Senator Klobuchar Broadband Roundtable notes Dec 29


by Ann Treacy • Here are notes from the Broadband Roundtable meeting. Here’s the stated purpose of the meeting:

Roundtable participants will discuss the need for rural communities to have greater investment in and access to high speed broadband internet. Attendees will provide real world examples of the challenges rural communities face as well as success stories. Senator Klobuchar will discuss her priorities around “Information Infrastructure” and the Obama administrations emphasis on funding this effort.

Blandin on Broadband offers information on broadband use, access, and trends especially in rural Minnesota. Sponsored by the Blandin Foundation and their Broadband Initiative.

Here are the speakers:

* Senator Amy Klobuchar

* Senator Brita Sailer (from DL)

* Jeff Hunt Park Rapids Schools

* Tony Mayer – West Central Telephone

* Tim Rice – Lakewood Health

* Pam Lehmann – Lac qui Parle Economic Development

* Bill Coleman – Blandin Foundation

* Tim Lovenson – CWA

Here are my notes…

AK – Infrastructure funding should include broadband as well as roads. We need the infrastructure and the jobs. Obama has made broadband a priority. Policy in DC has lagged behind what’s happening in communities. We hear stories of lack of coverage – the problem is that the access is too slow and/or too expensive. Much of the State lacks fast, affordable access and that makes it tough to compete with other counties.

Broadband is an important economic tool.

We have good examples – West Central Telephone; Lakewood Health, Carver County has an initiative, Blandin Foundation. So there are some good examples but on the whole the US is not doing well.

Broadband adoption grows – but not as fast in rural areas and not as fast as other parts of the world. According to Brookings Institute, 1 percentage point increase in broadband adds 300,000 new jobs.

We have needed policy in the past to spread infrastructure. We saw it in the 30s with the New Deal and in the 50s with the Highway Act.

Obama’s plan will create jobs and create lasting infrastructure.

There are two phases with economic recovery – first funds for ready-to-go projects in first 90 days of new Admin. Second phase will be strategic investment – and that’s where broadband fits in. Maybe there will be grants to develop broadband in areas un- or underserved. Priority will be given to cross-sector projects. It would be nice to have public safety included in the mix.

We need to be prepared to make the most of it – and that’s the purpose of this meeting!

Sen BS – Broadband means a lot to the State. People have been coming out in droves to talk about broadband at local meetings. Some vendors are doing a good job – but it’s sporadic. The local librarian sees that more people come into the library to access broadband. They line up outside the door to access Internet – people who want to apply for jobs, apply for unemployment. If you want to apply for a federal job you have to do it online and you need to be on broadband if you want to complete the form in time. Also you only get 30 minutes at the library, which is often not enough time. Filing taxes is another task that requires broadband. There was one business that paid $600 for satellite so that they could have broadband to complete tax forms. Tourism is a big business near Detroit Lakes (DL). People want to go to places with broadband. If there isn’t broadband you’re off the short list. You can’t telecommute if you don’t have broadband. There was one person who could have worked from home – saving tons of gas expenses – except she didn’t have broadband.

JH (Park Rapids Schools) – The digital divide used to separate rich from poor – but now it seems to mean urban and rural. Leaving Wayzata I was surprised at the difference between the tech situation in Park Rapids and that in Wayzata. There is broadband in Park Rapids – but not a mile out of town. And that really separates the students dramatically. Those in town have access; those out of town don’t. We haven’t seen a lot of investment in the area either – so it’s not looking too bright for the future. Students can’t do online research, can’t access videos such as math-made-simple on YouTube. There’s no redundancy – which means one cut and they’re down. Parents can use Parent Connection to check on kids; but if you don’t have broadband you can’t really access it. Even with satellite – uploading is painful and the latency dulls many applications.

TM (West Central Telephone) – They cover a wide area – 600 square miles. Some areas are sparsely populated, which is why they are a cooperative. They added fiber to the node a few years ago and have gone FTTH in some areas – once it was made available. They offer video and Internet at any speed someone wants. They have a lot of clients who work out of their homes. They have attracted businesses to the area because of the telecommunications. They have 3000 customers who pay $34.95 for 3M. Competition with utilities doesn’t work well because of the costs to get started are so high, especially with less densely populated areas. The same is pretty true with wireless towers or fiber – once you deploy the equipment – that money is spent you can’t really pick up and move and the equipment is expensive. They got money from RUS and without it they could not have been successful. No other lender would look at those kinds of loans. These are long term investments.

Wind and Solar sidebar: They started a way to provide energy to nodes via Zenergy solar and wind power. Power used to go through the wire – but since they use fiber they had to find a new way to get power to the nodes.)

TR (Lakewood Health) – They employ 750 people. They have a local collaboration (LEAP) that meets monthly to facilitate action in the community. They invited the communication providers in to ask about their plans. They found out that no one planned to invest in the area and they needed to do it themselves. They liked West Central & Consolidated. They created a group called Consolidated West and they are going to use them to create/deploy a fiber project. They are going to obtain funding and move ahead with the project.

They need growth of about 15 percent to meet needs. Population growth is only 2-3percent. They need to meet health care needs. A grant with Blandin helped build a home health care project. Now they can put the technology in the home, connect into the facility and receive treatment from home. It saves hassle and money. They need to recruit healthcare professionals – which often means employment for spouses.

PL (Lac qui Parle Economic Development) – They have asked folks in the area (8,000 people most are elderly) if they wanted access and they heard overwhelming yes. With help from Bill Coleman and Blandin they held a meeting that was a huge success. They don’t have any dollars; they are underserved; the federal backing is going to be essential to survive. They have a high quality of life, good healthcare, you can live cheaply – but things will start to slip without broadband. There is a need for education and that has been a primary goal of the initial plan. The rural communities want this and need support. The senior population is expected to double by 2030 – and the rural areas are already seeing that. Broadband is a utility.

TL (CWA) – He’s on the Task Force. In 1980 government decided that AT&T couldn’t do cable. One of the big concerns at CWA is jobs. Interested in hearing what TM says. TM has a monopoly. He knows that when 2 providers enter a small area – it is tough to sustain 2 providers. We need tax incentives to help promote growth of businesses – especially when cost to serve dispersed population is so expensive. We’re now at a point where telephone and cable are the same industry. We need investment; we need tax incentives. CWA says every $5 million invested will bring 100,000 jobs. Need to revisit how the industry is regulated; often regulation becomes a stumbling block for investment. To make money people cut back workers and that’s too destructive – we need to invest businesses to provide security to allow people to spend.

BC (Blandin) – Telecommunications is a top criteria for businesses looking for locations and for people choosing a place to live. We need fast, redundant connectivity to attract businesses and people to rural areas. Broadband can solve multiple problems – it improves healthcare, improves education, improves business processes. The Blandin Strategy Board came up with a vision that has been supported by earlier comments. The goals are: ubiquity, symmetric service, affordable, competition and world class.

Windom – they are their own cable provide for 30 years – but now they have made the leap to providing fiber. The local incumbent stepped up with fiber too. Blandin gave them money to set up homework help. Partnerships usually provide innovation through flexibility. Very often just calling community meeting to talk about broadband will help urge a provider to upgrade access.

Public Portion

Update on Task Force from Rick King – The use of infrastructure is out of whack. Broadband is underused. Using more broadband would help save energy and other infrastructure. So maybe Netflix can quit sending DVD via truck, train and plane ; maybe we could just download as we wanted.

Task Force is half done with their process. They look forward to making a report in 2009. The timing is good especially given the focus on the new Administration. Awareness is a big issue and meetings like this and Obama’s interest help raise awareness. Support from the federal government will help.

AK – The US is the only country without a national broadband policy. What do you think we should do?

BS – As we move ahead and look to rebuild – the logistics can get in the way. We need a way to minimize logistic issues (Ann’s note: like taking care of right-of-way?)

TM – They have to submit a lot of request for permits to a lot of different people. To have a broadband policy that helped smooth the regulation would be good. But remember that rural and urban are different.

TR – The healthcare industry in the US is behind. We need to identify standards and guidelines to help move healthcare forward so that systems can communicate with each other.

TM – The RUS introduces standards and that was a great help. All instruments work together and to get funding to have to adhere to their standards. An unregulated facility (such as Skype) is a different game.

AK – Maybe a matching grant would help.

BC – The Blandin vision would scale up nicely. Financing need to meet term of asset; it takes more than 2 years to recoup investment. You can’t upgrade a little bit – you need to replace and that will be expensive.

Mike O’Connor – Think about the fact that you need to regulate infrastructure differently than applications. You don’t need 2 pipes into the house (pipes are a natural monopoly); but you might need multiple applications.

Alex Weego – In Todd County, we have 13 phone districts and 9 phone companies. Getting them to work together is like herding cats. We need to remember that aspect. Funding feasibility studies can be a stumbling block. Homes might not need access but business does. Need to educate local government. We have an opportunity come February (HDTV move) to reach many consumers. Fiber could be hung if that saves time and money. Maybe the local government would help build infrastructure to get it going and to recoup costs in the long term.

Robert Eddies(?) – The Connected Minnesota project is going on right now. First maybe we need to find out where we are; then we can make some plans. What should policy be? Need to be careful to set a policy that strives to show what you get as a service, not how you’re going to provide it. (Don’t need to dictate the details.)

Milda Hedblom – Need to be diverse in who might be BB partners. Look aggressively at how States get in the way of new entrants with policy.

Rep Carlson – He grew up in Eagan and didn’t realized some of the challenges we’re seeing in rural Minnesota. The meeting was a good chance to learn about rural MN.

Marla Davenport – Interconnectivity between networks is a huge problem – especially with distance and online learning. We need to make sure to have enough BB to take advantage of things such as Internet2. There are tools out there that we can’t reach.

Gene Hugoson – In some areas we still can’t get dialup.

Eric Lampland – Just finished Red Wing feasibility. Municipal activity is quite viable. In RW the school couldn’t meet State needs because of slow access.