadband networks. As a result of lobbying by incumbents, some eighteen states have created obstacles to publicly owned networks.

The need for any state barrier to community networks is dubious. Most states see no need for...

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Posted March 4, 2010 by christopher

Minnesota is one of the eighteen states that have enacted specific barriers to prevent the public sector from building networks (protecting incumbents from any competition). It presently has the uniquely high - 65% - referendum requirement on communities that want to build a network that will offer telephone services (which thereby includes all fiber-to-the-home triple play networks).

However, up in Cook County, they could not meet that threshold. They had a referendum in which 56% voted yes - a majority but not satisfactorily large for a 1915 MN law. State Representative Dill and Senator Bakk realized this was crazy - state law set too high a bar for the County they represented. Cook would be unable to build the network they need - remember that the whole County was isolated following a single fiber cut because Qwest does not invest in communities where profits are scant (let's not blame Qwest though - private companies are not supposed to be charities and they should not be expected to build the essential infrastructure communities need).

Rep Dill and Sen Bakk introduced a bill to reduce the 65% to 50% referendum but the private providers must have thrown some sort of tantrum. Before the bill could even be heard, incumbent providers had reached some sort of a deal with Rep Dill and Sen Bakk, agreeing that they would not oppose the bill if it only applied to Cook County. Cook would be able to build its network, but all other local governments, many very rural and in similar but not equal severity, would be stuck with the 65% referendum requirement if they wanted to build a similar network. In the House, this "compromise" has flown through multiple committees with little debate.

In the Senate, some fought back, wondering if perhaps massive incumbent providers shouldn't be the ones to determine if communities can build modern networks -- especially when the providers won't. So the bill was introduced in the Senate. It was quickly amended to the incumbent demanded-text, but was then amended back again to a 50% majority for all MN (better than the 65% in current law). This was all in the Senate Committee dealing with Telecom. Confused yet?

It was next forwarded to the Committee dealing with Local Government, where the...

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Posted February 18, 2010 by christopher

Finally, a broadband stimulus project that we can get excited about. RUS has announced a grant to expand the publicly owned WindomNet in southwestern Minnesota. Windom was originally built to bring broadband to a small community that Qwest didn't think ready for DSL. They built their own fiber-to-the-home network.

In rural Minnesota, the Southwest Minnesota Broadband Group (SWMBG) has been selected to receive an almost $6.4 million loan and a $6.4 million grant to extend fiber to the Jackson, Lakefield, Windom, Round Lake, Bingham Lake, Brewster, Wilder, Heron Lake, and Okabena communities. This funding, along with an $88,000 private investment, will provide high-speed Internet, voice, and cable television to the participating communities. This will improve the quality of life by increasing the availability of health, education, and public safety services across the region.

Now that network will expand to nearby communities, a move that will strengthen it financially as it can spread the fixed costs of such a network across a wider population base. And these communities will have actually have a choice in providers soon -- rather than relying on absentee incumbents that care only about increasing their profits.

They will be beginning expansion work quite quickly according to this brief article.

Posted February 10, 2010 by christopher

I've often wondered what it would look like if a reporter wrote about a Wi-Fi network without any ideological baggage to slam it. Now you can see - Mollee Francisco wrote a lengthy and fair article for a local paper in Chaska, a suburb of Minneapolis. Like so many publicly owned citywide Wi-Fi networks, Chaska.Net accomplished many goals but was a disappointment for others. In particular, it was more expensive and the technology was more difficult than expected, but it introduced faster broadband than was available at the time. It continues to service 2100 customers, one of which is a household with close friends of mine. They love having the option of taking service from the City - they've been happy with the customer support and lower prices. That the speeds are slower than what cable networks offer doesn't bother them, they prefer to save the money. The article also discusses the wireless network in Buffalo, Minnesota, a city further away from the metro than Chaska that sees a brighter future for its public wireless network.

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