Tag: "minnesota"

Posted July 29, 2009 by christopher

Many people in rural areas get their phone services from a cooperative telephone company. When it comes to fiber in rural areas, some of these cooperatives are on the cutting edge. The July Issue of FTTH Prism [pdf] from Chaffee Fiber Optics has a feature on Paul Bunyan Telephone in Minnesota. They are an aggressive broadband network deployer in rural areas, often saving residents from Qwest or another company unable (sometimes just unwilling) to build these necessary networks.

Cooperative telephone companies fall into our understanding of publicly owned because they focus on their communities first and do not seek to maximize profits at the expense of social benefits.

Paul Bunyan Telephone is nearly 60 years old and now covers over 4,500 square miles. They have used RUS loans to finance significant portions of the network.

Currently, over 4,000 locations are served with our fiber-to-the-home network, which represents about 30 percent of our entire network. For these customers, thanks to the benefits of fiber optics, we can deliver high-speed Internet services up to 40 Mb (both upload and download) and a host of advanced television services including multiple streams of high-definition television, digital video recording, and on-demand services.

For those who claim that people in rural areas just don't understand broadband or don't want it, this company has an answer:

One specific example the fiber optic network capacity can have on a business is Northwood DNA, Inc. This is a business operating in a very rural area, Becida, MN, that provides DNA sequencing and genotyping services globally. The services they provide require receiving and sending large data files electronically. Prior to the deployment of the fiber optic network, their business was only able to report two to three test results per day. Today, with the benefits of the all fiber optic network, they report over 50 test results per day.

The full story starts on page 9 of the 2009 July FTTH Prism.

Posted July 23, 2009 by christopher

In a recent article, the Star Tribune asks if Minnesota cities are shut out by broadband rules. Of course, this applies to all cities, not just those located in Minnesota.

I'll soon put up an overdue piece with our reaction to the broadband stimulus rules - in particular, the decision of NTIA to ignore the public-interest requirement for private companies. In the meantime, this article has gotten some attention - thanks to Eldo Telecom for touching on it.

Many Minnesota cities are giving up hope due to rules that privilege private companies who already have the necessary data and the means to jump through the red-tape hoops required by NTIA.

The problem, as city and county broadband planners see it, has less to do with technology than with the sheer legwork required to create an acceptable proposal.

Applicants must prove that all the areas they propose to serve would meet a narrow federal definition of being underserved -- that 50 percent or more households in the area lack broadband access, or that fewer than 40 percent of the households already subscribe to broadband. That puts the burden on cities and counties to undertake expensive and time-consuming door-to-door surveys, because telephone and cable companies don't reveal which areas they serve.

In the meantime, private companies like Qwest are not even sure they will participate as they do not like the requirements that grantees operate the network without discriminating against some kinds of content (meaning they want to charge more to visit some sites than others). Though Qwest has not been as bullish on this money-making idea as AT&T, one assumes it is not too far off.

Telephony's Ed Gubbins also comments on the many municipalities that have little hope of grants under NTIA's rules:

One group of broadband stimulus hopefuls that has been in large part swept out of the running by the specifics of the plan is individual municipalities of any size. Though the stimulus plan stoked broad interest from municipalities earlier this year, many of them have been frustrated by the program’s preference for “underserved...

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Posted July 14, 2009 by christopher

Ann Treacy of Blandin on Broadband has covered the latest meeting of the Minnesota "Ultra High-Speed" Broadband Task Force. (Quotation marks used because the task force has dwelled on FCC-style 1990's broadband rather than the broadband experienced in our international peers.) The issues raised in this session are applicable to most of America.

Brian Redshaw, the city Administrator of Hibbing, describes some of the concerns of those living on Minnesota's Iron Range (located in Northern Minnesota) and how they attempted to solve their own problems. Unfortunately, the incumbent providers - Qwest and Mediacom - hypocritically sabotaged community efforts despite the fact that they have no plans to bring modern networks to the Range.

Ross Williams, a local businessman makes a great point: our lives are rich because of the investments made by the generation before us. As we make decisions about networks today, are we building infrastructure for future generations? I would respond that if we are subsidizing slow DSL, then we certainly are not.

Posted July 7, 2009 by christopher

Windom, a small community of only 5,000 people in southwestern Minnesota, upgraded its city-owned cable network to a fiber-to-the-home system. They issued $9.4 million in revenue bonds (of which $800,000 were just for the first two years of interest, when no revenue is generated from the system being built) to pass 2,000 homes and 300 businesses.

But, as with so many other aspects of life, the story was more interesting than that.

Before Windom could formally dedicate resources to address its communications challenge, however, the city was required by state law to obtain a two-thirds majority vote of approval from its citizens. Largely due to the incumbent [Qwest] telecommunications operator's announcement that it would upgrade its infrastructure and roll out digital subscriber line (DSL) services in Windom's area, the initial vote in 1999 on a new city-owned network failed. But after the incumbent cancelled its plans for DSL [while building DSL in other nearby communities], a citizens group petitioned Windom's city council to put the telecommunications project back on the ballot. In spring 2000, Windom received approval by the voters to begin work on a next-generation broadband communications infrastructure project.

This is a two-page article covering some of the history of WindomNet.

Posted June 30, 2009 by christopher

This is a letter to the editor from Monticello's Mayor in regard to the lawsuit TDS filed against the city to prevent the city from building its own fiber network.

As your Mayor for the City of Monticello, I feel it is time to lay out the truth regarding the city's decision to install fiber and TDS's lawsuit that attempts to stop us. The city council, staff and myself have been handcuffed in our ability to offer information to the public for fear that TDS would twist the information and add new allegations to their suit, thus extending the litigation.

We (the city) talked with TDS on several occasions to explore options to give the citizens and businesses of Monticello cutting edge technology. We felt that fiber optic technology would attract another level of business and industry that would offer our residents well-paying, local jobs. It has been and continues to be the city council's goal to create a city where you can work, live and raise a family. It was also very important to make sure EVERY resident was given the opportunity to experience this technology. Councilman Wayne Mayer and I met with TDS at their office. We expressed our concern that every resident and business should be able to access the fiber optic system. We were told that they "could not justify the expense" to their shareholders and they "already had good copper in the ground." Their plan was to continue to offer fiber to new developments, but not address existing homes.

It was clear to Wayne and I that if the citizens of Monticello were to experience this type of technology it would be in their own hands. Therefore, the council decided to put it up to you, the citizens of Monticello. You made your voice heard loud and clear by passing a referendum by 74%. That was after being bombarded with telephone calls and mailings from TDS that were very misleading. Claims were made that this system would cost the citizens of Monticello 25 million dollars, but TDS knows how revenue bonds work. I know that, because I sat in a courtroom and listened to their high priced Chicago attorney explain why we shouldn't be able to use this type of bond to fund the system. They know that these dollars are raised through investors and it is these investors who would be on the hook if this system failed. TDS tries to claim that they are suing us to protect the citizens of Monticello, but the truth is that they want to continue their monopoly for land line telephone in...

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Posted June 30, 2009 by christopher

Following the TDS-initiated lawsuit against the city of Monticello, Minnesota, I wrote the this op-ed to offer some outside perspective. This is a snippet:

At a time when most of the United States has slower, more expensive Internet connections than our overseas competitors, communities across the country have responded with initiatives to build the infrastructure of the 21st century. And then they have been sued. Monticello is hardly the first community where an incumbent provider believes it alone should decide how that community connects to the world. Lafayette, a conservative city in Louisiana, spent several years in the courts before it could break ground on a publicly owned citywide network. Cajun culture did not allow for giving up on the project. Nice Minnesotans should do no less. Monticello, too, must hold true to its citizens, who in last year’s referendum voted by almost 3 to 1 for a modern telecommunications network. That referendum wasn’t a request that the city do something; it was a mandate from the people to their government to build a fiber network to every home and business in the town.

Posted June 16, 2009 by christopher

In a quick followup, the Minnesota Supreme Court has affirmed the obvious by refusing to review the Appeals Court decision in the TDS (acting as "Bridgewater") v. Monticello case. This means the Appeals Court decision stands; Minnesota cities have the authority to bond for broadband networks. Read our previous coverage of this case here.

When TDS originally sued Monticello, the City had to place the investor money (raised via non-recourse revenue bonds) into escrow for the duration of the case. If the case were not resolved by June 19, 2009, Monticello would have had to return the funds to the investors, leaving it unable to finance the project. Bonding again would have almost definitely resulted in less favorable terms than those achieved before the economic meltdown.

Following the Appeals Court decision, on June 2, 2009, TDS could have had up to 30 days to request review from the Supreme Court. John Baker, an attorney from Greene Espel who represented the City throughout the process, asked the Supreme Court to expedite the review in order to prevent TDS from merely using its thirty days to run out the clock (thus winning the war while having lost every single battle).

Today, the Supreme Court sided with the Appeals Court and an obvious reading of Minnesota law: Minnesota cities are well within their authority to bond for and build broadband networks.

Monticello will immediately start work on the city's publicly owned fiber-to-the-home network. TDS has argued that such a network would now be redundant as they built a fiber network while abusing the courts to stall for time. However, it remains to be seen if TDS is truly connecting all homes with fiber, or is still using copper for that final connection (much like AT&T does in its U-Verse). The top TDS advertised speeds are 25 down and 10 up, which can be achieved with VDSL.

If TDS has truly built a fiber-to-the-home network, Monticello will be the first place in the U.S. with competing full fiber networks. However, I'm not sure that TDS will be able to compete with FiberNet Monticello on some fronts as TDS offers it television via a partnership with a satellite company. Monticello will undoubtedly have more local content and probably better customer service.

Lest you think the court battle is over, Monticello is entitled to recover some of its costs due...

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Posted June 2, 2009 by christopher

This is the report developed by a Broadband Advisory Committee established in 2006 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It recommended a phased approach to building a network that could ultimately offer a full FTTH open-access network to everyone in Saint Paul.

The BAC recommends an incremental, phased-approach to creating a publicly controlled network that uses both short- and long-term solutions. This approach would allow City and community leaders to evaluate and make decisions at key points throughout the process.

The network would begin by creating a partnership with key Saint Paul public institutions to address their own broadband infrastructure needs. This partnership would participate in the development of a collaborative and cooperatively managed fiber network that would serve the immediate- and the long-term telecommunications needs of the partners. The cooperative venture would be leaveraged through the efficient maximization of the partners' pooled resources. The network has been coined the Community Fiber Network (CFN). Possible initial partners include: City of Saint Paul, Ramsey County, Saint Paul Public Schools, and State of Minnesota.

The BAC envisions that the CFN would have the ability to grow organically, developing in stages as new partners are added, with the possible long term goal of the CFN providing the momentum to build a city-wide fiber system to serve the entire Saint Paul community.

Posted June 2, 2009 by christopher

Monticello, a small town in Minnesota just outside the metro area, once again prevailed in court against frivolous charges from TDS Telecom, the incumbent telephone provider (doing business as Bridgewater in the court case).

Monticello, after learning that neither TDS nor Charter were interested in building a modern broadband network in the community, spent years studying the issue and eventually opted to build their own network. After the city secured revenue bonds to pay for the project in spring 2008, TDS began a campaign to delay the network -- a tactic commonly used against community broadband networks across the country.

They filed a lawsuit they could not win, but it prevented Monticello from starting the network. While they waited on the court date, Monticello lost the construction season and investor money sat in escrow. Despite winning court victory after court victory, the citizens of Monticello are unable to build the network they voted for with a stunning 74% yes on the referendum.

When the lawsuit was dismissed from district court, TDS waited as long as possible before appealing the decision in fall 2008. Due to the overburdened and under-staffed courts, the Court of Appeals took another half year to rule. Today, the Court handed down the judgment, finding in favor of Monticello:

Therefore, based on a plain and obvious interpretation of the term "public convenience" and the general intent of the legislature to promote telecommunications, the district court did not err in dismissing the action for failure to state a claim.

Regardless, even if this court were to accept Bridgewater‘s reading of the statute, the Fiber Project arguably qualifies as a utility or utility-like project. A Minnesota statute generally restricting the ability of Minnesota municipalities to issue bonds for projects outside of their jurisdiction provides an exception for bonds issued to finance property for "municipal public utilities." Minn. Stat. § 471.656 (2008). That same statute defines "municipal public utilities" as "the provision by a municipality of electricity, natural gas, water, wastewater removal and treatment, telecommunications, district heating, or cable television and related services."

The main question that remains is this: will TDS find it more profitable to appeal again and delay the inevitable competition? Our courts are overburdened enough, wasting the Court's time...

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Posted April 30, 2009 by christopher

Competitive broadband service and pricing is within reach of most Minnesotans if anti-competitive polices and practices are removed and municipal governments build broadband infrastructure, according to a new report released today by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). The findings are contained in "Who Will Own Minnesota's Information Highways?", a report issued by the New Rules Project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

"Minneapolis and Saint Paul have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop an affordable, high quality broadband infrastructure that would benefit city offices, consumers and businesses," said co-author Becca Vargo Daggett, a former information systems administrator for a private company.

"But to make that a reality, Minneapolis city leaders must revisit their decision to depend on a private company for future information needs," Daggett warned. "Given that Minneapolis has spent the last 10 years trying to get its cable company to live up to the provisions of its original franchise contract, it is remarkable that it wants to travel that same privately owned information highway in the future."

When cities offer broadband services, the competition with private companies drives prices down and improves service. The experiences with community-owned systems in Buffalo, Chaska, and Windom, Minnesota support that conclusion. The city need not act as a service provider, however. Publicly owned networks in Philadelphia and Western Utah will sell network access to private service providers, who will in turn sell services to consumers.

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