Tag: "minnesota"

Posted August 17, 2018 by lgonzalez

In the most recent report from the Blandin Foundation, Researcher Bill Coleman from Community Technology Advisors and his crew put boots to the ground to examine the results of Connect America Fund (CAF II) investments. Bill recently visited our office in Minneapolis to discuss the report with Christopher for episode 318 of the  podcast.

You can download the report, Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons From Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges here.

Bill and Christopher discuss the challenges Bill and his team encountered when they initially decided to gather documentation on what services CAF II funded projects brought to rural Minnesota. In order to get past those challenges, the researchers devised a methodology that other communities can reproduce.

Once the team had answered the technical questions about infrastructure, they analyzed the results and applied them to Minnesota’s statewide goals for broadband access. They determined that, in addition to lack of transparency regarding CAF II network plans, the tendency to invest in slower speeds, including DSL, will not help Minnesota achieve its goals. 

For people living in urban areas who have grown accustomed to broadband within reach, it’s hard to imagine the situation in rural Minnesota, where there are still homes that have no access to the Internet at all. The disparity in speeds and availability complicate the idea that rural folks should have access to high-quality connectivity at the same levels as people living in urban centers.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all...

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Posted August 8, 2018 by lgonzalez

The Connect America Fund provides annual federal funding to some of the largest telecommunications providers, but it can be hard for local officials to know where these dollars go.

This report digs deep into the federal subsidies for Internet service in Minnesota. Researcher Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors led a Blandin Foundation project that explored how federal Connect America Fund dollars have been used in two Minnesota telephone exchanges. In the end, researchers found that these networks would likely not meet Minnesota’s state connectivity goals.

While digging through a paper trail of right-of-way agreements and local permits, researchers also went out into the field to find the actual infrastructure in the communities. They identified DSLAMs where fiber-optic lines connect to the copper DSL lines that run to people’s homes.

Using the locations of the DSLAMs, researchers mapped where people can likely receive federal government defined broadband of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. The maps also show where people can likely get 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload which is the standard for the Connect America Fund subsidy. 

The 27-page report goes into detail on the connectivity available in the two telephone exchanges. The researchers conclude by explaining:

“In sum, CAF II investments in Minnesota are being spent to build networks that don’t meet today’s federal definition of broadband and won’t meet state goals for the future. Moreover, lack of transparency in proposed CAF II network plans and timelines is making it difficult for impacted communities to plan accordingly to ensure their broadband needs are being adequately met.“ (Page 22)

Download Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons From Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges Left Underserved from the Blandin Foundation.

Posted July 13, 2018 by Hannah Bonestroo

In his recent article written for NBC News, journalist Phil McCausland examines the impacts broadband access can have on rural communities and the challenges that persist in bringing coverage to these isolated areas. Reliable high-speed internet access can spark economic development in some of the United State’s most cash-strapped areas, but a lack of dependable data makes acquiring funding difficult.

McCausland explores how high-speed Internet access is becoming increasingly essential for communities’ economic growth. He spoke with Roberto Gallardo, the assistant director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development, who explained how having broadband access today “is analogous to the installation of a railroad 100 years ago or a highway 50 years ago.”

Bringing Broadband to Rural Areas

McCausland investigates the specific case of Lake County, Minnesota, an area home to 10,000 people that spans 3,000 square miles in the far northeast part of the state. Our 2014 report, All Hands on Deck: Minnesota Local Government Models for Fiber Internet Access, describes how the Minnesota legislature set a goal in 2010 to achieve universal access to high speed broadband throughout the state by 2015, including in Lake County. Many of Minnesota’s local governments stepped up to try to accomplish the goal. Local leaders in Lake County decided that they needed high-speed internet in order to take part in the growing digital economy. McCausland found that after nearly eight years of planning and an investment of over $80 million dollars, the area is seeing the economic benefits of high-speed Internet access. Coverage has boosted tourism and allowed for lifestyles that involve working remotely, as well as becoming essential to the growth of local businesses. 

logo-lake-county-mn.png While conclusive data on the exact economic outcomes are yet to come, McCausland’s interviews in the area reveal that many local residents already feel a direct impact. Local sawmill owner, Greg Hull, has seen an increase in business since receiving broadband coverage. He now has an improved website that “made [his company’s] whole Internet presence a lot more viable, which has in turn opened...

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Posted June 22, 2018 by lgonzalez

Minnesota’s RS Fiber Cooperative has brought gigabit connectivity to households and businesses in small, rural towns in Renville and Sibley Counties. Within the next few years, they plan to transition households beyond towns from their wireless access as they expand their Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) footprint. A recent MinnPost article features how the network has attracted a different kind of venture to one of the small member towns — a 3D printing business.

Gibbon, Minnesota (pop. 750), is known for quiet streets, rather than the shiny futuristic landscapes one associates with high-tech entrepreneurs. The community, however, was exactly what Adam Stegeman was looking for when searching for a place to set up shop. He had been selling 3D printers for years and was ready to strike out on his own. The Stegeman Family wanted a small-town environment and, since much of Adam’s work requires transfer of data intensive 3D design files, a community that also had access to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity was a must. As one of the RS Fiber Co-op member towns, Gibbon met both requirements.

When MinnPost asked Stegeman about the presence of the network in Gibbon and its influence on his decision to settle there: “That was absolutely huge,” Stegeman said.

The Fabric of the Community

As we covered in our report, RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative, more than 20 communities joined together to establish the broadband cooperative. Community leaders faced challenges along the way, but they pursued their vision. Through a strong sense of regional collaboration and a creative approach, the cooperative now offers better connectivity than is available in many urban areas. They’ve completed phase one, which connects each of the towns with FTTH and provides high-speed fixed wireless Internet access to premises in the extremely rural areas, such as the many local farms. Phase two should begin within the next two years.

Since publishing the report, the cooperative has attracted attention...

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Posted June 7, 2018 by lgonzalez

National ISPs with millions of customers are some of the most hated companies in the U.S. Poor customer service, contract tricks, and a refusal to upgrade services are only a few of the common complaints from subscribers who are often trapped due to lack of competition. Frontier Communications is proudly carrying on that tradition of deficiency in Minnesota. In fact, the company’s excellence at skullduggery has drawn the attention of the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which launched an investigation into the service quality of Frontier this spring.

So Much Going On Here

While many of us are used to some level of poor service when it comes to the big ISPs, Frontier in Minnesota accumulated so many complaints, the PUC felt they had no choice but to take action. According to Phil Dampier from Stop the Cap!, the Commission received 439 complaints and negative comments in a five-week period in early 2018. Some but not all, of the types of issues that subscribers described included:

  • Lack of telephone service for up to a week at a time.
  • Poor quality telephone service, including missed calls and noise on phone lines.
  • Subscribers charged for services they’re not receiving.
  • Service visits that accomplish nothing but for which customers are still charged.
  • Missed service appointments and long delays in getting repairs scheduled.
  • Mistaken disconnections, service additions customers did not ask for, and service errors.
  • Contract issues that include penalties for early termination, even if the subscriber told Frontier they did not want a long term contract.
  • Auto-renew contracts that customers were never told about.
  • Threats to customers’ credit if they don’t pay bills, even when there is a dispute regarding the charges.
  • Customer service promises of discounts not being applied, penalties on disputed bill totals, and checks sent to Frontier but not credited to subscribers’ accounts.

The PUC wanted to hold public hearings to seek out other information from subscribers and those who had previous dealings with Frontier. In order to limit the public spectacle, Frontier and CenturyLink filed comments arguing that the PUC had no authority to review Frontier’...

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Posted June 1, 2018 by htrostle

It took an extra year for a community in Minnesota to finally see high-quality Internet service. Balaton spent an extra year in connectivity purgatory while Frontier delayed a much-needed project. To learn more, we connected with the Balaton and Marshall Economic Development Director Tara Onken and Woodstock Communications Vice President and General Manager Terry Nelson.

Balaton: An Underserved Community

Balaton, is a small town of 600 people in Lyon County, located in the southwest area of the state. Balaton’s Internet service is dismal; residents have access to satellite, fixed wireless, or DSL. Satellite is unreliable, and the fixed wireless services’ max speed is 5 - 10 Mbps. DSL service varies based on how far the home is from the central office. In some places in town, DSL should be able to reach broadband speed -- 25 Mbps (download) / 3 Mbps (upload), but in reality, DSL is slow and unreliable because it is based on old copper lines. 

In 2016, the small private company Woodstock Communications decided to improve connectivity in Balaton. Woodstock already had service to a few local businesses and other members of the community were asking for service. When the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Program grant applications opened, the company requested a grant of about $413,000

The goal was to bring Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) service of 1 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps), upload and download, to the underserved residents -- 40 times faster than broadband. FTTH is the fastest, most reliable technology available but also most capital-intensive. It’s available to only about 25 percent of the U.S. population.

Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Program offers matching grants to broadband projects in unserved and underserved areas. The program aims to meet certain speed goals set by state law: By 2022, all...

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Posted April 24, 2018 by lgonzalez

We’re a little off kilter these days when it comes to state legislation. Typically, we spend our efforts helping local communities stave off bills to steal, limit, or hamstring local telecommunications authority. This year it’s different so Christopher and Lisa sat down to have a brief chat about some of the notable state actions that have been taken up at state Capitols.

We decided to cover a few proposals that we feel degrade the progress some states have made, bills that include positive and negative provisions, and legislation that we think will do nothing but good. Our analysis covers the map from the states in New England to states in the Northwest. 

In addition to small changes that we think will have big impact - like the definition of “broadband” - we discuss the way tones are shifting. In a few places, like Colorado, state leaders are fed up with inaction or obstruction from the big ISPs that use the law to solidify their monopoly power rather than bring high-quality connectivity to citizens. Other states, like New Hampshire and Washington, recognize that local communities have the ability to improve their situation and are taking measured steps to reduce barriers to broadband deployment.

While they still maintain significant power in many places, national corporate ISPs may slowly be losing their grip over state legislators. We talk about that, too.

For more on these and other bills, check out our recent stories on state and federal legislation.

This show is 24 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes ...

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Posted April 17, 2018 by lgonzalez

For episode 302 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher carries on his conversation with Gary Evans, retired President and CEO of Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC), an independent ISP in Minnesota. This is the second opportunity for Christopher and Gary to talk about HBC’s historical role in bringing high-quality connectivity to rural areas. Be sure to listen to episode 297, when Gary and Christopher concentrate on the history of the company.

In this conversation, Gary and Christopher focus on the idea of connecting smaller communities in order to bring high-quality connectivity to America beyond its urban centers. As part of the conversation, they discuss how HBC has worked with other systems, including networks in places like Monticello, North St. Paul, and Renville and Sibley Counties in Minnesota, Wisconsin providers, and Burlington, Vermont. There have been some rough patches along with some great successes and Gary addresses both. He talks about connections he’s made, lessons he’s learned, and partnership approaches that work.

Gary also dedicates a few moments to his time and the great work done by the Blandin Foundation, one of Minnesota's most active organizations to bring better Internet access an adoption to Greater Minnesota.

We want to preserve Gary’s experiences and advice, so once again we kept this episode longer than most; it runs about 53 minutes.

You can play the show on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Read the transcript for this show here.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is ...

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Posted April 10, 2018 by lgonzalez

Deploying, maintaining, and operating a wireless network is easy, right? You just put up your equipment, sign up subscribers, and start raking in the dough, right? Not even close, says Travis Carter, one of the co-founders of US Internet and our guest for episode 301 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. He should know -- he's deployed both wireless and fiber networks in Minneapolis.

In this episode, we get an update on US Internet’s progress on its fiber deployment. Travis also compares what it’s like to own, maintain, and operate each type of network. There are pros and cons of each and each is better suited for different environments and situations.

Travis and Christopher also talk about some of the marketing approaches that US Internet use after being in business for several years and determining what works in the Minneapolis market. He describes how a local company can compete against the big national ISPs by giving subscribers a good product, maintaining good customer service, and keeping an eye on long-term goals.

Learn more about US Internet in episode 194 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. 

This show is 34 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript for this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted March 14, 2018 by lgonzalez

Before the days when Comcast, AT&T, and CenturyLink were some of only a few ISPs for subscribers to choose from, much of the country received Internet access from small Internet access companies. In episode 297 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, Christopher talks with one of the pioneers in bringing the Internet to everyday folks, Gary Evans. Gary is retired now, but he spent many years developing a company that is now known as Hiawatha Broadband Communications, or HBC.

HBC began more than 20 years ago in Winona, Minnesota, in the southeastern area of the state. The company evolved from an initiative to bring better connectivity to the community’s educational institutions. Since then, it has expanded, spurred local economic development, and helped drive other benefits. During its growth, HBC has always strived to work for the community.

logo-hbc.jpeg Gary and Christopher reminisce about the beginnings of HBC, the challenges the company faced, and how they overcame those challenges. They also discuss some of the interesting partnerships that helped HBC continue to grow and that Gary and other HBC leaders used to develop the company’s culture. Gary’s been in the business a long time, and he has some great stories to tell, so we decided to make this an extended episode that runs a little over an hour.

For our second conversation with Gary, listen to episode 302 of the podcst.

You can play the show on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed.

Read the transcript of this show here.

You can download this mp3 file directly from here. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music...

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