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More Mississippians Anticipating Fiber Connectivity from Their Co-op in 2020

muninetworks.org - March 5, 2020

Mississippians served by electric cooperatives have had plenty to celebrate since the passage of the Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act last year. The bill, which eased the way for cooperatives to provide Internet access, has already had a positive affect by inspiring several projects around the state. Recently, Northcentral Electric Cooperative announced that they're creating an affiliate to provide high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to members. Northcentral Adding Northcentral Connect The cooperative announced in February that they would be forming  Northcentral Connect, their new affiliate that would be the entity to offer broadband access to members. In the announcement, CEO and General Manager Kevin Doddridge said, "We are excited to see our members’ interest in fiber connectivity. We have conducted several interest and feasibility studies that have led us in this direction.” The co-op hopes to begin rolling out service in the first phase this summer. Northcentral, which serves an area near the Tennessee border, provides electric service to more than 32,000 premises, including almost 25,000 households. They've operated since 1950 in eastern DeSoto County, western Marshall County, and in Tate and Lafayette Counties.  Last summer, Doddridge noted that the cooperative was examining the possibility of providing broadband and that, because they had already been installing fiber optic cabling between substations, they had a jump on any possible venture into broadband service. At the time, however, he wanted to be clear that Northcentral would only move forward if offering the service made sense financially and to be able to provide connectivity to their entire service area: “We are also committed to make sure that we have a plan for universal coverage which will be very difficult,” Doddridge explained. “We don’t want to offer an internet service provider company until we can provide a service. We hope to have some information forthcoming in the next 6-9 months. Until then, it’ll be kind of a controlled communication, but we are working in that area.” Fast forward six months to February 2020 and potential concerns appear to have been resolved. In late February, the cooperative announced an updated logo and a new name. Before the switch to Northcentral Electric Cooperative, they had operated as Northcentral Electric Power Association. Next, they let the public know that they would be establishing Northcentral Connect as the entity to provide broadband access, first to members and then possibly to others in nearby regions. From the announcement on the new service: “The possibilities of electricity went beyond just light bulbs when Northcentral started in 1950. Now, with services like telemedicine, online education, and even running operations on a farm, we’re hoping to show our members the endless possibilities of high-speed internet connections.” Smart State Policy Improvements Like other Mississippi cooperatives, including the North East Mississippi Electric Power Association and Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association, to expend and offer broadband rests with the bipartisan passage of last year's Mississippi Broadband Enabling Act, or HB 366. The law, which explicitly authorizes electric cooperatives to offer Internet access, has increased availability in rural communities to fast, affordable, reliable connectivity where only slow DSL, or unreliable satellite Internet service has been the norm. Read more about how rural cooperatives are changing the Internet access landscape in rural America in the latest version of our report, Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model for the Internet Era. Image of the DeSoto County Courthouse by Thomas R Machnitzki / CC BY-SA Tags: mississippirural electric coopcooperativeruralFTTHnorthcentral electric cooperative

Report: Pew Charitable Trusts Researchers Examine State Broadband Efforts

muninetworks.org - March 4, 2020

In September 2019, we interviewed Kathryn DeWit from the Broadband Initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts about their State Broadband Policy Explorer. The tool documents state laws aimed at expanding broadband access. Now, the group has released a reported titled, How States Are Expanding Broadband Access, that examines developments in nine states where broadband availability has improved after implementing state efforts. The report dives into what those states are doing that works and makes recommendations to emulate those policies and repeat that positive trajectory. Read the full report here. All Hands on Deck One of the primary discoveries from the report is that states are using many technologies and funding approaches to bring high-quality Internet access to those who have been left behind. Like other projects that involved multiple stakeholders and public funding, Pew learned that building broadband support and requiring accountability are factors that contribute to success. Pew examined efforts in California, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. They also looked at Minnesota, where the Border to Border Development Grant Broadband Program provides funding for projects in areas where connectivity is slow and unreliable or where people have no service options at all. In Minnesota, notes the report, the state has established measurable and increasing speed goals and allows funding to flow to a broad range of recipients, including local governments, rural cooperatives, tribal governments, and large corporate Internet access providers. Minnesota also provides a challenge process, which has been used by some of the larger ISPs in the past to delay plans for community-centered projects, as was the case in Balaton, Minnesota. In Colorado, the old approach involved a right of first refusal for incumbents. The law prevented upgrades new entrants wanted to provide better connectivity, as in the case with local provider Clearnetworx. In 2018, the state corrected the law to include a year-long time limit for incumbents to meet or exceed speed tiers of the new entrant-proposed projects.  Promising Practices After examining programs in these nine states, the Pew Researchers pulled out some common threads: Stakeholder outreach and engagement: All states with broadband programs are working to engage stakeholders at both the state and local levels. At the state level, this includes broadband task forces and councils, as well as partnerships among state agencies. At the local level, it includes support for broadband committees and education of local stakeholders. Policy framework: Many states have created a policy framework for broadband deployment by setting well-defined goals and a clear policy direction in legislation and tasking agencies or setting up separate offices to lead statewide broadband programs. They are identifying and addressing barriers to facilitate broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas. And they are connecting broadband to other policy priorities, including economic development, transportation, health care, and agriculture, to build partnerships and leverage more funding for expansion efforts. Planning and capacity building: Half of states have plans that define goals and objectives that provide a baseline against which to measure progress. Some also support local and regional planning efforts that help educate community members and build the local capacity necessary for successful broadband infrastructure projects. Local and regional planning efforts can help communities identify their needs and goals, start conversations with providers, evaluate options, and move toward implementing infrastructure projects. Funding and operations: Some states are providing funding to support broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas through grant programs that fund a portion of the cost of deployment in these communities. They are also ensuring accountability by requiring that grantees demonstrate they are providing the service they were funded to deliver while also providing the state with the data needed to evaluate the program and progress toward defined goals. Program evaluation and evolution: States that are supporting planning efforts and funding infrastructure projects are evaluating the performance of these efforts and incorporating lessons learned. States continue to update program goals and activities as their programs mature, addressing broadband adoption and working to help communities make full use of their broadband infrastructure. Build on This  Fast Company reached out to Christopher about his thoughts on the report and quoted him on the political environment and how lobbying influences state policies: Christoper Mitchell, director for community broadband networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit with offices in Minneapolis, Portland, Me., and Washington, D.C., urged students of broadband politics to pay attention to “the political challenges of overcoming cable and telephone company lobbying might.” In an email, Mitchell defined the challenge for state-level activists and legislators as “how to deal with the incumbents and leadership that take a lot of cable and telephone company money.” But, he added, states remain the best place to try to solve this problem, which makes this report worthwhile reading for anybody hoping to be part of the solution: “It doesn’t seem like the federal government is going to solve broadband deployment anytime soon.” While some of our findings diverge from those at Pew, such as their assessment that Colorado's middle mile investment as one of the state's main drivers of last mile connections, Christopher notes that the report is important and well-developed. If funding middle mile connections facilitated last mile investments, the problem would have been solved a 5 years ago. Middle mile is important, but has been popular because it doesn't upset politically powerful incumbents the same way that last-mile investment does. Middle mile is important, but does not change very much (or at all in some cases) the capital cost of the last mile network - and that capital cost is the fundamental problem that has to be overcome. ... I think this is an important report because many states are starting to take action and I don't think there has been an in-depth look at different approaches. I think people talk at events and on the phone and decide to copy parts of this plan, parts of that plan, etc., but may not be seeing as much of the picture as this presents. ... I think this is a very good step forward that others should pick up and build on. Download the report at the Pew Charitable Trusts website.  Listen to our interview with Kathryn DeWit on the organization's fantastic State Broadband Policy Explorer: Tags: state lawsstate policypew research centerresourceminnesotacoloradoreport

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 397

muninetworks.org - March 3, 2020

This is the transcript for episode 397 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher speaks with Danika Tynes from Georgia Tech Research Institute about different ways to get telehealth service in remote places. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below.   Danika Tynes: Put the need first. Let the technology follow. Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 397 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. As more people become better connected with broadband, especially in rural areas where hospitals are few and far between, the healthcare industry is finding new ways to use Telehealth applications. This week Christopher talks with Danika Tynes from the Georgia Tech Research Institute about what's working in Telehealth and ways to move forward. Danika talks about policy, funding and ways to get the community involved in order to improve the likelihood of success for new Telehealth applications. Now here's Christopher talking with Danika Tynes from the Georgia Tech Research Institute. Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Christopher Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self Reliance, normally in Minneapolis, but today in Raleigh where it's much warmer than it normally is in Minneapolis this time of year, I'm speaking with Danika Tynes, the senior research associate of the Georgia Tech Research Institute. Welcome to the show. Danika Tynes: Thank you, Christopher. Thank you for having me. Christopher Mitchell: It's great to have you here. I'm still in North Carolina. We're here at the NC State where the Institute on emerging issues is having a conference on part of the Reconnect series in which we're talking about today, technological opportunity. Your specialty is Telehealth and I'm very excited to dive into this to talk about what's happening today, where we're going. And your panel, which is going to be about what's possible in the best future that we could have in which we all have great access and everyone is connected. I think it's going to be a great panel and I recommend people go back and stream it once they listen to this interview, but I'd like to first ask you to just tell me about the Georgia Tech Research Institute please. 1:58 Danika Tynes: GTRI, Georgia Tech Research Institute is an arm of Georgia Institute of Technology, so it is focused on how to innovate in different organizations. They do a lot of Department of Defense work of course. Right now one of the projects that I'm working on is to modernize the Medicaid management information system and so we're building the systems platform and we're taking it into the Cloud. And what that does, it allows for more modularity, better competition amongst vendors as well as more scalability. And so when we take a solutions into the Cloud, we're also reducing the cost to taxpayers. And so we're bringing innovation to how we do common things like support our Medicaid and Medicare populations. Christopher Mitchell: Wonderful. And I just have to say probably some of the most important stuff. One of the things that we can talk about that I suspect is true is that even if we lived in a world right now where there was really widespread broadband access to everyone and everyone could afford it, we would still be limited by the processes that are being updated in your work. Danika Tynes: Yeah, absolutely. 100%. Christopher Mitchell: And so I think it's one of the things for those of us that really focus on broadband expansion, we want to also have a sense of reality, which is that the things that are limiting Telehealth aren't just broadband capacity, but it is one of the factors. So let me start by asking you, what is working in Telehealth today? not where are we going to be soon, but what's been going on, in 2019 what was working well in Telehealth? Danika Tynes: So I can probably couch the answer to that in an anecdote of a project that I did in Mississippi. I was working with the North Mississippi health Services. North Mississippi Health Services has a hospital systems centralized in Tupelo, Mississippi and then 23 other clinics that are spread across rural Northern Mississippi. And so this hub and spoke model made them a really great candidate for a Telehealth solution. Because they had the infrastructure as well as the specialists needed in the urban center in Tupelo that would benefit the rural population. Our first case, our first patient who came through this program, she was a diabetic patient. She lived about an hour and a half from Tupelo. She had two jobs, a morning job, a evening job, and so she had missed her last five diabetes appointments with a specialist who was in Tupelo. She also had trouble securing transportation. 4:50 Danika Tynes: So here we have, now we've implemented Telehealth and in her local clinic with her provider, with her nurse, whom she knows very well, she's able to now take a Telehealth visit and close the care gap and get now a care plan to help manage her diabetes. And the added silver lining that we got out of that was the benefit of having the nurse and her primary care physician on the other end of that synchronous visits to hear what the specialist was actually offering. So it was more of an integrated care model. So now they could reinforce the messaging of the diabetes specialist. So that was our first patient. And I loved, I felt so close to being able to make an impact in the world when she was the first one to come through. Danika Tynes: But there's a few things that made that possible. Number one is there was policy in place. So Mississippi determined and their legislature maybe five years ago, that private payers had to reimburse Telehealth services at the same level as face to face. That was number one. That is not a federally mandated thing and it is encouraged by CMS. CMS has models in place for Telehealth reimbursement, but it's up to the states to adopt their own legislation in that regard and allocate those funds. That was the first thing that was in place. 6:24 Christopher Mitchell: And this is a wonderful, we live in a world of abbreviations and telecom, but what is CMS? Danika Tynes: Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. And so we have a huge population that benefits from Medicaid and Medicare services and many of those populations are found in rural areas or even urban areas. And to that extent is if we are offering a technological service that we don't want to edge out those who are benefiting from a federal health care plan. Christopher Mitchell: Right. And then just for people who aren't as familiar, Medicaid, a lot of children get coverage through Medicaid. A lot of people who are disabled, it's a vulnerable population typically. And so these are the people who often have the hardest trouble getting to Tupelo or another major population center where you may have the specialists. Danika Tynes: Right. And frankly, I don't know what the person of Mississippians is leveraging those federal programs, but I think despite where you live, whether it's Jackson or outside of Jackson, I think that it's probably a high percentage. And so you don't want to further marginalize those who participate in that program by offering services that they can't benefit from. Christopher Mitchell: Right now you were saying, number one was policy that made this happen. What's the second thing? Danika Tynes: Funding. So North Mississippi Health Services, they obtained a large grant for their startup costs. They also had the hospital that was able to pick up some of the funds and allocate the resources like the IT department needed to shift over their resources to help make this happen. So I think having financial resources upfront is really huge. One of the first things that we did to identify the feasibility of Telehealth, because it's not feasible everywhere. And I'll come back around to of my recommendation for when to adopt Telehealth and when not to. Christopher Mitchell: Okay. 8:39 Danika Tynes: Because there are cases of when not to. We get really excited about Telehealth as a silver bullet. But funding was really important. One of the things that we did before we implemented all of the sites as we kicked the tires on their broadband. Was the broadband fast enough? Could it detract from the experience of Telehealth? If you're having now a same time, real visit, over video with your physician and you get cut off, that's going to take away from your appreciation of the experience. It may make you distrust technology and now you're moving in the wrong direction of where you want to go. Danika Tynes: So I think having the proper funding in place to have all of those fundamental things, the technology, we had to buy carts for to provide Telehealth. So we would take the carts into the provider area, so into the clinics or into the skilled nursing facilities, and we would post them there. And then we have the peripheral. So you could hear the heartbeat, you could listen into the mouth, into the ears. And the one other responses from the physicians was, "Wow, these peripherals offer such an amazing option for me that gives me better results than my naked eye." Because they could take pictures and so forth. Christopher Mitchell: And record it too for... Yeah. Danika Tynes: So that's exactly right. The other thing is that they had the infrastructure in place. So the network already had electronic health records implemented and so they were able to interface these two technologies. I found this out a long time ago working with University of Texas Medical Branch. They tried to implement Telehealth without having their EHR, their health records in place. Well that's really disruptive to the visits. So you don't want to not look someone in the eye, a patient in the eye because you're here talking about their health. So you want to be present with them. Well without an electronic health record, you have to look down and flip through a chart. And so having a setup where the physician can actually look at the patient and glance over to the side to look at the chart is really helpful. So that maintains that connection since we are now talking through a TV essentially. Christopher Mitchell: Right. 11:10 Danika Tynes: I think, as well, another thing that was really important to have in place and to make that successful was the training. And in the conference today we talk about workforce readiness and inclusion and literacy. And I think that was really, really key in making that rollout successful, is that along the way we engaged all of the appropriate stakeholder communities, the providers, the patients, those in the community. We actually put out articles in the newspapers so people could start talking about it. And some of the providers thought, "Hey, are you going to take away our jobs?" Christopher Mitchell: Right. Yeah, I can imagine that. Danika Tynes: Is this why you're taking away our jobs? And so it was really interesting, some of their perceptions we heard back and advancing the conversation and in opening up the communications. And so it was, "No, actually we're here to help you do your job better. And help you keep your community healthy." We had IT departments that were just going, "This is just one more fancy thing that they're throwing on us." Didn't get it. Christopher Mitchell: Right. They're not going to call you when something breaks. Danika Tynes: That's right. Or and now you have to change all the way that you do billing. You have to update that into the system. You have to create a code because now this is a Telehealth visit. So you have all of these considerations of who are the stakeholders who are impacted, and then of course the patients. "Well, I don't even like going to the doctor in the first place and now I have to use this technology thing then I'm not comfortable with." And indeed we did do surveys subsequent to the rollout to understand the level of satisfaction or frustration of using Telehealth and the satisfaction level was just as high, if not higher, as in person visits. I think those are probably the key things. 13:13 Danika Tynes: Probably one last thing I would say is top-down reinforcement. I think it's very important. We heard some great speakers today talking about getting the role allocated to have the conversation around digital inclusion, but not necessarily the funding. And so when we see leadership, not only stand behind the idea, but stand behind it with funding or reinforcement or talking about it, that really helps things to gel and take hold. Christopher Mitchell: There's so many things I want to react to because it's fascinating. But the first one is, is that, I don't know if people appreciate this, my mind is always blown at. There's really two major things that we can do as far as I understand, and this is an oversimplification for someone who's not working directly in healthcare policy, but if there's two things that we could do to try to drive our costs, longterm cost of healthcare down, it's better managing people with diabetes and better managing people that have longterm cognitive decline. And so this is a big deal. If you can make sure that people are able to go to their doctor's appointments and more easily and take it more seriously and have followup. It's a major deal for the future of healthcare in America. Danika Tynes: Yeah, absolutely. 100%. Christopher Mitchell: So now the interesting thing to me is I feel for people who are trying to figure out how to get connections into the home, there's this vision of, "Okay, what can we do for Telehealth in the home?" And I've talked with some people about that in the past, but I'm just curious about your reaction because you smiled as soon as I started saying that. Is the better solution right now basically focusing on these centers that are within the community, making sure you have a very high quality sort of managed experience there. And that's the goal right now to get to? 15:00 Danika Tynes: I could say a proper generalization just across the board in healthcare, is that people always do better at home. And we have a huge chronic disease challenge, not just here, but everywhere in the world. Chronic diseases continue to climb. And one of the most promising ways to address that challenge because we have limited physician and caregiver resources to take care of patients every day in the hospital. One of the plausible viable solutions for that is remote monitoring. And the thing about remote monitoring goes back again to a work force literacy is that it necessitates data. And people who can absorb data, understand data, understand how to create trigger mechanisms, if the remote monitoring data that's coming back from a patient is outside of what one would deem normal, workflows that then what happens if there's some sort of alert to the physician. Now what do we do from there? Danika Tynes: But it's a really viable option for managing chronic disease. In fact in the session later I'll introduce a couple of data points around how Telehealth has demonstrated to reduce chronic care patient visits to the ER, which is a huge cost to taxpayers. So I think you're right on by being interested in that conversation because it's one of the most viable applications of Telehealth where we could see outcome impacts. Christopher Mitchell: And when you say the data, we're not necessarily talking about invasive things like things that you'd have maybe an implant for. It might just be your weight. Danika Tynes: It might be a weight, it could be a blood pressure. But then off of that data for providers to really... And we're talking about what's happening now, but where do you take that in the future? And we always are trying to look at, how do we make this scalable? Once you have your infrastructure in place, what do you do then? How do you create more information with few resources? And data is one way to do it. So if I'm a physician and I have remote monitoring capabilities for, I don't know, 10,000 diabetes patients, I may want to look at the aggregate of all of that data and see if there's a way that I can help you better, help you more, advance and shift the needle on outcomes. And so that's when data becomes really important. But our ability to absorb data and interpret data also needs to heighten simultaneously. 18:15 Christopher Mitchell: I can imagine a situation which you would say, "We've found that you have this trend and in 90% of people that have this trend, this thing is coming down the line and let's try to address it earlier." Danika Tynes: That's right. Exactly. So we find ourselves in much more proactive stance when we can understand the data. Christopher Mitchell: So you said that you wanted to come back to where Telehealth might not be the better solution. I want to make sure we talk about that. Danika Tynes: Yeah, so I feel what we always want to remember and why we choose the field of health to participate in is because we want our population to be well, all of our populations to be well. And for that, I think we always need to start with the need. Every community is faced with different cultures, different needs, different barriers. I think you have some legislative barriers here in North Carolina for Telehealth that might not be the same barrier that you have in a Mississippi where the health burden is a lot larger. So everybody has different barriers. And I think it's making sure that we stay connected to what the need is. So for example, let's say a community is faced with an overwhelming burden of obesity and we see how that translates into chronic disease. That's one of the social determinants there. So maybe instead of saying, "Telehealth can help, it fixes everything." Well maybe the local high school can open up the gym after hours and share it with the community that may not have one. Maybe we start a community health walk and everybody goes outside at 5:00... Christopher Mitchell: Right. Danika Tynes: ... And does it. So there are some human things that we can do without technology that can help address the need rather than trying to throw technology at it. So I would just always say put the need first, let the technology follow. As far as I'm concerned, technology is zeros and ones. That's it. We can build anything. Anything you want built we can build. Christopher Mitchell: It sounds like someone from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Danika Tynes: Yes. Yes. Because lots of research that we do... I think I just read an internal article the other day where we're offering to replace the power grid with batteries. you can build anything. So it's really get connected with your community, get connected with your social determinants, get connected with what can actually move the needle and create change in your health outcomes and then decide what you want to apply to it. 21:05 Christopher Mitchell: This is going to be a weird, seems like a weird tangent, but it's going to come back around. Danika Tynes: Gotcha. Christopher Mitchell: Last week was National Girls and Women in Sports week. A lot of states celebrate a specific day and for the past 12 years or so I've done photography for the Minnesota version of that. Because I moonlight as a photographer and do a lot of sports photography, so through them I met this group. There was a group being honored for doing granny basketball in which I think is women who are over 50, many of whom did not have opportunities to play because we had no Title IX when they were growing up. And so they have formed these leagues in which they play with their own set of rules that's appropriate for their age and mobility and just to have fun. Christopher Mitchell: And what you were saying about Telehealth, just the costs of as establishing Granny Basketball Leagues are such that if you prevent one person out of probably 20 teams from developing a health problem that has paid for it. And yet these Granny Basketball Leagues are looking for grants sometimes to be able to get court time and things like that. And so I think it's really important to think about these things about being creative and not just saying Telehealth, Telehealth, Telehealth, but to recognize that we need to figure out how to make people more active in a lot of ways. Danika Tynes: Right. Yeah. We don't want it to become this buzz thing. And like I said, the more times we try to apply a technology that isn't appropriate for its application, the more distrust we have in technology. And that's opposite the direction we want to go. Christopher Mitchell: Right. Yes. And I just... One of the things that we talk about in health is that the cost of building broadband networks roughly in rural North Carolina, I think you could assume it's on the order of, I don't know, $2,500, $5,000 depending on a onetime cost to connect a home with a fiber optic network. And it sounds like a lot of money. In the healthcare field, it's not a lot of money. And so I just feel it's useful to break these frames of reference. We get caught up thinking about what is a lot of money in healthcare, millions of dollars is a lot of money per person. So anyway, I appreciate the context of how to think about these things. So I feel in telemedicine, a lot of us, I certainly do immediately think, rural solution, but I'm guessing there's urban implications for telemedicine as well. And I'm curious what are we overlooking there? 23:29 Danika Tynes: Hugely. So where Telehealth has evolved to is it was an access gap closure tool initially. And now I read articles literally every day of new applications of Telehealth. This morning an article came out about applying Telehealth to reduce physician burnout. Go figure. So now it's not just about closing physical access gaps to care like rural urban. Now it's about education. It's about a synchronous. So you have synchronous, same time, real time Telehealth and asynchronous, which is, it could be slightly disjointed... Christopher Mitchell: Email for instance. Danika Tynes: That's right. Christopher Mitchell: I have a non emergency question for my doctor. Danika Tynes: Exactly. So non synchronous. So both of those types are being fully leveraged in so many different and innovative ways that the application of Telehealth is not just for the rural community. Where I think you'll see a huge impact though is in the rural community. Similar to the first anecdote I offered up about Mississippi and the diabetic patient who couldn't access her care and now she can. And so it's so easy to see the impact of that. But then as you start expanding, "Well it's basically televite." It's just two way communication between individuals and so we can solve all the problems of the world that way. I don't think that rural health is now the driver for Telehealth, but it is certainly a tried and true and viable application for it. Christopher Mitchell: Yeah. And when you put it like that, it's this situation or we used to... Egames, E this, E that and then over time it's not E anymore, it's just what is. And in 10 years there's not going to be Telehealth, there will be health. Danika Tynes: That's exactly right. And I offer up Telehealth, it's really an adjunct to health care. And when it works well is when it becomes part of how we do business. It's not just this side appendage that's a fun project over here, but it's just part of the workflow. It's what we do. And eventually it will look like that. Christopher Mitchell: So let me ask you, is there anything you want to wrap up with? 25:59 Danika Tynes: Yeah, absolutely. So just a quick story about how I've used Telehealth is that there is an app called Doc on Demand. I was driving through rural Mississippi and I was feeling a cold coming on. And so I pulled over to the side of the road and I went on line, I logged into the app and I had an immediate appointment available. It costs me $40, I was out of pocket, but I was in the middle of Mississippi. And so what else could I do? And so they said, "Okay, we can give you a prescription for this medication. Where's your nearest pharmacy?" So I let them know the address of the nearest pharmacy I just pulled up to one. Christopher Mitchell: Right. Danika Tynes: And so they called in my prescription right then and I was able to go and then I was able to go about my day working. And so it was a real satisfier for how I went about my day. I wasn't standing on lines, I wasn't waiting in a doctor's office. Christopher Mitchell: Searching Yelp for the closet doctor. Danika Tynes: Exactly, exactly. I wasn't trying to find the closest pharmacy. They told me where I was and what I needed to do. And so under circumstances like that, I think that can save us so much time, save families so much time going to doctor's offices, taking their kids out of school. I think as we start to get more comfortable with the technology, we're going to actually see that becoming our new reality. Christopher Mitchell: Great. Thank you so much. Danika Tynes: Thank you. Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher talking with Danika Tynes from the Georgia Tech Research Institute. They were discussing Telehealth and how it's making healthcare more accessible for more communities. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcast from ILSR, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives. If you subscribe to our monthly newsletter @ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount helps keep us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song, Warm Duck Shuffle licensed through Creative Commons. This was episode 397 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. Thanks for listening. Tags: transcript

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits NC Bonus Episode

muninetworks.org - March 3, 2020

This is the transcript for our special bonus episode of Community Broadband Bits series, Why NC Broadband Matters. In this episode, Christopher talks with Dr. Jeff Cox and Zach Barricklow from Wilkes Community College about improving economic mobility in rural places of North Carolina. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below.   Zach Barricklow: Reliable transportation and cost of transportation becomes a barrier to education, and internet is a great avenue to connect to courses online. Lisa Gonzalez: This is another bonus episode in our special Community Broadband Bits podcast series, Why NC Broadband Matters. I'm Lisa Gonzalez with the Institute for Local Self Reliance in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NC Broadband Matters is a North Carolina nonprofit. Their mission is to attract, support and champion the universal availability of affordable, reliable, high-capacity internet access, which is necessary for thriving local communities, including local businesses and a local workforce, so each can compete in the global economy. Lisa Gonzalez: The group has created the North Carolina Chapter of Click, the coalition for local internet choice. We're working with NZ Broadband Matters to produce this series, which focuses on issues affecting people in North Carolina, and those issues also impact people in other regions. While Christopher was in North Carolina for the Reconnect Forum, which was organized by the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina state university, he had the chance to interview Dr. Jeff Cox and Zach Barricklow from Wilkes Community College. In this interview, they discuss how community college and distance learning are playing a key role in improving economic mobility in the state, especially in rural areas. We want to thank organizers of the forum at the Institute for Emerging Issues for setting up an event that offered a great chance for advocates, experts and scholars to connect. Now here's Christopher with Dr. Jeff Cox and Zach Barricklow. Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self Reliance. Today I'm coming to you from NC State, North Carolina State, where the Institute for Emerging Issues is having a wonderful day long program called Reconnect to Technological Opportunity, and this is one of a series of shows we're doing right now. I'm very excited to be talking with Dr. Jeff Cox, the President for Wilkes Community College in Northwestern North Carolina. Welcome to the show. 2:08 Dr. Jeff Cox: Thank you, Christopher. Glad to be here with you. Christopher Mitchell: We also have Zach Barricklow, the Vice President of strategy, also at Wilkes Community College. Welcome to the show. Zach Barricklow: Thanks for having us. Christopher Mitchell: So our audience, if they are long time listeners has heard multiple interviews with Eric Kramer, Greg Coltrane, folks that are from Wilkes telephone cooperative, which has done a great job of connecting that part of the country. We haven't actually spoken to anyone from Skyline. So let's just make a quick note that that your region is very well connected by these two providers, and Wilkes has a historic telephone cooperative that has expanded with a company called RiverStreet, and people can dig in the archives to learn more about that. Christopher Mitchell: But if you don't mind, tell me just briefly about Skyline, just so people have a sense of it. Dr. Jeff Cox: Well, let me start with Wilkes Community College. Our service areas, Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany county. So Wilkes Communications covers the Wilkes County part of our service area as well as other areas. And Skyline, Skybest actually covers most of Ashe and Allegheny counties, as well as other areas, other counties. But those are the two in our service area that they cover. Christopher Mitchell: I think what we'll be talking about today is how this dramatic, it's hard to overstate the amount of coverage and access you have for a rural part of any state in the United States. So we'll be talking about how that really has changed the way you do your mission, right? Dr. Jeff Cox: Right. We think it's of critical importance for our area. We look at the map of the state and see how very well covered Northwestern North Carolina is. All three counties, really, Wilkes, Ashe and Alleghany, very rural areas that people would not imagine have a strong broadband, but we do. So that's really part of our being here today and being part of this Emerging Issues Forum is how do we leverage that broadband to improve the economic mobility for the people in our service area? That's really the mission of the community college. And the work we've been doing for the last year and a half on a new strategic plan is how can the college best play a role in helping improve the economic mobility of the people who we serve? And we think this broadband connectivity is a huge, huge part of that. 4:30 Christopher Mitchell: So Zach, let me ask you, what does that look like when you operationalize that? What sort of things are you doing to bring that economic benefit to the community, now that you have this connectivity? Zach Barricklow: There's a couple of angles we're taking to approach this. One is entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs are by nature, folks that are inclined towards taking advantage of opportunity. We have historically a very entrepreneurial region and the community college is the proud home of the small business center, which is a catalyst and a source of counseling and training for small businesses and entrepreneurs in the region. Zach Barricklow: So right now, we're working on a new platform and a new program called Startup Northwest NC, that'll cover our three counties, Ashe, Wilkes, Allegheny. And it is an aggregation of resources, and community, and counseling, and mentoring for entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs in that region. 6:11 Zach Barricklow: So, that's one first step that we're launching on March 10th actually of this year. That is partially about equipping folks with tools, whether it's training or access to capital or other things. It's connecting them with one another. Also, it's telling the story of our region. So we were featuring about 12, 13 entrepreneurs from that three county area, and all of them, from agriculture to product development to professional services, leverage the internet in the process of promoting and expanding and managing their business. Zach Barricklow: So that's one of our first steps, is really focused on the entrepreneurs, but in our day and age with such an increase in the freelance economy, that's the other piece that we're looking really closely at. How do we identify the folks who have already found our region? Because we do enjoy a great connectivity. Folks that have found our region and are doing just fascinating work, as software engineers and consultants, and we have university professors and we have data analysts, we have instructional designers. We have folks that are in all of these kinds of niche professional services industries and that have found us. We want to do a better job as a region of telling our story and finding them proactively. Zach Barricklow: So, that's another piece of it is cataloging those stories and getting that out there. And then for those individuals and the population in that three county area that maybe doesn't have the skill or the awareness of opportunity available to them, as a community college, we serve the educational needs of virtually everybody across the continuum of age, and ability, and interest in that three county area. And so we want to be innovative and look ahead and assess where folks are at, where the opportunity is at and how we can get them connected with it and equipped for it. Christopher Mitchell: I'm curious, Dr. Cox. Are you also recruiting people? Did I understand that correctly, that you're in a position in which you're looking outside of that three county area to give people a sense of the opportunities that are available within your region? Dr. Jeff Cox: You're absolutely right. I think this opportunity for us here with the Institute for Emerging Issues is going to give us the opportunity to showcase how you can have a great career and live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. We say we live in God's country, up there in the Northwest part of the state, and it is. It's just really, really a beautiful part of the world. But historically, I was born and raised there in that region in Allegheny County, and happy to be able to move back and live in that region. 8:18 Dr. Jeff Cox: A lot of our young people though, historically, it felt like to pursue economic opportunity, they had to leave and go to Charlotte and Raleigh and other places. So this broadband connectivity is a real leveler, in that you don't have to necessarily live in Charlotte to work for a big company in Charlotte. You don't have to live down here in the RTP to work for a company that's based here. Dr. Jeff Cox: So yes, we're putting out the message, Northwest NC is telework ready and we're trying to recruit businesses to consider being part of the solution to this rural urban divide we have. We believe strongly that if only four or five major urban centers in North Carolina are prospering and rural North Carolina is dying, that's not sustainable for our state. Dr. Jeff Cox: So we think this broadband connectivity can be part of the solution if we can get some companies, bold enough to really set up their policies to allow for more telework. If you've got a job that can be done remotely, we think you ought to be a helping to let your workers go to the more rural parts of the state. Dr. Jeff Cox: We're convinced that a lot of the people who live in Raleigh and Charlotte, and battle that traffic every day, would much rather be doing that work with the serenity of our beautiful Northwest North Carolina. We just want to encourage folks to take that opportunity, if it's their choice already, and for companies to consider policies that would allow for that. And that would alleviate some overcrowding in our cities, that are just exploding with population too. We think it's a win-win. Christopher Mitchell: Well, let me ask you a devil's advocate question, which is to say, aside from the population pressures, why doesn't it make sense to just say, "Let's just focus on having really high quality broadband and opportunity in our cities. That's where most of the people are. Why don't we just let people who want to live in a more rural area decide to do that on their own? And so what if the population crashes in rural counties?" Why is that a problem for the United States of America or for North Carolina? 10:20 Dr. Jeff Cox: Well, I think our cities are already a straining from being overpopulated. You look at the average commute time, and the amount of stress and pressure people feel, just trying to make that journey into the city. And then look at the rest of the country, the rest of our state, the vast majority is rural. So if we continue down a path where more and more folks are migrating toward the cities, and fewer and fewer people are living in the remote, more rural parts of our state and our country, it's just not sustainable over time. We have to have folks who are living out in the rural areas. And a lot of folks would prefer that. Dr. Jeff Cox: Certainly some folks, obviously we prefer to live in the cities. And we have some of that with the young people. They feel like they need to get away from where they grew up, but many of them want to come back home. Christopher Mitchell: Often when they have children. Dr. Jeff Cox: Yes. Often when they are ready to have a family, then that's one of the real calling cards for our area. We have great public schools, it's a low crime rate. It's a great place to raise a family. But the challenge has been the economic opportunity. All too often, folks have had to make a decision, do I want to make more money or do I want to live where I really want to live, where I have my family ties and roots, and this connection to the beautiful area up there where we live? Dr. Jeff Cox: So the fact that now we've got this broadband connectivity and so much more work can be done remotely, it's changed what's been a disadvantage to area, being rural and a little bit removed from the major interstates. It makes it tough to compete, when you're talking about manufacturing and jobs where you're going to be hauling a product up and down our mountains. But now with the broadband connectivity, that that kind of flips it on its head, and we actually have an advantage there. 12:14 Dr. Jeff Cox: So we've got the connectivity in very rural parts of our communities and there's nothing that would prohibit anyone from being able to access that and take advantage of it economically. Christopher Mitchell: Wonderful. Let me ask Zach and then I want to come back to you, Jeff, to see if you want to add anything to this. But I'm curious, does your community college offer courses in a different way, or do people participate differently because the region has such good connectivity? I think there's a lot of community colleges who would love to have that, and maybe they don't have a sense of what it would be like once they do. But has it changed the way you do business? Zach Barricklow: Yeah, it's constantly evolving, just as post secondary is evolving across the nation in every context. But, for us, there has been this recognition that we have access to internet. So, then the next question becomes do we have enough ... Well, I'll say this before even getting into internet connectivity, one of the barriers to education, to post secondary education for our citizens is transportation. We live in a rural community, and transportation barriers are very real for our population. Christopher Mitchell: For people who don't own their own vehicles, I'm guessing? Zach Barricklow: For people who own their own vehicles and people who don't, but just unreliable vehicles. We do have a high level of poverty in that region. And even those that are not in poverty per se, by definition, is a good portion that are struggling. Zach Barricklow: So reliable transportation and cost of transportation becomes a barrier to education. And internet is a great avenue to connect to courses online. So over the course of the last five years, we have increased the proportion of courses and programs and credentials that we're offering online. And of course, with that, it's not just as simple as putting course material online. We have to prepare our instructors to teach it well online. So we've instituted a new professional development program, specifically aimed at increasing the skillset of an engagement level of instructors teaching online, as well as some of the academic wraparound services for students that help them with tutoring and academic support and other supports. 14:43 Christopher Mitchell: Jeff, I'm curious. One of the things that I've done. I've actually looked at things, and North Dakota and South Dakota are two other North and South States. And where there's better broadband access, we've still seen declining populations. I was hoping that it would be simple. Nothing in life was ever that simple. But I'm curious, given, let's just assume that that's the case, that you're facing multiple trends that are discouraging for people moving to your area, what are you doing to try to overcome that? Dr. Jeff Cox: Well, we know that for particularly our young people who are leaving, there's a draw to the cities. They have more nightlife, the breweries are becoming a really popular thing with millennials. So while we have the Blue Ridge Parkway and the New River, the Kerr Scott reservoir, and the big Lake, world-class mountain bike trails. We've got that part, really in spades. We're great on all the scenic beauty and the outdoor recreation, but we know we still have work to do in our communities to create the kind of entertainment venues and just the nightlife, those kinds of things, where young people want to be able to congregate and come together. Dr. Jeff Cox: So that part in all of our communities, we're working on to create that sense of place where people will want to come back and start their families, and hopefully live and stay until they retire. Christopher Mitchell: I just wanted to throw in something as a longtime reader of Outside Magazine, a lover of the outdoors. It's not just a matter of having something to do on the weekends or to get away, on a nice trip. It's healthy. Dr. Jeff Cox: Yes. 16:25 Christopher Mitchell: It makes you live a life that is healthier, and you feel better throughout it. So there's a lot to that. But I, I want to ask you a different question to wrap up, and that's, I strongly believe community colleges are really important, particularly now in a time when it seems like the winners are winning more than ever and the losers, who are left behind have less opportunity. What more do we need to do for community colleges to succeed? What other resources do you need in the current environment? Dr. Jeff Cox: It always is about resources. When you look at the number of people that are served through our community colleges, and then compare our budgets to our universities and even our K12 partners, the amount of resources are lagging behind. Dr. Jeff Cox: We're at a critical place with faculty and staff salaries at the community college. It's our number one budget item among our presidents association for our legislature in this coming legislative session. I tell our legislators, "Who do you want to train the nurse is going to be at your bedside when you're having some kind of critical procedure? Do you want the very best and brightest person being that instructor? And if so, then we have to compete with the local hospitals to pay that person enough to come over and be an instructor at the community college." Dr. Jeff Cox: And right now, we're just struggling to be competitive with that area. So, we have to address that issue. But then, community college, we have an historic record of being nimble and being agile, being able to change and meet the demand. And I think that's going to be more and more important as things continue to evolve and change. We have to be at the forefront and be ready to change and meet the needs of our business and industry, so that we can train the employees that they need to continue to be successful. 18:17 Christopher Mitchell: I just want to put an exclamation point on that, I think, because people don't always realize that we have this ... People realize that we've had this long period of economic expansion for a lot of us. Dr. Jeff Cox: Right. Christopher Mitchell: And that really puts salary pressures on schools, to be able to keep people who may have opportunities to get a lot more money if they were to leave teaching. Dr. Jeff Cox: Yeah. And for a lot of our folks, we know we're never going to be as competitive as someone who could go out in the private sector. You think about an applied engineering instructor, who could go out and be at a high level position in a company, or a skilled nurse with a master's degree. What they can make, we're never going to completely match that. There has to be a component for someone, that they just want to teach and they just want to be in that environment and shape the future in that way. But we've got to be more competitive, for sure. Christopher Mitchell: Well thank you so much, and I wish you luck. I think you're living in the future of North Carolina, and with good work and hopefully five or 10 years, all the rest of North Carolina will look like your region does, and they'll be able to learn from your experiences into how to take advantage of it. Dr. Jeff Cox: Thank you very much for having us, Christopher. Lisa Gonzalez: Thanks for tuning in to this bonus episode in our Why NC Broadband Matters podcast series, and for listening to the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self Reliance. Remember to follow Christopher on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. And if you follow NC Hearts Gigabit on Twitter, you'll tap into all the NC Broadband Matters material. Thanks to Shane Ivers of silvermansound.com for the series music, What's the Angle, licensed through Creative Commons. And thank you for listening. Until next time. Tags: transcript

Alaskan Telephone Co-op to Connect Remote Village With Fiber, Wireless Middle Mile

muninetworks.org - March 3, 2020

In 1999, Yakutat became home to one of Alaska’s first surf shops. Now, two decades later, the coastal community of 600 people is looking at another first for the community — high-speed Internet access. Cordova Telecom Cooperative (CTC) will be expanding its broadband network to Yakutat from the co-op’s headquarters 220 miles away in Cordova, Alaska. Already, CTC offers wireline and mobile connectivity in and around Cordova. The new project, codenamed NICEY or New Internet Communications for Everyone in Yakutat, will bring high-quality Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Internet access to the village, which has a large Native Alaskan population. NICEY will be financed in large part by a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ReConnect grant of nearly $19 million awarded to CTC in December. This money will help fund not only the deployment of the fiber network in Yakutat but also the construction of several remote wireless towers to connect the village to the broader Internet. “I don’t know how many grants of this size local groups have gotten,” CTC general manager and CEO Jeremiah Beckett told the Cordova Times. “It’s pretty big for Cordova.” Neighbors Partner for Grant Locals and visitors alike can only reach Yakutat by air or sea — there are no roads to the southeastern Alaskan community. The Internet is similarly hard to access for village residents. Yakutat’s poor connectivity forces the school to limit student access to online materials and courses; businesses sometimes struggle to run card transactions. Households’ only available option for Internet access is satellite, typically hampered by low speeds, frequent service interruptions, and restrictive data caps. CTC was a natural partner to tackle Yakutat’s limited connectivity. The telephone cooperative has already invested in fiber and wireless networks in the region and was on the lookout for ways to improve backbone connectivity. Cordova and Yakutat also share a long history and are home to many of the same tribes, including the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe and Native Village of Eyak. With community support for their ReConnect application, CTC was awarded a $18,888,668 grant to connect all of Yakutat’s full time residents and businesses to a 17-mile fiber network. Subscribers will have access to speeds of up to 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) with no data caps. The USDA funds will cover 75 percent of the total costs of more than $25 million, making the project possible for the telephone co-op to undertake. Wireless on Alaska’s Rugged Coast To bring the Internet to Yakutat’s future fiber network, CTC plans to connect the village with a series of remote wireless towers along the mountainous Alaskan coastline. The five tower sites, accessible only by helicopter, will compose a microwave middle mile network capable of speeds of 2.6 Gigabits per second once constructed. “It’s quite a big build to do,” Beckett shared. The cooperative already operates 17 remote sites, giving it a valuable understanding of the vast challenges that come with constructing and monitoring farflung, inaccessible infrastructure. From bears gnawing on cables to earthquakes and winter storms, Alaska’s wildlife and extreme weather threaten network reliability. To address these likely problems, CTC is designing the sites to maximize redundancy, including for power supply and network connections, so that one issue doesn’t cause the entire system to fail. There’s also the immense cost of building and maintaining a network of remote towers. Affordable middle mile access is scarce in rural Alaska, so connecting Yakutat to the wider world is a much greater challenge than building and financing the local fiber network. Accordingly, half of the entire NICEY project budget is dedicated just to constructing the wireless middle mile sites. Without the ReConnect grant, the project would not have been financially feasible for CTC. Schools to Shore and Beyond CTC expects to start offering broadband access in Yakutat by fall of 2021, and the village hopes to see opportunities follow. Beckett, who grew up in Cordova, understands the potentially transformative power of connectivity for rural communities. His family was able to return to rural Alaska several years ago after CTC built its fiber network in Cordova, enabling telecommuting and remote work. Yakutat residents look forward to the quality of life improvements promised by better Internet access. In CTC’s press release, Nathan Moulton, Yakutat Tlingit Tribe executive director, said: The Yakutat Tlingit Tribe is excited to work with Cordova Telecom to bring high-speed broadband to Yakutat. The USDA grant investment in Yakutat will allow for greater services in Health Care, Schools, and Social Services and will positively impact lives and opportunities for everyone in our community. Perhaps what excited the community most are the educational possibilities afforded by better connectivity in schools. “I think it’ll change a lot of opportunities in that area, especially for the youth,” said Beckett. In addition to modern broadband access in Yakutat, the NICEY project will boost coastal connectivity along the middle mile network, improving safety for pilots, fishing crews, Coast Guard vessels, and others operating in the region. “Once we have rural America connected and rural Alaska connected,” said USDA state director Jerry Ward at the project announcement, “that’s when we come into the proper form of the future that is needed” The value of a local partner stepping in to connect Yakutat is not overlooked. “What is really cool is that this is an Alaska company . . . and one of our neighbors, that’s getting this grant,” said Jon Erickson, Yakutat city and borough manager. “That just overwhelms us. I am grateful.” Image of the Yakutat Fishing Hut by GCNorton (CC BY-SA) Tags: alaskacooperativeruralcordova telecom cooperativeFTTHfederal fundingfederal grantmiddle mile

Talking Telehealth with Danika Tynes, Ph.D. - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 397

muninetworks.org - March 3, 2020

In February, Christopher was in North Carolina at the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum at North Carolina State University. While he was there, he had the opportunity to conduct several interviews with people engaged in research, working with boots on the ground to expand broadband, or advocating for better policy so more people have access to high-quality Internet access. One of the people he spoke with was Danika Tynes, Ph.D., a Senior Research Associate from the Georgia Tech Research Institute. One of Danika's areas of expertise is telehealth, which continues to expand in relevance and application with new innovations and the expansion of broadband access. During the conversation, Danika discusses some of the results of her research, including the elements that help telehealth efforts succeed. She also discusses how telehealth applies in different environments and how data can be used to improve its applications for patients and healthcare professionals. Danika also shares a personal experience that illustrates how telehealth is actually more ingrained in our daily lives than we realize. This show is 29 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page. Read the transcript for this episode. Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control. Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.  Tags: audiobroadband bitspodcasttelehealthnorth carolinarural

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 396

muninetworks.org - March 2, 2020

This is the transcript for episode 396 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher speaks with Travis Thies, General Manager of Southwest Minnesota Broadband Service (SMBS) about their collaborative effort to connect eight communities in Southwestern rural Minnesota. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below. Travis Thies: Seems like the first question that gets asked when somebody is contemplating moving into town is, "What's available for Internet?" Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 396 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzales. For eight communities in Southwestern rural Minnesota, high quality Internet access isn't a problem as it is in other small towns. That's because Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services or SMBS is providing fast, affordable, reliable connectivity to residents and businesses. Lisa Gonzalez: This week, Christopher visits with General Manager, Travis Thies, who shares the story of the network and tells us more about some of their challenges and solutions. Travis describes the communities that SMBS serves and recounts the collaborative effort that resulted in the regional network. Now, here's Christopher talking with Travis Thies from Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services. Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits Podcasts. I'm Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Saint Paul. And for the second week in a row, talking to another guest from lovely Minnesota. This week we have Travis Thies on the show, who is the general manager for Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services. Welcome to the show. Travis Thies: Thanks Chris. It's a pleasure to be here. Christopher Mitchell: I'm excited to catch up on the network. I've been meaning to reach out to you. I don't know, ever since the network started. In some ways, I feel like I just cheated and asked Dan Olsen how things were going and he would sort of give me the lay of the land. But it's been many years since I've even checked in. Christopher Mitchell: So I'm really excited to get a better sense of everything that's been happening with your remarkable fiber network in Southern Minnesota, Southwestern Minnesota. But first for people who aren't familiar, what is Southwestern Minnesota? What does that region entail and what does is it like? Travis Thies: A lot of farming communities or a lot of farming, some small industry. And so, that's, kind of, the biggest makeup of our area. 2:05 Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk about how you got into the fiber game. How did Southwest Broadband, which is, kind of, the shorthand version of describing Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services. How did you get started? Travis Thies: Sure. So Southwest Broadband is really a unique makeup. So back in 2010, we were fortunate enough that we had some local leaders throughout some of the communities that we serve, that really could see the writing on the wall with broadband and how important that was going to be in order for these communities down here in Southwest Minnesota to really thrive. What happened is, back in 2010, we had seven municipalities, in the area, get together form a joint powers. And once that was formed, they basically developed a nonprofit organization, which is Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services, to provide broadband connectivity to eight rural communities. Travis Thies: So we serve eight rural communities. And of the organization, we're governed by a board of directors. And those board of directors consists of five of those seven original member cities. So we have seven cities together, altogether, that make up the nonprofit organization. And five of those are voting members cities. So that's how we're kind of governed. Christopher Mitchell: So you have eight cities that you're connecting, or towns. And five of them, are those ones that took more risk on the project and that's why they're the voting members? Travis Thies: Yeah. So five of those communities, they actually contributed loan dollars into making the company, to help get the company off the ground and get started, and, again, most of the dollars that came in and helped build the network. Back in 2010, the federal government had the broadband initiatives program going on. And so we were able to capitalize on... Our project was a $13 million dollar project. Half of that being grant dollars and then half of that being loan dollars. So that's where, really, the dollars came, to put this together, and to do this build out and provide the connectivity to these communities. 4:11 Christopher Mitchell: When you say communities, I do feel like people often think of Main Street and the blocks around there. But you're talking about communities that may have a Main Street, but also all the farms around there. I mean it's a wide radius around that you're talking about that you connect. Travis Thies: Correct. Correct. So, not only do we serve all the businesses and and the homes within the communities, but we also have 175 mile ring that connects all of these communities. And we use that ring for redundancy purposes. Now we don't serve the entire county. We're across three separate counties. We don't serve all of those counties. We do serve within about a quarter mile off of our fiber routes that go out through those communities. Travis Thies: But one of the nice things that we've been able to do, over the course of the last few years, is we've been able to partner with a local wireless provider. And that has just been huge for us and the folks in our area. Now, not only are we able to provide the high speed Internet connectivity to the folks within those communities, but we're also able to reach out farther than what our fiber can get to. So by partnering with that local wireless provider, we've been able to provide those speeds to, basically, everybody across our, tri-county area. Christopher Mitchell: Now, tell me a little bit more about how you got this going, because I think the fact that Windom already had a municipal broadband network, that allowed you to use their NOC, I assume, how did you interface with them? Travis Thies: Well, that's a good question. So Windom was very, very influential, as far as helping set up and, kind of, get the whole concept of Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services, kind of, on the radar. And matter of fact, I know that you've talked with Dan Olsen, a previous General Manager of Windomnet, that he was very instrumental in the setup and, kind of, getting everybody going. Windomnet, they learned a lot when they did that. And that, kind of, helped provide all the stepping stones to making Southwest Broadband happen. 6:21 Travis Thies: And Southwest Broadband was able to, really, capitalize on the use of a lot of those high capital dollar items, like the NOC, the head end, things like that, for video services and both data services. And so, Southwest Broadband was able to save a lot of dollars and not have to make those initial investments and be able to utilize Windomnet to purchase those services and, eventually, pass down and offer through the Southwest Broadband Network. Christopher Mitchell: And is that still how you work? Are you still pretty integrated with a Windom in the network operations center? Travis Thies: We still work fairly close with Windomnet. We have went away. And we just, we've gotten a little bit bigger and we've been able to provide some of those services on our own now. So we work a lot with Windomnet, in regards to voice services. Data services, we've kind of converted over and we've made some investments of our own. And so we're, basically, providing all of our own data services, all of our own connectivity, to multiple data centers that get out to the rest of the world. Travis Thies: So back in 2018... Prior to 2018, we really relied on Windomnet to provide all of the video services that we transported across our network to our customers, throughout the communities that we serve. And we did that with an old legacy RF type of deployment. So prior to the build-out of our communities, two of our larger communities had their own stand-alone municipal cable TV systems. And those systems were both, kind of, reaching their life expectancy and really needed to be replaced. Travis Thies: So the timing of Southwest Broadband coming into play was really, really beneficial, as far as being able to pick up on where that was really going to leave off. And when we first rolled this out, this was really a data network, is really what Southwest Broadband was meant to do is provide these data speeds, these high data speeds, to these rural communities. But because of the makeup of our communities, we have a lot of older demographic that really still... They want access to the linear TV, and what we know as, traditional cable TV, so to speak. 8:27 Christopher Mitchell: Right. They don't want to deal with apps. Right? They just want to be able to have a clicker and go to watch the Twins or whatever they want to watch. And they don't want to deal with a lot of the other stuff. I'm guessing. Travis Thies: Exactly. Exactly. So now that Southwest Broadband... We have the network put into place and we've got the best of the best, in regards to a data network. We're still piping in an old RF video signal. So as the pricing and the content kept going up and up and up, we sat there and we struggled with trying to provide a better service and a better product. Well it, really, didn't make any sense for us to continue throwing capital at a service and a product that was declining in subscriber rates, worldwide, right? Travis Thies: So, that's where we had to get really creative. We looked at, what do we do if we just completely get rid of video altogether? And because of that older demographic, and there was still a lot of demand for that traditional TV service, we didn't feel like we could completely get rid of it. So, that's when we really got creative. And we looked out and we tried to figure out every option we could. And then, finally, we decided, why not try to... In order to keep this, we're really going to have to probably stick with an app based delivery type of system. Travis Thies: So we partnered with another company. And we were able to roll out a decent app based delivery service and really harness the power of our data network in order to do it. And so we didn't have that big capital investment, in going out and building a new TV headend or cable TV headend. We didn't have any of those. We were able to harness the power of the data network and really push that out. So towards the end of 2018, October/November timeframe, is really where we completed converting all of our customers. 10:14 Travis Thies: And I think we were able to convert, probably, we converted right about 85% of our original cable TV customer base, which was really, really positive. And we expected to, continually, see those subscriber take rates, probably, decline. But really with... They've really, really maintain steady, which has really surprised us. So we don't know if that'll be a long-term thing or a long-term offering. But it's filling the need, right at this point in time, and we'll see how it goes. Christopher Mitchell: Maybe it helps, go for sports, doing a little bit better this year than they had in some previous years for football, especially. Travis Thies: Well, that definitely helps. It definitely helps. Christopher Mitchell: So what app did you end up using? Travis Thies: We rolled out a white labeled app and we labeled it Southwest Stream. So we have it available to our customers. Now, one of the caveats is that we have to offer it over a closed and private network. So we can only offer it to customers that have our Internet service. Travis Thies: So customer signs up with our Internet service. If they're interested in our streaming option, they, basically, load an app onto their Roku and we provide them with a set of credentials. And they're allowed to receive that content over that approved app, and away they go. And instead of traditional cable TV type of look, guide, all that, some cloud based DVR. Christopher Mitchell: I'm not too surprised to hear you say Roku because it does seem to be one of the more friendly ones for people who are not very high tech. Oftentimes, a very simple remote that they feel comfortable with and off they go. 11:54 Travis Thies: Yeah. Once it's up and running, it's really pretty trouble free. The biggest hurdle that we had is helping assist folks that weren't used to being able to run apps. And, that just wasn't their thing. So trying to get them accustomed to understand how to go in and how to set up a Roku account and how to go in and add an app or add a channel. And then, go in and be able to get that to connect to their Wi-Fi. And a lot of these folks were even folks that didn't have data subscriptions. So that was a big hurdle. Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, their grandchildren, in many cases, I'm sure, are thanking you quite a bit. Travis Thies: That was definitely the case. Christopher Mitchell: Let me ask you about things that have changed in the area. Because I suspect that not far from you, there are still many places that have... Maybe they feel lucky to have DSL because there's other places that don't even have that. What has changed in your footprint that you can attribute to the network? Travis Thies: Well, I think there's a lot of things that have changed as far as economic growth. I know, I can count, on one hand, a number of business that had contemplated moving out of the area before we built our network because they just didn't have access to the bandwidths that they needed to sustain their businesses. 13:13 Travis Thies: Some of the other things that have changed is, now we're starting to see people that, maybe, grew up in this area coming back to this area and working from home. They're trying to get out of the big cities. And they grew up in small towns and that's what they prefer. And now, they're able to come back to these small towns and work from home, based on their ability to have access to the speeds that we're able to provide. Christopher Mitchell: Do you find that people who are in neighboring towns are choosing to come to a rival town, perhaps, because of those speeds? Travis Thies: I tell you what, it seems like, the first question that that gets asked when somebody's contemplating moving into town is, "What's available for Internet?" And I'm sure that's probably the case, getting to be the case, in most areas across the country. It's really obvious that, that's the important piece, or one of the most vital pieces of determining where folks want to live. Christopher Mitchell: No, no. I'm sure that the local real estate agents are happy to answer that in your towns. Travis Thies: We probably get four to five calls, a week, just inquiring of, "Does this property have access to broadband? Do they have a fiber line? And if not, can they get it? What's it going to cost to get it?" I mean, it really becomes a bargaining tool when working on housing prices. Christopher Mitchell: Oh, I'm glad to hear that. I mean, I feel like the real estate agents aren't always that sophisticated in the more metropolitan and suburban areas, because they haven't had to worry about it as much. But I know that real estate agents have paid more attention to broadband, but knowing that they're actually calling you now, directly, to just get the answers is interesting. Travis Thies: Yes. Christopher Mitchell: So you described the challenge of the switching the video product. Have you encountered other challenges along the way? Travis Thies: Not so much challenges, probably, just, maybe, growing pains. When we built the network, back in 2011, we integrated a one gig ring that fed all of these eight communities that we serve. And for the first two years, we were very comfortable with that being enough bandwidth to serve all of these communities for all of their bandwidth needs. And just, today, we're looking at February of 2020, now we've advanced that up to a 20 gig capacity ring. 15:30 Travis Thies: So it's just really amazing to see the growth and how much demand there is for broadband and how quickly that continues to advance. I suppose the biggest challenge would just be to, continually, staying ahead of those demands and ahead of those needs, so that we always have a sufficient amount of resources to be able to provide what our subscribers are going to need. Christopher Mitchell: I was just talking to someone in another state. I was talking about a co op that had built fiber out to a rural area and how they were getting these remarkable take rates. And even more remarkable, when this organization was planning on building the network, was that the very large, very disliked company that had been serving them before, was only getting take rates at 20 or 30%, for their DSL product. And so they assumed there wasn't much demand when, in fact, there was a demand, it was just for a higher quality service. And that's a roundabout way of, sort of, asking you about how the take up has been. Have you seen a lot of interest from the areas? Has it matched what you expected? Travis Thies: I think it's far succeeded what we expected. And right now, we're sitting at, probably... We're serving approximately 75% of households across, as a whole, within these communities. Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, that's pretty good. 16:52 Travis Thies: It is. Yeah. It's excellent. And I mean, we get calls every day. The biggest problem that we have is, we're still continuing to grow within these communities. Because when we first put this project together, unfortunately, there was a tsunami, over in Asia, right after project totals and stuff came in. And it wiped out a couple of the fiber suppliers over there. So the cost of fiber optic went through the roof. Travis Thies: So in order to make our projects still, we had to scale back. And one of the things that we did, when we scaled things back to try to cut costs is, we went back to all these communities, all these communities, we originally were going to put a fiber drop to every home and every business. Well, now that the price of that fiber optic went up, at that time, back in 2011, we had to go back and say, "Okay, we're going to commit to bringing a fiber drop to every home and business as long as they commit to taking a service from us. Travis Thies: So trying to get in touch with all of those people and making sure that they understand the process. It was a little difficult to do, but that's what we had to do. So along the way, there was quite a few residential homes in some of our communities that, maybe, just didn't understand what was going on or, maybe, the homes were empty. So we still struggle in some of those communities about trying to get new drops and stuff out to those homes, which has been very successful. We ran a lot of programs over the past two years just trying to get more drops out there and educate people on what it takes to do to get those drops there. But we're plunging ahead. Christopher Mitchell: What's the challenge there? Is it the distances involved? Is it the fact that you got to be able to schedule crews in advance? What's the actual headache? Travis Thies: The biggest thing is because how new we are. Right? So, we didn't have the ability to put forth a bunch of extra capital, two years, three years after we got up and running. One of the biggest things that I pride ourselves in is, we're fully self-funded. We're nonprofit. We're not subsidized by any of our members cities. A lot of municipalities have been scrutinized over the years by some of the bigger companies, saying, "Hey, you don't have a place here in the market. You don't know what you're doing as far as providing broadband. And you shouldn't be doing it." 19:15 Travis Thies: We, on the other hand, have been very, very successful. And we've, kind of, flown under the radar. And we've tried to do things smart and cost-effectively. And for the first few years, we really didn't have the ability to go out and spend a bunch of capital and put more lines in. So, we were able to save a little bit of money and put a little money in the bank. Travis Thies: And then, build a little bit up, and then reinvest, and start getting the costs of those drops at a more affordable price for subscribers. So that was, kind of, the biggest hurdle. And I think we've got to that point, now, where we can effectively provide those services to those people that may have been missed at a more affordable cost. Christopher Mitchell: That all makes a lot of sense. I guess the question, in my mind, is actually, maybe, even a little bit more technical. I mean, I'm guessing that you're not having a problem with like OLT ports. You probably had enough of those reserved. Right? And having... I'm guessing you used a passive network with splitters. Is the challenge today, then, a drop length, because you just have to go so far to get a home? Or, makes it more difficult to connect customers today? Travis Thies: It's not so much drop length, as it is to... We have all the OLT ports, we have resources available to feed those customers. Our biggest thing is, is contractor availability, believe it or not. Christopher Mitchell: Oh, yeah. No, I believe it, 2020. Travis Thies: There's so much building. There's so much going on, it is extremely tough to be able to find contractor time to be able to come in. Because most contractors that are working on big projects, they're putting in hundreds of drops a week. Where companies like us, we're not. We've got a majority of our community is built. So we're just, kind of, coming back around and doing hit and miss, where we've got a handful a week. It's just tough to find the contractors that are willing to leave those big jobs and come and do some of these small jobs. 21:09 Christopher Mitchell: That's what I was wondering about. So, that's helpful. Have you been tempted, at all, by the state border-to-border fund, to look at some grant money to try to expand to some of the areas around you? Travis Thies: We have. We, definitely, always keep it in mind every year. We look at what's being served, where is there demand? Unfortunately, because of our... I shouldn't say, "Unfortunately," because it's really not unfortunate. It's a fortunate thing. But, fortunate for the wireless company that we've been working with over the past several years. Other than the real rural areas, in our area, I think we've really done a great job at being able to provide adequate speeds. But we're always open to, if there's opportunities for us to grow, we're always interested in it. Christopher Mitchell: Who's the wireless company you're working with? Travis Thies: The wireless company that we work with is BackForty Wireless. They're locally owned right out of Jackson. Christopher Mitchell: Is there anything else I should ask you? Travis Thies: I'll just jump back to the BackForty Wireless thing. I think that's one of the best partnerships that we have right now. And being able to provide the best broadband, that we can, to the rural folks that we have an obligation to provide good service to. Christopher Mitchell: Well, that's great. Travis, I really appreciate your time. It's been great getting a better sense of what's going on. And I'm looking forward to finding an excuse to get down there and visit you and see what's going on. Travis Thies: Hey, I'd love to have you down here, Chris. Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher talking with General Manager, from SMBS, Travis Thies. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. 23:08 Lisa Gonzalez: You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives if you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support at any amount helps keep us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song, Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons. This was episode 396 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Thanks for listening. Tags: transcript

ReConnect Funding a Shot in the Arm for Virginia Co-op Fiber Broadband Deployment

muninetworks.org - March 2, 2020

Central Virginia Electric Cooperative (CVEC), has been working on their plan to deploy Fiber-to-the Home (FTTH) to members and surrounding premises since 2017. The rural cooperative received a financial boost when they recently received a grant and loan award from the USDA's ReConnect Program. Welcome Funding for Fiber  With $28 million - part loan and part grant - CVEC plans to fund the first three years of their project. The USDA funding will allow CVEC to connect more than 17,000 households, six health care centers, 15 educational facilities, and 15 other community facilities. When the entire five-year plan is complete, approximately 37,000 premises will have access to FTTH.  In Buckingham County, CVEC officials announced the award to about 200 people, including local resident Virginia Jackson. She and her family rely on their mobile phones' hotspots for Internet access, which is unreliable and can be expensive. She and her husband were interested in the project and how it would improve connectivity for them and left "excited to see what the project brings to our community." Early in the planning process, CVEC sought funding from local governments where they plan to deploy infrastructure. They did obtain support, but still sought grants and loans elsewhere to help pay for construction of the project, which they estimated to cost between $110 and $120 million. CVEC has received grants from the Virginia Telecommunications Initiative (VATI), FCC Connect American Fund, Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission (TRRC), and a loan from the Rural Utility Service (RUS) for smart grid upgrades.  The project will include deploying approximately 4,000 miles of fiber optic infrastructure and will touch 14 counties. The co-op will deploy in a range of competitive environments. In some areas, locals have only dial-up, whereas in other communities CenturyLink and Comcast already serve subscribers. Even in places where residents already have one or two options, the ability to connect with fiber and the advantage of competitive pricing has been welcome as CVEC rolls out its FireFly Fiber Broadband service. Learn More  We spoke with CEO Gary Wood and Communications and Member Services Manager Melissa Gay from CVEC in May 2019 on the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. During that conversation, they described the difficulties their rural members have in dealing with slow, unreliable Internet access.  Listen to the interview and learn more about the project, the region, and how CVEC is marketing FireFly Broadband. Tags: virginiafederal fundingfederal grantloanusdaruralrural electric coopcooperativeFTTHcentral virginia electric cooperative

Community Broadband Media Roundup - March 2

muninetworks.org - March 2, 2020


Star Valley joins county to plan for broadband by Teresa McQuerrey, Payson Roundup   Colorado Rural Colorado sees more broadband options coming online. But getting up to speed is taking longer than anticipated in some areas by Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun  "To be able to serve the entire region, all 100,000 people out here, it’s going to be a hybrid of a fiber backbone, fiber to the premise in communities where appropriate, and a wireless overlay to get to those areas where (fiber) is not cost-effective infrastructure,” she said. “Farmer Bob is probably not going to have the dollars to lay fiber down his 20-mile long driveway. And that’s OK. But he and that household do not deserve any less than anybody else just because they live in the rural areas.”   Georgia USDA invests $5 million in broadband for rural Georgia communities, AllonGeorgia    Maine State releases plan to bring broadband to 150 Maine communities, WMTW  "Broadband is a lifeline for rural communities to connect for businesses, to charge credit cards, or order inventory, or for students to be able to do homework and take classes, for communities to have access to health care," Department of Economic Community Development Commissioner Heather Johnson said.   Maine faces obstacles in broadband expansion efforts by Caitlin Andrews, GovTech    Maryland Gearing up to fight for rural broadband by Candice Spector, The Star Democrat (account required)   Massachusetts  SELCO announces two major capital initiative by Melanie Petrucci, Community Advocate    Minnesota Broadband bound for Cherry, Great Scott Townships, Hibbing Daily Tribune    Missouri Over $600,000 for broadband expansion in Dallas County, Buffalo Reflex    New Mexico Bill would speed broadband access by Scott Turner, Albuquerque Journal    Ohio Cincinnati Bell, Butler Rural Electric Co-op deal signals growing interest for telco electric partnerships by Bernie Arnason, telecompetitor    A quarter of Cuyahoga county homes have no Internet access -- why that matters and how it’s changing by Afl Scruggs, Cleveland    Virginia  Thousands of rural Virginians could get broadband access through Dominion Energy, Prince George Electric Cooperative partnership, Dominion Energy   General Who gets 5G — and who gets left behind — has some worried about digital inequality by Paul Flahive, NPR    Tackling the tribal digital divide by Jill Patton, Stanford Magazine  In the United States, 17 million of the 21 million people who lack fixed-line broadband access live in rural areas. (That’s one-third of all rural Americans.) The issue is twice as bad on rural tribal lands, where two-thirds of people lack high-speed internet connectivity. Eighteen percent of people living on reservations have no home internet access at all, according to a 2019 study by the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University.   Why your state has terrible Internet access by Karl Bode, Vice    The FCC wants to hear more about net neutrality, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society   Pew report looks at state broadband funding by Joan Engebretson, telecompetitor  Tags: media roundup

Arrowsic, Maine, Receives Federal Grant to Develop Fiber Network

muninetworks.org - February 28, 2020

There is a festive air in Arrowsic, Maine, after Governor Janet Mills announced on January 30th that the community will develop a publicly owned broadband network for fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. The community will receive $1.2 million in combined grant and loan funding from the USDA's ReConnect Pilot Program to connect 237 households, 20 businesses, and four farms with symmetrical fiber optic service of up to 100 Mbps. This will be a substantial upgrade because Arrowsic currently contends with patchy DSL connections that top out at 10 Mbps download through Consolidated, with upload speeds much slower. Poor connectivity has been affecting the economy at the local level because it's a strike against Arrowsic when people are looking to relocate to the region. Community leaders approached incumbent providers, including Consolidated and Spectrum, but the national companies rejected requests to serve the rural community with a small population of only around 450. Rather than settle for antiquated, poor serve, Arrowsic decided to pursue a community broadband network. Multi-Community Effort The 3 Bridged Islands Broadband Initiative (3BIB) is a nonprofit created by the towns of Arrowsic, Georgetown, and Southport. The organization first initiated a feasibility study, explored funding opportunities, and submitted the application for USDA grant to develop the network in Arrowsic. They've worked with Axiom to develop the design for the infrastructure and, according to the 3BIB website, intend work with private sector partners to offer services via the fiber optic infrastructure. After the approval of USDA grant, the town of Arrowsic is now determined to close the digital divide and expects to do more to boost the local economy. The town is also looking forward to providing telehealth services to older people with chronic illness, increasing students’ ability to do research and complete assignments through better Internet connections.  D.J. LaVoy, the USDA rural development deputy undersecretary said in his announcement on January 30th:  This substantial investment in broadband in Maine will help ensure that these rural, coastal, and island communities can connect to the vital Internet services that they depend on. Upgrading and installing essential broadband infrastructure will improve connectivity for critical first responders and rural businesses. It also will enhance learning opportunities for students, provide access to telehealth services and build prosperity for Maine’s iconic towns. Once operational, the broadband will provide a qualitative boost to the lives of the people in Arrowsic. As one resident Vicky Stoneman told WGME: Life is going to be a lot different. People can work better from home. My husband now has to go into town in order to do any kind of video conferencing or any kind of uploading. Arrowsic is looking forward to partnering with several local companies that have the resources and have had experience of constructing and operating local broadband. This is a big news for the Arrowsic residents as they cannot wait to experience the miracle of high-quality, reliable Internet access. Governor Mills: High-speed Internet is no longer a luxury; it is an economic necessity. This significant federal investment builds on the work done by the state to help connect our small, rural communities to high-speed Internet and open new doors of opportunity for their residents. As we work to strengthen and diversify our economy, building out our broadband capacity will play an important role and this funding represents another welcome step forward. Check this local coverage of the announcement:   Tags: arrowsic memaineusdafederal grantfederal fundingruralFTTHvideo

Connecting Community Colleges for Opportunity and Development - Community Broadband Bits North Carolina Bonus Episode!

muninetworks.org - February 27, 2020

Christopher went to North Carolina earlier this month to attend the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum at North Carolina State. While he was there, he interviewed Dr. Jeff Cox, President of Wilkes Community College, and Zach Barricklow Vice President of Strategy for the college. The conversation was too good not to share as another bonus episode for the project that we’ve been working on with nonprofit NC Broadband Matters. Our common goal is to shed light on some of the connectivity issues in North Carolina. NC Broadband Matters focuses on bringing broadband coverage to local communities for residents and businesses and we’re teaming up for the "Why NC Broadband Matters" podcast series which explores broadband and related issues in North Carolina. These education leaders discuss the value of broadband and distance learning in places like rural North Carolina. They examine how access to high-quality Internet access is presenting opportunities to potential students and increasing the possibility of economic mobility. They also look at how increased access to community college curriculum is improving the work force and improving economic development in rural areas of the state. We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below. This show is 20 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or with the tool of your choice using this feed, at the Community Broadband Bits page, or at the NC Broadband Matters page. We encourage you to check out other "Why NC Broadband Matters" content at the podcast feed so you don't miss future bonus content that may not appear in the Community Broadband Bits Podcast feed. Read the transcript for this episode. Listen to other Community Broadband Bits episodes here or view all episodes in our index. Thanks to Shane Ivers for the Music: What's The Angle? by Shane Ivers - https://www.silvermansound.com a Creative Commons Attribution (4.0) license. Tags: audiobroadband bitspodcastnorth carolinaNC Hearts Gigabiteducationruraleconomic development

Survey Supports Network Feasibility in Falmouth

muninetworks.org - February 27, 2020

Early survey results confirm the potential for a community broadband network in the coastal town of Falmouth, Massachusetts, reports The Falmouth Enterprise. Responses suggest wide dissatisfaction with service from the town’s current providers. Out of 378 respondents, 70 percent want better Internet access in the Cape Cod community; 92 percent want more competition. Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC) commissioned the survey as part of a feasibility study examining the potential for municipal broadband in the town of 32,000 people. With the initial results in hand, EDIC decided to continue with the second portion of the feasibility study to be completed later this year, moving Falmouth closer toward its own community network. Community Support Grows Municipal buildings and community anchor institutions in Falmouth already have Internet access through a local open access network operated by nonprofit OpenCape, resulting in significant cost savings. However, residents also want better connectivity for the rest of the community. Support for a municipal network grew throughout 2018 and 2019, culminating in EDIC issuing an RFP for a community network feasibility study in July. Community Broadband Networks Director Christopher Mitchell travelled to Falmouth in the Fall of 2019 to discuss the community’s efforts on local television. During the program, he spoke with community leaders about the benefits of locally owned connectivity, the examples set by other municipal networks, and the unique opportunities that Falmouth has. Study and Next Steps The survey, conducted by CCG Consulting, revealed that more than half of respondents experienced broadband outages or slowdowns within the past year and that most subscribe to the same provider. “The vast majority of Falmouth residents rely on Comcast for the delivery of their Internet; 83 percent, according to the survey results,” said community broadband advocate Courtney Bird in a letter to the editor. “That’s a monopoly.” Survey results also suggest that people in Falmouth pay higher monthly bills on average for triple play services. “One of the big drivers is pricing,” explained executive director Michael DiGiano at the EDIC meeting. “82 percent of the respondents said lower pricing from an alternative provider would make them consider changing, and 59 percent would be motivated by better reliability.” Based on the community response, CCG believes a high take rate would be possible for a municipal broadband network in Falmouth, suggesting a five year target of 61 percent. “Typically, [CCG sees] a range of 45 to 50 percent . . . so in terms of predicted penetration rate for an alternative broadband provider, this is at the top end,” shared DiGiano. The second portion of the feasibility study will look at engineering the network and financial prospects. EDIC and CCG plan to complete the study by June 2020, at which point the town or another provider could decide whether to proceed with a project. Tags: falmouth mamassachusettssurveynew englandfeasibilityccgratesreliability

State Legislatures 2020: Broadband Preemption Still a Risk

muninetworks.org - February 26, 2020

As state lawmakers debate in committee rooms and Capitol chambers around the country, various broadband and Internet network infrastructure bills are appearing on agendas. Some are good news for local communities interested in developing publicly owned networks while other preemption bills make projects more difficult to plan, fund, and execute. We've gathered together some notable bills from several states that merit watching - good, bad, and possibly both.

New Hampshire

For years, local communities were not allowed to bond to develop publicly owned broadband infrastructure in New Hampshire. Last year, the state adopted SB 170, which opened the door a crack so that municipalities can bond to develop infrastructure for public-private partnerships (PPPs) in "unserved" areas. This year, the New Hampshire General Court has the opportunity to push open the door a bit wider with SB 459. SB 459 allows local communities to potentially define "unserved" areas themselves by putting more responsibility on Internet access providers. Municipalities must currently engage in a request for information process in which they must reach out to all Internet service providers operating in the community. SB 459, if adopted, would allow a community to consider areas "unserved" if a provider does not respond to such a request to clarify which premises are unserved. With the "unserved" designation, municipalities can bond to develop infrastructure to serve those premises. The bill has bipartisan support and is scheduled for a March 11th hearing in the Senate Election Law and Municipal Affairs Committee. Read the text of SB 459 here [PDF] and follow its progress here. Pennsylvania In Pennsylvania, where lawmakers meet all year, Rep. Pam Snyder introduced HB 2055 in late in 2019. The bill allows local governments to provide telecommunications services, but limits them to unserved areas. If passed, the bill amends the Municipalities Authorities Act and, according to Snyder, likens Internet access from a municipal network to water or sewer service. The bill relies on the FCC definition of "unserved," which would likely result in an ineligible designation for areas that do not, in reality, have access to broadband, due to problems with FCC mapping.  If adopted, however, the measure might be the start of a different approach at the state level in Pennsylvania. Future legislators could redefine their definition of "unserved" (see New Hampshire above) and, because the inadequacies of federal mapping have become an important topic in recent years, "unserved" in Pennsylvania might broadened. The bill is currently in the House Local Government Committee and has bipartisan support. Currently, state law doesn't allow municipalities to offer broadband services to the public in Pennsylvania. The only exception arises when a local telephone company, which does not provide broadband, refuses to do so within 14 months of a request by a political subdivision. If the company decides to offer those services, even at extremely high rates, a municipality is barred from doing so. Read the text of HB 2055 here [PDF] and follow its progress here. On the preemption front, Pennsylvania is attracting the displeasure of local communities and their advocates, including the Pennsylvania Municipal League (PML). HB 1400, introduced by Rep. Frank Farry, is similar to other bills around the country that try to impose state authority on local decisions in managing small cell equipment in public rights-of-way. The PML reports that: HB 1400 is also more restrictive than the FCC Order that went into effect in January. Restrictions include lower application and rights-of-way management fees; no ability to prove actual costs and charge fees to meet those costs; larger antennas; and higher poles. The bill, which was introduced in June 2019 and referred to the House Consumer Affairs Committee, has garnered renewed attention at the start of the new year. The PML has followed the issue closely and responded twice with memos to the members of the committee addressing the issue of preemption of local authority, public safety, and other problems with the bill. HB 1400 is still in the Consumer Affairs Committee waiting for review. Read the text of HB 1400 here [PDF]. You can also review the memos from the PML on their concerns about the bill here (June 2019) [PDF] and here (January 2020) [PDF]. Track HB 1400 here. Florida Another bill relating to placement of fixed wireless equipment in public rights-of-way has been introduced in Florida. HB 6075 and its companion SB 1848, however, restore local authority to communities that was previously taken away. HB 6075 is in the House Energy & Utilities Subcommitee of the Commerce Committee and has been waiting for a hearing since mid-January. See the text of the bill here [PDF] and watch to see if it gains any traction here. Iowa Not long ago, we reported on a bill in Iowa that has communities such as Waterloo and Cedar Falls nervously watching in Des Moines. Senate Study Bill 3009 (SSB 3009) strikes at local funding authority and the ability for municipal networks to offer competitive rates. In a recent Courier article, General Counsel from the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities Tom Whipple commented: “Sometimes, in a competitive scenario where an incumbent service provider is providing steep discounts in an attempt to lure customers, our members need to be able to temporarily drop prices to compete,” Whipple said in an email [to the Courier]. “The big incumbent providers can unfairly leverage customers in other communities (they serve) to subsidize steep discounts in a municipal utility town,” he added. “If our members can’t lower their prices to compete, it’s simply not fair.” As we noted in January, one of the most damaging aspects of SSB 3009 is its attack on local funding options for Internet network infrastructure. It prohibits interdepartmental loans, a long-accepted form of funding infrastructure projects, at interest rates below "prevailing market rates" and imposes restrictions on other financial arrangements. The bill also imposes burdens on municipalities that offer broadband services by requiring separate billing for Internet access rather than including the fees with other other utilities, such as electric, sewer, and gas services. SSB 3009 has been in the Senate Committee on Commerce since January 15. You can watch it's progress here and review the language of the bill here. Idaho In Idaho, H 490 also focuses on funding to preempt local attempts for better connectivity. The bill, which requires a long list of new "must" and "can't dos" for community networks, specifically prohibits local improvement districts (LID) as a funding mechanism. Bruce Patterson, Technology Director from Ammon, describes the bill as a "muni killer." Ammon Fiber Optics has funded expansion of their award-winning open access fiber optic network with LIDs. The method allows the utility to target areas where they know subscriber interest is strong because demand must reach a minimum threshhold prior to deployment. We recently reported on the bill, which is still in the House Local Government Committee, that additional Idaho municipalities hope will either be voted down or ignored by legislators, especially those considering their own broadband projects. Read H 490 [PDF]  and keep an eye on it's progress through the legislature here. Virginia Early in the year, Del. Mark Levine introduced HB 1052, a bill to remove all restrictions from local authority, which would allow local communities to invest in community broadband networks to serve the general public. Virginia has long been a state where communities have had to fight ever-increasing efforts from special interest lobbyists seeking to strip them of the local authority they still possess. Broadband advocates will remember the fight to stop HB 2108 in 2017 as a recent contentious battle. The state has laws in place now that impose onerous reporting requirements on municipal networks to discourage new projects and operate almost as a de facto ban. Past fights on any broadband bill designed to restore local authority or ease requirements make any lawmaker careful. After considering the current opposition from special interest lobbyists from the monopoly telcos and big cable companies, Del. Levine decided to pull back consideration of the bill until next year. In the mean time, supporters and staff will continue to research and gather information to support the measure for a strong showing in the future. We're looking forward to the revival of this proposal in 2021. Read the text of HB 1052 [PDF] and check the history of the bill next session at Virginia's Legislative Information System. North Carolina North Carolina's FIBER NC Act or H 431 will also be set aside for another year. Despite bipartisan appeal, lobbyists from large corporate Internet access companies have found ways to influence legislators and resulting changes have pushed it from positive to far from perfect for local communities. H 431, which we've described before, allows North Carolina communities to invest in necessary infrastructure in order to develop PPPs with Internet access companies. H 431 currently resides in the House Committee on Finance. Among the staunch opposition, are large ISPs that are already engaging in similar PPPs with communities in other states, including Springfield, Missouri and a planned project in Page County, Virginia [PDF]. It's unclear why PPPs in these states are acceptable to large corporate Internet access companies but distasteful in North Carolina. Read version 2 of the bill here and track it here. On the Funding Front In Minnesota, the Office of Broadband Development decided on $20 million worth of projects - many cooperatives and at least one tribal project - for Border to Border Broadband Grants. States with broadband funding programs, such as Maine and Vermont, are working on new appropriations or distributing the funding set aside last year. A particularly bright spot is Illinois, where the state recently distributed the first round of $420 million in grants to expand broadband across the state.  Governor JB Pritzker said: “I want to be clear: This isn’t about a person’s ability to check Facebook. This is about a small business owner having the tools she needs to reach new customers. This is about an elderly couple’s ability to get access to medical experts anywhere in the nation even if they live in a rural community. This is about giving children the ability to research their homework assignments online. In short, this is about the right of all our communities to access health care, education, and economic opportunity.” Learn more about the Illinois program by revisiting the conversation between Christopher and Matt Schmit, Deputy Director at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. They discussed the Illinois program and Matt's time in Minnesota, where he helped establish the Border to Border program. Image of the New Hampshire State House by AlexiusHoratius / CC BY-SA SB 459, New Hampshire, as introduced HB 2055, Pennsylvania, as introduced HB 1400, Pennsylvania, as introduced 2019 Memo from Pennsylvania Municipal League opposing HB 1400 2020 Memo from Pennsylvania Municipal League opposing HB 1400 HB 1052, Virginia, as introduced H 431, North Carolina's FIBER NC Act, V.2Tags: legislationnew hampshirepennsylvaniafloridaidahoiowavirginianorth carolinafundingstate lawsstate policyminnesota

Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services Offering Rural Speed, Reliability - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 396

muninetworks.org - February 25, 2020

Rural areas are taking steps to improve their connectivity and are developing high-quality Internet access on par with the best services in urban centers. When smaller communities band together, they increase their chances of developing fast, affordable, reliable community networks that serve a larger swath of people. This week, Christopher speaks with Travis Thies, General Manager of one of those networks established to serve an eight-town region, Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS). The network started with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and has continued to make improvements and upgrades to serve folks who were once stuck with antiquated Internet access. Before SMBS, several communities had been told by the incumbent Internet access provider that the best they could ever expect was dial-up service. Now, subscribers can sign-up for gigabit connections. With intelligent partnerships, they're also able to provide service to farms and rural premises beyond town limits. Travis and Christopher discuss the history of the project, the challenges that community leaders and network officials have faced and overcome, and how the area's demographics have helped them determine the best ways to serve subscribers. They also discuss their partnership with a local fixed wireless Internet service provider and the how better connectivity has attracted people and businesses to the region. 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. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page. Read the transcript for this episode.  Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control. Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.  Tags: audiopodcastbroadband bitsminnesotaruralsouthwest minnesota broadband serviceswindomgigabitregional

Community Broadband Media Roundup - February 24

muninetworks.org - February 24, 2020


California’s broadband fund ignores fiber and favors slow DSL by Ernesto Falcon, EFF The California legislature needs to fix CASF and convert it into a fiber infrastructure fund focused on upgrading Californian communities into the 21stcentury. To do so, the legislature needs to amend the broadband standard for eligible projects to 100 mbps download by 100 mbps upload with low latency and establish that as the new goal by deleting the DSL standard.   Colorado Bayfield moves toward improved broadband plan by Shannon Mullane, Herald   Illinois USDA invests $3.4 million in broadband for rural Illinois communities, USDA   Iowa Waterloo, Cedar Falls Utilities fear new broadband rules by Tim Jamison, The Courier    Maine Big telecom say it has first amendment right to sell your private data by Karl Bode, Vice  Last June, Maine passed a new law intended to protect broadband user privacy. The law demands ISPs clearly disclose what data is collected and who it’s sold to, requiring that users opt in to the sale of sensitive location or financial data. The law also bans ISPs from charging you extra if you want your privacy protected, a practice AT&T engaged in for years.   New Hampshire NH law could hasten local broadband buildout by Adam Sullivan, WCAX 3    Tennessee  USDA invests $9 million in broadband for rural Tennessee communities, USDA   General America’s monopoly problem, explained by your Internet bill by Emily Stewart, Vox In the US, however, just a few big companies, often without overlap, control much of the telecom industry, and the result is high prices and uneven connectivity. In 2018, Harvard law professor Susan Crawford examined the case of, what do you know, New York City in an article for Wired. The city was supposed to be “a model for big-city high-speed internet,” she explained   Broadband consumption continues explosive growth, POTs and PANs    The FCC’s new initiative punishes states that have tried to close the digital divide by Jenna Leventoff, Public Knowledge    The vast undercount of gaps in American Internet access by Linda Poon, MSN    The road to gigabit connectivity for every anchor and community by John Windhausen, SHLB Tags: media roundup

Idaho House Bill Threatens Funding Option for Community Network Investment

muninetworks.org - February 24, 2020

The open access network in Ammon, Idaho, has been celebrated as visionary and viewed as a potential model for other communities seeking competitive local Internet access markets. A bill in the state legislature, however, aims to restrict local communities' ability to reproduce the Ammon Model, or any other publicly owned network, by imposing new restrictions on local efforts. Read the text of the bill here. Removing a Local Funding Option H 490, introduced by Rep. Ron Mendive from Coeur d'Alene, states specifically that local governments have the authority to take the necessary steps to develop Internet networks and to offer services to the general public. Provisions in the bill that dictate how projects are financed, operated, and managed, however, transform the bill into a "muni killer" says Bruce Patterson, Ammon's technology director. In a recent Idaho Business Review article (subscription required), Patterson described the language of H 490: “On its face, it claims to authorize cities to have the authority to finance, build, and operate a communications network and offer a communications service, but each of the restrictions that follow make it impossible for a city to actually do those things. It is like telling your child: ‘Sure, you can play outside, just don’t leave the house.'” Large, national Internet service providers have millions of dollars of capital to invest in new infrastructure wherever they see a business case to do so. The situation is different for local governments interested in developing fiber optic infrastructure when national companies concentrate investment elsewhere. Places like Ammon have had to think creatively to fund necessary projects. By using local improvement district (LID) funding, the City of Ammon Fiber Optics has expanded in neighborhoods where residents and businesses want to connect to the open access Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network. H 490 explicitly prohibits LID funding for municipal networks. In 2018, the City of Ammon Fiber Optics released a video describing the LID process as they were preparing for an earlier expansion: As a result of Ammon's investment, people and businesses that have chosen to connect to the network have the ability to choose from four Internet access providers that deliver services via the publicly owned infrastructure. In addition to better rates for those who have connected to Ammon Fiber Optics, other providers in the area now offer competitive rates and better services. Watch that Bill H 490, which you can read here [PDF], includes more provisions that will likely discourage other communities in the state from investing in publicly owned infrastructure for better connectivity, such as Emmett. The community of about 6,500 people has incrementally developed a fiber optic network with long-term plans to connect every premise. If H 490 passes, their ability to do so will be compromised due to the state's imposition on local funding options. The bill has been referred to the House Local Government Committee where Rep. Mendive is the Committee Chair. Follow the bill's movement through the Idaho Legislature here. Ammon Presses On Learn more about Ammon and the network they've developed and continue to refine by listening to episodes 259207173, and 86 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. We also spoke with Bruce Patterson and people who use the network for a short film we produced with Next Century Cities that tells the story of Ammon.   H 490 as Introduced in Idaho LegislatureTags: idaholegislationh 490 idfundingstate laws

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits NC Bonus Episode

muninetworks.org - February 21, 2020

This is the transcript for our special bonus episode of Community Broadband Bits series, Why NC Broadband Matters. In this episode, Christopher sits down with Roberto Gallardo to discuss about the complex issue of digital divide and how it impacts socio-economic development. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below.      Roberto Gallardo: The number one threat to community development today is digital exclusion. So, if you do not address that, it's going to be really hard for you to not only catch up, but just starting getting some traction in this digital age. Lisa Gonzalez: This is a bonus episode, in our special Community Broadband Bits podcast series, Why NC Broadband Matters. I'm Lisa Gonzalez, with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NC Broadband Matters is a North Carolina non-profit. Their mission is to attract, support, and champion the universal availability of affordable, reliable, high capacity Internet access, necessary for thriving local communities, including local businesses, and a local workforce, so each can compete in the global economy. The group has created the North Carolina chapter of CLIC, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice. The Institute is working with NC Broadband matters, to produce this series focusing on issues affecting people in North Carolina, but also impact folks in other regions. Lisa Gonzalez: This week, we have a bonus episode. Recently, Christopher traveled down to Raleigh, North Carolina, to attend the Reconnect Farm, organized by the Institute for Emerging Issues, at North Carolina State University. We want to thank organizers for all their dedication in setting up an event that was so well put together, and offered a great opportunity for advocates, experts, and scholars to connect. While Christopher was there, he connected with Robert Gallardo, from Purdue University. Roberto is a digital inclusion expert, who has studied the intersections between infrastructure development and digital inclusion. He and Christopher discuss a range of topics, including how communities can use data to tailor digital inclusion plans specific to their needs. They talk about the importance of digital inclusion in making infrastructure development sustainable, and the need for champions to drive digital inclusion efforts.Now, here's Christopher with Roberto Gallardo. 2:01 Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. This is Chris Mitchell, from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, talking to you from North Carolina State University, NC State, where we're at the Institute for Emerging Issues. We are at an interesting forum, called the Reconnect Forum, where we're going to be talking about technology. Christopher Mitchell: I happen to be here with Roberto Gallardo, Professor of Purdue University, wonderful big-time school. But, I first got to know you when you were at Mississippi. So, welcome to the show, Roberto. Roberto Gallardo: Thank you, I appreciate the invite, Chris. Christopher Mitchell: So remind me, before you were at Purdue, what were you doing? Roberto Gallardo: I was at Mississippi State University, I was part of the Extension Service, as a Community Development Specialist, working with primarily rural communities, helping them in community economic development efforts. Christopher Mitchell: Now that you're at Purdue, what are you doing there? Same broad mission, it seems like in a lot of ways? Trying to help people understand the value of the Internet, and why they should be using it more. Roberto Gallardo: Correct. Basically, what I was doing in Mississippi, I'm continuing to doing at Purdue, yes, through the Extension Service. Christopher Mitchell: Let me ask you to just tell me a little bit about what you're going to present on here, at the event? Then, we'll talk more generally about the work that you've been doing. Roberto Gallardo: Sure. Christopher Mitchell: What are you doing here, in North Carolina today? Roberto Gallardo: I'm one of the first speakers, and I was asked to provide an overview of what broadband is, at the very basic level, to ensure that the audience, they're all on the same page with certain terms and technicalities of it. I've been asked to distinguish what access and adoption are. They've also asked me to crunch some numbers, and present, to set the stage for the other speakers coming later today, and the other breakout sessions. Christopher Mitchell: You focus a lot on whether people are using the Internet or not. I'm curious, what do you see in North Carolina? Is it different than what you see in other states? Roberto Gallardo: No. In fact, I did crunch the numbers. Compared to Virginia, and South Carolina, and in some metrics, North Carolina is doing better. Some metrics, I mean the percent of homes with no computer devices, no computing devices. Or, percent of homes that are not subscribing, or no Internet access. We also crunched numbers on the FCC data, which we all know, that we've got to really take it with a grain of salt. 04:13 Roberto Gallardo: North Carolina is doing very well. I am very impressed by the Office of Broadband here, in North Carolina from Minnesota. I think, from my perspective, Minnesota and North Carolina are two of the leading states, when it comes to state broadband offices, and all the innovative, cool stuff that they do. Christopher Mitchell: Right. In Minnesota, I think we were one of the first states to develop the matching grant program. Here in North Carolina, I think they've been a little bit more aggressive on mapping issues, and trying to figure out what's going on, on the ground, in some ways. Roberto Gallardo: Correct. They've developed a phenomenal toolkit for communities to start understanding the process. As you may agree, or may have seen, most rural communities specifically just go down the rabbit hole of infrastructure, and they overlook the other components of what a true digital inclusion strategy should be. But, that's understandable because their connectivity is not at the level that they want it to be. Roberto Gallardo: On that front, the office here in North Carolina has been very, very progressive, in the sense of generating materials to help these local communities, empowering these local communities to understand the concept, and really keep other issues, as well as infrastructure, in mind. Christopher Mitchell: Now, I think probably a lot of people who listen to this show are more focused on the infrastructure build out, and those sorts of things. You tend to be more focused on whether or not people are using what's available to them. Just give me a quick argument of why that's important, at all? Why should we care about that? Roberto Gallardo: Well, of course any broadband infrastructure investment will not be sustainable, if you do not couple it with true digital inclusion efforts. Meaning, do you have the devices to use it, do you have the knowledge, do you have motivation? Those three are critical. So, what I always tell communities, yes, take care of the infrastructure, but do not overlook these, because that investment will not be sustainable, or will not work out as you're hoping, if you do not address these other issues, as well. That is very, very important. 6:11 Roberto Gallardo: Through this work, is that I've been able to beat the drum constantly in the communities that I've had the honor to work with, is yes, go down the infrastructure. But as you know, ironically, unless they go through a full-blown, municipal broadband network, or county network, honestly, they do not control the infrastructure dance. They're not. Roberto Gallardo: So, what I tell them is if you manage to mobilize folks, and get up and running the information, diversify your activities, because it may fizzle. And it may fizzle because you're not controlling that process, you're going to be waiting. Unfortunately, I've seen many communities, from a textbook perspective, they've checked all their boxes, Chris. They've done everything they've been asked to do, and they're still waiting. Roberto Gallardo: What I tell them is, well, pivot a little bit. Look at devices, and look at digital skills. How can you incorporate these strategies into a larger community economic development effort? That will ensure your community transitions to a digital mindset. Otherwise, you're trying to drive your car through the rear view mirror, right? It's not possible. Christopher Mitchell: What you're saying is, just to be clear, the communities where they may or may not have built their own network, they are needing to do extra work, aside from worrying about infrastructure. Many of the people who listen to this show, actually, are people who are in communities where they're probably not going to build their own network, or they're a private service provider, who's working with communities. Christopher Mitchell: I guess, one of the questions I have then, is who is the best entity to be really developing a digital inclusion strategy? Because it's not always just the people that are best at build infrastructure, I'm guessing? Roberto Gallardo: That exactly right, and that's a great question. It'll vary. I sound like a politician now, it depends. Christopher Mitchell: Right? 25,000 different jurisdictions, so not all the same. 8:07 Roberto Gallardo: But I will tell you this, that's the common denominator, you need a local champion, and it's not rocket science. You need somebody that takes the lead, and that may be the local economic developer, that may be the local government, that may be a non-profit, that may be Extension. That maybe somebody ... I've seen it, across my work, that there is always a group of folks that understand, and are beating the drum. When that happens, it shows it selves will vary. But, the best practices, or lessons learned from this, is you don't know what you don't know. Roberto Gallardo: If these local folks, that are a little bit more receptive to changing their mindset, are not aware that it's not all about infrastructure, then they're not going to beat the drum, right? In my experience, it's getting a group of folks, at the level of awareness they need to have, and then it'll take very different forms. NDIA, of course, you've got a lot of non-profits, local governments, big cities that have departments that do this. Christopher Mitchell: Right, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance? Roberto Gallardo: Correct. Then, I've seen rural communities ... I'm working with a community in Indiana right now, that they convened a Broadband Task Force. Their purpose was infrastructure, but then they worked towards a broader, and they just adopted a digital inclusion plan, a five year digital inclusion plan. Roberto Gallardo: What is need is a core group of folks, that can beat the drum locally, that are trust, and that they can then take the necessary steps to get the community positioned to go down that road. Christopher Mitchell: When you talk about digital inclusion, I think the image that pops into a lot of our heads is, maybe a family, maybe an older individual who is not very familiar with technology, may have a low income, may be on a fixed income, and it's an issue of literacy, and a device knowledge, and that sort of a thing. Is digital inclusion more than that? Roberto Gallardo: Yes. I'm glad you asked that question. I consider the term digital inclusion ... I do know that, many times, it is seen as efforts to help those less fortunate, right? Christopher Mitchell: Mm-hmm, almost charity. Although, I hate that because it's not about charity, it's actually about us all being stronger. 10:19 Roberto Gallardo: It's not. To me, digital inclusion is that, plus ensuring that your Moms-and-Pops can compete in the local digital economy. If you're not being digital inclusive, that means they do not have a basic knowledge of online presence. To me, means aside from the small businesses, and Moms-and-Pops, every worker, do they have the digital skills needed? I think you've seen the Brookings Report, that two thirds of jobs between 2010 and 2016 required medium to high digital skills. Roberto Gallardo: Yes, it is the less fortunate, but to me, digital inclusion is broader than that, and it's more of a concept of becoming self-aware that you've got to be digital inclusive in all these fronts, not only the less fortunate, to ensure, then, that your community can transition and prosper in the digital age. Christopher Mitchell: Right. I think you even extend it to small and local businesses, don't you? Roberto Gallardo: Correct. Yeah, Moms-and-Pops, they're typically overlooked. That's another economic development rant I'm not going to go over right now. But yes, to me, that's that. Its local government. Are you engaging digitally with your citizens? Do you have that mindset, do you have the capability, are you at that comfort level? Roberto Gallardo: I had a fantastic project in Nebraska, with three rural communities. We learned so much, Chris. To me, digital inclusion is just the entire ecosystem, and I'm trying to, from a conceptual point of view, embed digital inclusion into traditional community economic strategies. Christopher Mitchell: So, in terms of how we should fund this, what are the economic benefits to a community, that may be needed to justify putting some money into these efforts? Roberto Gallardo: The funding is very interesting. What I've learned, from my public policy area, you've got to frame it in a way that gets the policy makers' attention. The way that this has worked is through workforce development. That one was gained some traction, but it's a little bit narrow, it's like a laser focus on it. But still, it's something. 12:20 Roberto Gallardo: What I tell communities is the number one threat to community economic development today is digital exclusion. So, if you do not address that, it's going to be really hard for you to not only catch up, but just start getting some traction in this digital age. So, it is a hard sell, because many times the mindset, it's still from the last Century. It's a constant awareness education, to let them know. Roberto Gallardo: Once they realize this, they do also realize that there's a lot of assets they didn't know they had. Right? They don't know that small businesses turn over devices every five years, four years. They have tech savvy volunteers that are itching to do this. Christopher Mitchell: Sure. Roberto Gallardo: Either a Hackathon, or do this, or do ... But, they don't realize that, because they're not looking for that. Christopher Mitchell: Is the best place to start maybe the library? Roberto Gallardo: Libraries are a key, key player in this role, they are at the front lines. Yes, the library is a good organization to keep in mind. Churches are also big. If you spin it on the cyber bullying aspect of it, they will buy into it, and they have their own little network that they reach out to. Well, not little, many times it's everything in other communities. So, churches, local government, libraries are key. Community colleges, schools, all these moving pieces need to be digital inclusive aware. That way, they can address this issue in a coordinated way, and they're not peddling on their own little- Christopher Mitchell: Their own little unicycle? Roberto Gallardo: Yeah. Roberto Gallardo: One last thing is, many communities, no matter how small they are, they do understand certain data, or certain scores. So, the data is not the best, I wish it were better. Christopher Mitchell: Right. In terms of the data of where it's available, and what the costs are? 14:08 Roberto Gallardo: Correct. That, plus adoption. We do not know how they're using it. Is it productive use, it's not productive? We don't have a national survey that sets the benchmark. I know NTIA, the National Telecommunications Information Administration, they do have some data there, that shows. But, at the local level, we don't know, we're fumbling in the dark. So, that's a key issue because many policy makers do understand, if you show them that data they will go, "Oh, I didn't know we were in that shape." Christopher Mitchell: So, this would be data that would show how important it is for all families to have this access, and be able to use it? Roberto Gallardo: Correct. I mean, obviously it's starting to trickle down in a way, or trickle up, however you want to see it. The Homework Gap, that's a very, very critical issue. It's catchy, in the sense that people are, "Oh, now I see." From there, you can use that as entrance, and then broaden it. Say, "Well, it's not only students, right?" It's families, right? It's people, maybe older folks, that are missing out on some tele-health opportunities. Christopher Mitchell: Right, that's what I was going to go to next, yeah. Roberto Gallardo: Yeah. There's a lot. You just need to know the local context, and find a way to get in there. If you come in and just say, "You've got to be digital inclusive," it's going to be like, "What a minute. What are you talking about?" You've got to find ways, either through data, or case studies, or whatever, at the local level, to be able to say, "Look, see this is an issue, right?" Yeah. "Well, digital inclusion would address this." Roberto Gallardo: Then, they go, "Oh. What else would it address?" Okay, well let me get started, and then you broaden it up. Christopher Mitchell: Now, for people who want to know a little bit more about your work, you did a big report last year, right? We can encourage people to check that out. Do you remember what title of it was? Roberto Gallardo: Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah, that one was a very interesting project. We took FCC data, and I always tell them, "This is not the best data, this actually is the best case scenario you're looking at. From this, it's really downhill." Christopher Mitchell: Right. 16:01 Roberto Gallardo: I always use the analogy, "I would not use this data to go to Mars." I would use it to start talking about going to Mars. Roberto Gallardo: That's a big difference. If you can get these conversations started, that's a big thing. But, PCRD.Purdue.edu, you can go in there and check us out. Or, Purdue Extension Community Development, we have some very cool digital inclusion programs through Extension, that we've developed as well. Christopher Mitchell: Great. Thank you so much for your time today. Roberto Gallardo: No, thank you, man. I appreciate it. Lisa Gonzalez: Thanks for tuning in to this bonus episode of our Why Broadband Matters podcast series, and for listening to the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Remember to follow Christopher on Twitter, his handle is @CommunityNets. If you follow @NCHeartsGB on Twitter, you'll tap into all the NC Broadband Matters material. We want to thank Shane Ivers, of SilvermanSound.com for the series music, What's the Angle, licensed through Creative Commons, and we want to thank you for listening. Until next time. Link: Tags: transcript

North Carolina Takes a Deeper Look at Statewide Access, Adoption, Digital Divide

muninetworks.org - February 20, 2020

Determining the state of broadband in a local community can be challenging for professional who conduct surveys and develop feasibility studies. Finding out the same information on a state level is an even more complex task. Nevertheless, North Carolina is tackling the job and earlier this month, the N.C. Department of Information Technology (NCDIT) shared data indices that shine a light on the state of broadband access, adoption, and how the digital divide plays out across the state. It's More than Mapping In December 2019, we spoke with Jeff Sural, Director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office for the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, who discussed their work in mapping and examining the Office's attempts to gather a more accurate picture of how and where people in the state use and access the Internet. Listen to them discuss the project here. They talked as part of our special series on North Carolina connectivity that we're creating in collaboration with NC Broadband Matters: The indices look at county-level data and reveal a variety of factors. Some results are a stark reality that the digital divide has widened as technology in some regions has advanced — such as indicators that show people have only DSL service and no Internet access at all juxtaposed against those communities where a majority of folks subscribe to available fiber optic connectivity. These indices were designed to create a more accurate picture of broadband access and adoption. Because broadband access and adoption are each important but distinct, two indices were designed. They are: 1. “Broadband Availability and Quality Index,” and 2. “Broadband Adoption Potential Index.”   Together, 19 variables—eight in the broadband availability and 11 in the broadband adoption—create the indices. And the indices are available at both the county and census tract level—a feature we believe can help communities both understand how their community or county relates to the rest of the state, and zero in on individual communities so solutions can accurately reflect their individual needs.   A Closer Look The NCDIT announced the release of the data at the recent ReCONNECT to Technological Opportunity Forum from the Institute for Emerging Issues. While he was there, Christopher had the opportunity to interview Roberto Gallardo, Ph. D., from Purdue University, who developed the indices. One of Gallardo's key maxims for communities is that "you don't know what you don't know." In order to make the policy changes and targeted investments to shrink the various digital divides, detailed data and deep analysis is the way to develop unique solutions for unique communities. Listen to the conversation between Christopher and Roberto here: NCDIT Secretary and State Chief Information Officer Eric Boyette, who announced the indices at the forum said: “One of our goals is to create a better picture of North Carolina’s broadband access limitations and opportunities. We are working toward ensuring all North Carolinians have access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet service.”  Sural noted that, with better data to help the state better understand what the current situation is, North Carolina will be "better equipped to work with communities and our public and private partners to address these challenges." Amy Huffman, digital inclusion and policy manager for the state Broadband Infrastructure Office, noted that the indices are the beginning to the state's ability to measure benchmarks as they work toward digital inclusion: “These indices will give us great benchmarks for measuring change over time in broadband access and adoption and help us assess our progress in closing the digital divide.” The North Carolina Broadband indices are available online and the NCDIT hopes that state and local leaders will make use of the tool. The information can help better understand the current state of broadband in their community, assist in visualizing ways to improve challenges and take advantages of opportunities, and in developing solutions. Federal level mapping has been criticized in the past as heavily leaning toward overstating coverage, and states like North Carolina are taking matters in their own hands to gather the correct data. As other states begin to recognize and support broadband expansion efforts, North Carolina's work can help them realize that the presence of infrastructure is only one ingredient required to develop a universal adoption recipe. Take a look at the North Carolina Broadband Indices here. Tags: north carolinadigital dividestate policymappingrural

Roberto Gallardo on the Complex Digital Divide - Community Broadband Bits North Carolina Bonus Episode!

muninetworks.org - February 20, 2020

In recent months, we’ve been working with nonprofit NC Broadband Matters to shed light on some of the connectivity issues in North Carolina. The group focuses on bringing broadband coverage to local communities for residents and businesses and have asked us to help them develop the series, "Why NC Broadband Matters," which explores broadband and related issues in North Carolina. Many of the discussions have struck a chord with folks in other states, especially those with rural regions and those that grapple with the digital divide. This week, we’re sharing a bonus episode in addition to our monthly episodes. Why? Because this conversation is interesting, important, and inspiring. While he was recently in North Carolina at the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum at North Carolina State, Christopher had the opportunity to sit down with Roberto Gallardo, Ph.D., Assistant Director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development and a Purdue Extension Community & Regional Economics Specialist. Roberto has been working with the state’s Department of Information Technology to develop their N.C. Broadband Indices and examine digital inclusion in North Carolina. Roberto, who has studied the digital divide(s) elsewhere speaks with Christopher about the overlap between availability, adoption, and infrastructure. He and Christopher look at how data can help communities take a targeted approach at developing a unique strategy for closing the digital divide for their citizens. We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below. This show is 17 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or with the tool of your choice using this feed, at the Community Broadband Bits page, or soon at the NC Broadband Matters page. We encourage you to check out other "Why NC Broadband Matters" content at the podcast feed so you don't miss future bonus content that may not appear in the Community Broadband Bits Podcast feed. Read the transcript for this episode. Listen to other Community Broadband Bits episodes here or view all episodes in our index. Thanks to Shane Ivers for the Music: What's The Angle? by Shane Ivers - https://www.silvermansound.com a Creative Commons Attribution (4.0) license. Tags: audiopodcastbroadband bitsnorth carolinadigital divideruraleconomic developmenturbanNC Hearts Gigabitinfrastructureaffordability

Transcript: Community Broadband Bits Episode 395

muninetworks.org - February 20, 2020

This is the transcript for episode 395 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. In this episode, Christopher speaks with Matt Schmit, Deputy Director at the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity about moving the rural broadband discussion forward in Minnesota and determining the best way to deploy broadband in Illinois. Listen to the episode, or read the transcript below.   Matt Schmit: That fiber. It's in the ground. It's going to stay there. It's going to be doing a lot of really good work on the communications for a long, long time. Lisa Gonzalez: Welcome to episode 395 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. When Matt Schmit was a Minnesota state Senator, he was one of the lawmakers instrumental in developing the state border to border broadband program. Other states that have since developed similar programs use the Minnesota program as a model. Now, Matt has moved on to Illinois where he's planning on continuing his work to bring broadband to more people in more regions of the state. Last year, Illinois firmed up plans to fund broadband infrastructure as part of their statewide infrastructure plans. Matt will be working diligently on implementing the program. Lisa Gonzalez: In this conversation, Matt and Christopher sat down to talk about what the process was like for Matt and Minnesota, and what drove him to pursue better broadband for rural areas. They discussed some of the challenges he faced and what challenges he may contend with in Illinois. Christopher and Matt also talk about Illinois new funding approach and compare the program to Matt's work in Minnesota. Now here's Christopher talking with Matt Schmit, former Minnesota state Senator, who's now working to expand broadband in Illinois. Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the community Broadband Bits Podcast. This is Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for local self-reliance, coming to you from Sunny St. Paul, Minnesota, and the first ever interview that I'm doing in my own personal studio slash dining room. Welcome to the show Matt Schmit. Matt Schmit: Christopher. It's great to join you. Christopher Mitchell: Well Matt, I've been wanting to have this conversation for a long time. You're someone that I've known for a long time. I really respect in this area, you've done a lot of good work. Now you are the... We might break in the middle of this title for an ad break. Deputy director of Illinois, the department of commerce and economic opportunity. Matt Schmit: That sounds right. Christopher Mitchell: Right. I sort of butchered it a little bit there, but that's, you're the Deputy Director, which means you're the, like a vice president effectively. Matt Schmit: Something like that. Christopher Mitchell: Yes. And, but what's important is that you're in charge of a really impressive program. Frankly, I think the most aggressive program we've seen from any state, if anyone wants to challenge me on that because New York spent more money, I'll just say I feel like you're actually taxing people to get your money. New York kind of got it for free through the bank fraud lawsuits. And so we've never seen any state raise any kind of money like this for that. 2:37 Matt Schmit: Yeah, I mean it's a really impressive and inspiring commitment that the state of Illinois made the infrastructure. Generally, last session they invested $45 billion in their capital bill for infrastructure around Illinois, 420 of which is going towards broadband. And so I was watching a far from Minnesota and that caught my attention and I think the state of Illinois poised to be a leader on how to do state broadband best. Christopher Mitchell: Right. So we're going to finish up our conversation on that. That's what we call a T's in the business, I guess. But $420 million. Matt's going to tell us how he's going to spend every last dime. But I want to start by asking you about a program that's near and dear to both of our hearts. And that is the Minnesota, border to border broadband fund. You are essential in making that happen. And let me just say that, I feel like as we get into that, we should know, we knew each other from grad school. Matt Schmit: We did. Christopher Mitchell: Yes. Matt Schmit: We've got stories. Christopher Mitchell: Right. Mostly of me. I don't want to pretend I was super studious, but I feel like I missed too many opportunities to watch twins games with you. Matt Schmit: But we talked twins every once in a while. So that was enough. Some good years back then. Christopher Mitchell: So, let's just, let's start at the beginning. You come into the Minnesota Senate as a young man from rural part of the state, and you set a priority of broadband. How did that come to be? Matt Schmit: Yeah, so, I joke as I look back and I knew enough to be dangerous. Thanks, in part to our great work at the Humphrey school and we had a telecommunications and broadband forum. Then I was a part of an opportunity to do some consulting during the aura era, a decade back. So I knew enough, I think to know what needed to be changed and where the, I think the opportunities were at the state level. Christopher Mitchell: Right. And you'd also attended the broadband communities events. Matt Schmit: Well, thank you very much I did that. Yeah. Christopher Mitchell: So, I mean you made an effort to educate yourself. 4:23 Matt Schmit: Yeah. And so I knew it was in an area that there was, I think the right energy and investment percolating in Minnesota with the folks like the bland and foundation and others had done really important work. There had been past efforts to do more in broadband and we knew that with the surplus that the state was facing and the opportunity for some serious investment in smart policy that paired with it, that we could make a difference. Christopher Mitchell: Was that 2014? Matt Schmit: That was... So I ran in 2012 [crosstalk 00:04:50], when I was . I put 30,000 miles on my Jeep that I no longer drive. We knocked on tens of thousands of doors, 20 parades around Southeastern Minnesota. And the issue of broadband came up a lot during the course of that campaign, but it wasn't something I ran on. And so I think we take office in 2013, we were staring down actually a pretty serious budget deficit at the time. And so there were some big issues that the state had to address structurally, but a focus on infrastructure. And as our economy turned around and we started having some funding opportunities. Well, that gave rise to a serious commitment to broadband. Christopher Mitchell: And one of the things that I felt like made a difference was a listening tour around the state. And so this is different from what you just mentioned, where you were campaigning. You're in the office, and then you decide to go and listen across the entire state of Minnesota to what people are saying. Matt Schmit: That's right. And so turning back this clock here, 2013 was my first year in the Minnesota State Senate. And what we started out by doing is creating our office at broadband. We wanted a one stop shop for all things broadband and state government kind of tear down those silos that separate state agencies, and also serve as a resource for folks who are interested in improving their broadband from community to community around the state. And so we created the office in 2013 and then during the legislative interim that followed, we knew that we wanted to take additional steps on the broadband front. And so I don't know why I waited until December and January of 2013, 2014 to embark upon a 20 city listing tour around the state of Minnesota. Matt Schmit: We talked about how cold it is outside the day. I remember vividly being in Park Rapids, Minnesota in January of 2014, holding kind of a listening session with community members. I think it was a Monday morning and the schools had been closed by governor Dayton because it was so cold. And my Jeep barely started up that morning. I had stayed at my grandparents the night before in the good old town of Crosby-Ironton. Made it into Park Rapids not knowing what to expect. We had over 50 people in the morning. Schools were closed on a frigid day in Minnesota, January wanting to talk about broadband. And that's when I knew that this was an issue that folks really deeply cared about, and wanted to make some traction on. And so, we had made several stops, 20 about around the state leading up to the 2014 legislative session. 6:59 Matt Schmit: And that road show that listing tour gave us invaluable feedback and what communities were looking for, and the things that we took away from that, it's a big state. The state should be a facilitator, not apply a one size fits all approach to addressing the challenges. That the basic challenge was one of funding and in market failure and that we needed an infusion of state dollars, to get the job done. And third folks were tired of talking about it, they wanted the action. And so I can't tell you how many times I shared that message with my colleagues in the Senate and other stakeholders. Unfortunately, I think the perfect storm, if you will, the right factors came together for us to get the job done that year. Christopher Mitchell: I sometimes think about this in relation to reading history and how conversations in the 19 teens about electrification and imagine how people felt in the 1930s when it started being built to some of their farms. It's easy to read about that transition period. It's much harder to live in those 20 years, perhaps while you're writing for it to happen. Because I just think about people that I talked to last week who are really tired of hearing people talk about it. Matt Schmit: Well, exactly. I mean, it just, it's a great reminder. All the work and the attention and the investment that's been made, there's still a lot of work left to be done and in arguably the hardest part is ahead of us. That that last 5%, 10% in some cases, it's going to be the hardest for States to drive towards in terms of universal access and ubiquity. Christopher Mitchell: So at the time you're doing the listening tour, there's also, this is the major priority for an organization called, I think the partnership for greater Minnesota cities or the partnership for greater Minnesota. There's also the coalition of greater Minnesota cities. It's basically the smaller cities in the state, they're also the cities that are just not a part of the twin cities Metro. They did a a lot of editorials and op-eds and things like that. Our business chambers were talking to their elected officials about it. And so in some ways, I think at the time those of us watching and even participating a little bit felt like, wow, there's so much attention on this. It has to go somewhere. 9:03 Matt Schmit: Yeah. I mean, again, I'd referenced it earlier that the perfect storm, we had a lot of great contribution and it was the greater Minnesota economic development partnership, that was forming at the same time and they had their own road show, so to speak, where they were engaging individual communities. I think selling the vision of collaborating over investments in greater Minnesota rather than competing for scarce resources.And I think there was a great vision and they pulled the members that they were talking to individually and also collectively. Matt Schmit: And in the feedback they got is broadband was perhaps the number one issue in communities around the state that year. Certainly a top three issue around the state. And so, you look back and you really see an opportunity that that congealed, we had the office abroad man that had been formed, I'm going to start, I had turned the corner on a decade of running deficit after deficit. So we were looking at having some resources available not only to balance our budgets too, but also to invest in critical infrastructure. And then you have the interests around the state. Matt Schmit: Blandon was doing what they've done really well for 15 years now. You had the partnership that had formed to engage communities around greater Minnesota. And then you also had the work of the governor's task force that was shining a light on some recommendations. And for far too long, those recommendations just sat dormant in reports that were issued annually. And unfortunately we had an opportunity in 2013, 2014 in the years that followed to actually do something with all of that. Christopher Mitchell: I feel like the natural conclusion of what you've been saying is, and so everyone was really focused on making sure we got a really strong bill through the Korean broadband program. And yet that's not how I remember it. Matt Schmit: Yeah. I mean, here's the, you look back, it's kind of like history, right? You look back and you say, Oh, "it's so neat." This was tough. And right now I think people around the country look at Minnesota's office of broadband and our border to border broadband fund is being nation leading. And in other States, I think to their credit have emulated what we've done in Minnesota. And maybe taking it a step farther. I certainly, that's what we want to do in Illinois. But I think you look back, it was tough sledding. We had, industry opposition, certainly skepticism among, maybe some more senior members of our legislature. 11:09 Matt Schmit: And so it wasn't a slam dunk. We had to work really, really hard. And I can remember in 2014, appealing to the governor's office. Hey governor, you're going to have a supplemental budget this year. I think $100 million is the right investment to make. And I'm in a governor's office and at the time is governor Dayton and Lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, very interested in what we were talking about, very sympathetic. But this was not included in their budget. And so that was a blow. But fortunately we were able to build momentum moving forward and that first year we got a down payment on that $100 million, we've got $20 million. Matt Schmit: And so we cracked open that door. We got our foot in the door, and I think looking back, every dollar that Minnesota has spent on broadband is been a great investment. And, I think the one regret I'd have is that we haven't done more faster in Minnesota, but the fact that the office is open, doing great work in the fund, continues to be funded is a Testament to its staying power. Christopher Mitchell: I would really emphasize that bit about not having wasted any of the money, because the program was designed in ways that I think are really intelligent, and some states haven't taken that and understood the value of that. In terms of making sure that anything that's funded by the state, usually it's matched funding, it's all matched funding. But anything that states spends money on has to be upgradable to a hundred megabits per second. Matt Schmit: Symmetrical. Christopher Mitchell: Symmetrical, which means you're investing in long lasting infrastructure. Matt Schmit: Exactly. Christopher Mitchell: Whereas the federal government office has spent a lot of money, billions upon billions of dollars on infrastructure that is obsolete before it's even turned on. Matt Schmit: Unfortunately. That's right. Christopher Mitchell: Now I'd just like to say that I actually think that was one of the things that the, my idea is originally that I made it through, because I was working with some of the folks that were brainstorming on how to design a program like that. And so I take a little bit of pride in that authorship. I think, I say that knowing that I probably wasn't the only one. But, that's something that I think we really got right. And I'm really excited to have been a part of that. 13:07 Matt Schmit: Yeah, I'll tell you, I think it's great to look back and so many are proud of the effort that we put forth in Minnesota. And I think that that's great. I can remember trying to put together a bill and put the ideas that we were thinking on paper and having great, Senate council for instance, who write the bills, who do incredibly good work looking at me and saying, "Matt, what are you trying to do here? This hasn't been done before." And so, it was a lot of fun, kind of inventing something new from scratch and not emulating another state but rather saying, Hey, if a state is going to get into this, what should we do? Matt Schmit: What sorts of things should we expect of applicants? What kind of technology should we be investing in? What sorts of expectations do we have for longterm return on investment?And so that's something that, you know, I really point to, I think the scalability requirements, the fact that, we want to engage providers and partnerships and communities around the state, those are the sorts of things I think are a hallmark of a successful program. Not picking winners and losers necessarily. But we're saying if the state's going to invest money, it's got to be serving our communities and end users well into the future. Christopher Mitchell: And the program is open to all, very few municipalities have even applied. And which I think was one of the concerns of the small telephone companies originally and the small telephone companies were in fact I think quite skeptical, and now are probably one of the bigger defenders of the program. Matt Schmit: Yeah, I mean I think there was certainly a lot of skepticism among the provider community and it's just going to be focused on competition. It's just going to be upending the Apple cart. Is there going to be an opportunity for us. Christopher Mitchell: Heavenly forbid it focus on competition. Matt Schmit: And so that's a piece that I would say you look back, we didn't take that issue on head on. We didn't have a conversation about competition in Minnesota, and I think a lot of folks around the country are interested in that conversation. We are much more focused on ubiquity and making sure that every last home and business and farm and community anchor institution gets connected. Minnesota is not there yet. It got some work to do, but hopefully we're poised to get there within the Donovan decade of such investment. 15:10 Christopher Mitchell: Well, this is where you can certainly, you can give me a hard time on this Matt, because I think one of the challenges that we've seen since then is the... By not taking on competition, we left the population centers in rural regions behind because they don't qualify. And so for years they haven't lobbied to support the fund. To me, and this is a, there's, we can, we have had podcasts talking about these policy issues. I'm not saying it's obvious that you pick one way or a different way for dealing with, how to deal with areas that already have basic broadband connections. But, is I remember at Comcast was one of the biggest lobbyists on the bill and they were never going to expand in rural areas. They were never going to apply for a grant. Matt Schmit: Yeah. And so I think, I respect a lot of the interests that were part of the conversation. I think if you look at how broadband is provided and how folks connect with the internet, it's diverse. It's complicated. It's not one kind of provider. It's a lot of different providers offering different services. And I think that's great. I think it's good that folks have choice in their complimentary services. And the thing that we always kept coming back to is the need for making smart investments that truly would stand the test of time. And so I think if you look at the reactions that folks have had, I think a lot of the fear and the skepticism, did not prove out. Matt Schmit: That I think the approach that Minnesota embarked upon was very constructive and it's helped a lot of communities, and it has helped a lot of providers get to areas that they otherwise could not. And so I think if you look at the regrets, I think you just, you want to make sure that a community that knows it's got to do better on the broadband front has a path forward, and give them opportunities for partnership, for leveraging funding, for making a vision that truly is rooted in reality in terms of being competitive in the 21st century, giving that vision a path forward. 17:02 Matt Schmit: And so I think that that's something that if I were to look back and say Minnesota could do more of, is just making sure that we're not just striving towards basic ubiquity, but that we are putting our communities and our homebased businesses and our school children, in a position to compete truly in the 21st century. And I think that's something that, I think we should always take a look at. Is what we have good enough, not only for now but for the years ahead. Christopher Mitchell: So let's talk about the politics of that moment again. I want to come back to that because- Matt Schmit: Is last over that I attended. Christopher Mitchell: We did and I made a mental note. I know that this is something that I appreciate that, I don't want to put you on the spot. I, it can be hard to talk about things that you know about in part because of closed room meetings and seeing what's going on. And you don't want to say negative things about people who are also doing good things in your eyes. I'm glad that you're out of state now. Matt Schmit: Thanks. Christopher Mitchell: It just in the sense of being able to talk about this sort of thing. And I mean, frankly, I think you're one of the best people to be, that I could imagine to do the Illinois program. So I'm thrilled about that. And it's, that's sort of what the, where that was coming from as opposed to I wish you lived 400 miles away from me. Matt Schmit: Well, thanks for clarifying. I was thinking you're saying that Minnesota just isn't big enough for the two of us, and maybe that's true. Christopher Mitchell: So the one I want to get to though is, as someone, I didn't follow this as closely, people like Chris Henjum, Tim Flaherty, Dana McKenzie was even, she wasn't even in the broadband office yet, but was like a person who was like, who was thinking about this and how to shape the program and then she was in the broadband office and she was still playing that role of trying to think then with her state hat on and people who aren't familiar, Dana McKenzie I think is one of the main reasons for the success of the program. But my point is just that there was a lot of people who are working very hard because leadership of the Republicans, leadership of the DFL, neither of them wanted to prioritize this. I think most of them were hoping you would just quiet down and go away. 19:00 Matt Schmit: Yeah. I think probably on multiple fronts, that may have been the case, but we knew that we were right on this issue, and we knew that there was a need for investment and that just simply waiting for the market to take care of it. We were going to lose that case. And so, I look back now and I say we absolutely did the right thing and we have a lot to show for it. But at the time there was a lot of skepticism. And where does that come from? Well, I think, God bless them, but the industry is very well represented at the Capitol in St Paul. And I think at the time I was counting scores of lobbyists, and I know over time that that number increased. Matt Schmit: And I think the point isn't that they were, hurting our chances or undercutting our effort. But there are narrow, parochial interests that are represented a lot of times. And so if you're talking about my legislative colleagues, they were getting one message typically on broadband, and they weren't necessarily having constituents come to the Capitol rallying around broadband. We learned during the time that it was a top three issue for a lot of groups around the state. But if you've got your day on the Hill and you're going to talk about healthcare access or education- Christopher Mitchell: Rural transportation. Matt Schmit: ... rural transportation, broadband might not come up in every conversation. And so that's something that we've seen change over the years. The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition has taken off. And I think that's certainly added value to the conversation around the state. But you look at the setting that we had in 2013 and 2014, a lot of what lawmakers knew was based upon their conversations with lobbyists, representing a very narrow kind of perspective and interest. And that's just the way it works. And so I think in this issue and other issues, I think it's a challenge for lawmakers to just make sure that you're getting a diverse view of the landscape. Matt Schmit: That you're telling, that you're asking your constituents about these issues, your community members, your community anchor institutions. I have without a doubt confidence that folks took the time to talk to their local libraries or their EDAs or other folks who are on the ground really close to these issues. They would know that the broadband is a top ticket issue. And one of the anecdotes that I just loved is on this listening tour. We talked to a lot of real estate agents, and they say Matt, it used to be in Minnesota, the first question that a family would ask when moving to a new town, how were the schools? And they said, that's still an issue that comes up a lot. 21:17 Matt Schmit: But typically enroll Minnesota, the internet access and if it's available or not, is the first question that's asked. And so that really was eye opening. When you think of, wow that's on the top of minds of families as they look to raise their kids and locate in one part of the state or another. Just, it just speaks to I think, the different aspects of the conversation. And that if you're just talking about the issue from one perspective and that of the industry, you're going to get one piece of a very valuable conversation, but you've got to round that out with on the ground perspectives in your communities. Christopher Mitchell: Let me ask you, and this is a chance to, for you as a Minnesotan, it's hard. I grew up in Pennsylvania. It's easy for me to toot my own horn, but Minnesota, they drum it out of you at an early age. So let me ask you, is there something that you and representative, then representative Simonson now Senator Simonson did to make sure that this would happen? Despite the fact that it was really the two of you against leadership. Matt Schmit: It's a really interesting dynamic. And so you look back, now Senator Eric Simonson from Duluth, he was a fresh face at the Capitol, a representative representing Duluth at the time in the house. And so he and I carried the bill in 2014 for the infrastructure funding, basically our border to border broadband bill. And we had a number of coauthors and all of those folks really helped us out, but it was difficult to get our legislative leadership to rally behind this. And I have to look back and I have to give a lot of credit to the house DFL leadership at the time. Matt Schmit: And I think that, the leaders that were in place were instrumental in making sure that this happened because I think that there was a lot of energy coming out of the house committee hearings, throughout the course of the 2014 session. And so a lot of credit goes to the, and I think the house leadership. On the Senate it's kind of ironic because we had a leadership structure that was very heavily tilted towards rural interests. Christopher Mitchell: Unfortunately Senator Bach had, most of his constituents had decent broadband at that point. 23:17 Matt Schmit: And I just had to say I don't... This isn't a criticism at all. I think it's really kind of an information issue and I think understanding where the challenges are and what industry is capable of and where investments are going. And I think that stood in the way. And perhaps there was an element of a youngish Senator coming in and saying, "Hey, we're going to go on a statewide listening tour." I'm not running for statewide office. Believe me, that's never happening. Matt Schmit: But the point was, we want to get these stories, these anecdotes are so powerful. And that's why we went around the state and talked about the issue and we had a lot of our legislative colleagues join us. And so it wasn't just me on a road show, but it was me and the local Senator or representative of a given area. And so you start that conversation that was so meaningful in the moment. But also it's something that you hearkened back to in the legislative session that followed. Christopher Mitchell: I think Senator buck wanted you to do more listening. Matt Schmit: Yeah, perhaps. So, I tried, so I don't criticize anybody. I think a lot of it comes down to competing priorities, in a large caucus with senior members, perhaps a little information asymmetry. You had kind of the red herrings of a 5G's coming is going to solve all our problems. Well, this is seven years ago folks. Christopher Mitchell: No, I actually think, I mean now we do a 5G, I think the 4G was the line of the day. Matt Schmit: That's right. Exactly. Because I mean- Christopher Mitchell: Because 4G was still being rolled out to rural areas at that time. Matt Schmit: You're exactly right. And so I think the point is, all these different investments and technology, in my view, they compliment each other and we should never say one versus the other. But if the state's going to invest in something, it's got to stand the test of time, it's going to be a longterm investment. And I'm really proud of that that's the tack that we took. And I think if you look at the map of Minnesota, we're filling that in and it's really great to see the progress that's been made. I think my main regret if there was to be one here is on the funding side is that we weren't able to get significant serious funding upfront and we weren't able to give communities and providers a chance to plan into the future. Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I was just going to say that- Matt Schmit: That's a big issue. 25:14 Christopher Mitchell: That's what you can do now. And that's what's so exciting. I feel like, and this is where I had so many conversations in recent years because we have this, in Minnesota, we have these things called billion dollar surpluses. Others- Matt Schmit: Its a long time running. Christopher Mitchell: ... Other States don't, aren't familiar with that. So I mean, especially our lovely state to the East Wisconsin. Matt Schmit: For instance. Christopher Mitchell: Yes. The reason I bring that up is that I've long said if we really want to get the most out of this program, we would set aside, like maybe four years worth of funding so people would have a sense of how to plan local companies. I mean the co-ops that have really made the difference, the telephone cooperatives in Minnesota of expanding access. And I don't want to say anything to denigrate the role of the local telephone companies, but I feel like Minnesota telephone co-ops, a few of them have really been the leaders of expanding to new areas of Rome, Minnesota. Christopher Mitchell: They can only expand so much per year. I mean there's small firms and so the answer I always get back though was, well, we can't commit future spending to the next legislature to put that money in there. And I'm like, no, put that money in there now, we have it. You can spend it now and have it dispersed later, but it doesn't catch on with people. Matt Schmit: Yeah. And I think that's really unfortunate because, I look at a lot of public policy through the lens of a small business or even a family sitting around a kitchen table, not unlike the one that we're around right here. Christopher Mitchell: It's a beautiful table. Matt Schmit: It is a beautiful table, and thank you Christopher, welcoming me into your home here today. But I think the whole idea here is you want to be able to plan, into the future. Three to five years is ideal for a small business to understand what's coming down the pike, what sorts of resources you're going to have available and how you might face projects. So I'm going to say you could only get $5 million at a crack, but if you knew that you were going to be able to go back and have a second or third phase to a project, you could do something pretty ambitious and incredible. 27:06 Matt Schmit: And we never gave applicants that opportunity because we always funded it one year at a time. And that's just really regrettable because I think we knew this was going to be a valuable program and we knew that the need was out there. And especially after that first year, we knew we were getting great applications and that great deployments were going to result from it. And so it's too bad that support for that didn't galvanize. If you're going to do 20, 30 million dollars a year, that's okay. But I think giving folks a chance to plan is helpful. I know that there have been some changes. I think last year it was a two year appropriation. I think a lot of folks would have liked to have seen more, probably a lot more. Matt Schmit: But the point is, it's a step in the right direction on the planning side of things. But you know, I think if, if we're going to truly silver or challenge meet our goals, achieve ubiquitous access around the state, significant investments are going to need to be made and it's going to have to be sustained over a period of time, and to give folks a chance to best utilize that, give them a chance to plan, and that would be my advice. Christopher Mitchell: So wrapping up- Matt Schmit: Not that you're asking for it. Christopher Mitchell: I am. Wrapping up Minnesota though. You mentioned a couple of times disappointments. What would you say, a name by my favorite part of the Minnesota bill, but I think is the most fiscally responsible approach, which is this longterm. You have to invest in longterm assets. What do you think is the most important thing that really came out of this, the border to border fund. Matt Schmit: That's exactly it. I mean, I think we can talk a lot about speed goals and we can talk a lot about areas that qualify for funding. And I think that there is a piece here about making sure that deployments are made in a way that, is efficient and makes sense from an economy of scale standpoint. And we're not just kind of carving up the map to the areas of the greatest need, but rather we're giving providers and applicants a chance to make truly ambitious investments. They are going to change communities or regions. 29:03 Matt Schmit: But outside of that, I think the point here is that we are demanding that any state investment is going to be truly scalable. And so it doesn't mean that you're precluding certain providers, but it means you got to be creative in terms of how you leverage those state dollars. And that the way you apply those state dollars to your projects has to be in a way that will serve a community, a provider, those using the internet well into the future. And so that's the takeaway. And I think if a state asks me how to do it well, well there's a lot of things that we can say. Matt Schmit: But it's just, Hey, make sure this is an investment in infrastructure that's going to be with us for decades to come. And I've said this a lot, but short of an overzealous backhoe operator or something like that, that fiber, it's in the ground, it's going to stay there. It's going to be doing a lot of really good work on the communications front for a long, long time. Christopher Mitchell: In 2016. Your 2016. Matt Schmit: 2016. Oh my gosh. They're memories of 2016. Christopher Mitchell: 2016, there were surprises nationally and locally. Matt Schmit: That's an understatement. Yeah. Christopher Mitchell: I want to ask you about this as we transition into Illinois. I just want find some salt and rub it around your wound. But one of the things that we saw, I mean Wisconsin for instance in the rural areas went from leaning red to deep red. You came from a district that I think was pretty much on the fence. And they would trust someone who was from the DFL, but also respected the hunting and fishing desires and the fact that they might lean a little more conservatively on environmental issues or something like that. Christopher Mitchell: I have a concern that I feel like the Democrats have decided that they can just win in the suburbs and they don't need to reach out to rural areas. And so as someone who came from that, I don't want to miss this opportunity to say, are we missing out on opportunities that by a strategy which has just, has one political party kind of writing off a lot of rural areas? Matt Schmit: Well, I'm, I'm not going to criticize, Democrats in the minority and looking at the- Christopher Mitchell: How to win. 30:55 Matt Schmit: ... the electoral map and how to get to a majority. I mean, I think that is your first goal is you want a majority. You look at the situation Minnesota is in right now in the progress that can be made on a number of fronts. If the Senate were to flip again, for instance, I think that that's true. And I don't want to weigh into the politics too much here, but I think the point is I think our politics are a lot better when you've got parties competing all over the state. And what I really regret over the last few years, basically from 2016 now, but the lead time to that was longer, 2014 you saw some of the makings of this trend and in other states you've seen it long before that. Matt Schmit: Where, the blue urban areas get bluer and the red rural areas get redder, and that's really regrettable to me and I, that's the thing that I absolutely loved about serving in the state Senate the most, not only did I have a chance to represent my hometown of Red Wing and its beautiful, swath of Southeastern Minnesota bluff country trout streams. You've got the river, you've got some rich egg land and- Christopher Mitchell: Some great State Parks. Matt Schmit: ... incredible State Parks Folks. I think some of the best in Minnesota are down there. And you've got these communities that you just know. Christopher Mitchell: The best bakery in Minnesota. Matt Schmit: With the allergies, don't get me started. But the point I'm making here is you've got these communities that, if you make smart investments in infrastructure, you open opportunities for telecommuting, that they're going to thrive. And if you can attract young families to these communities, this is shout out to Southeastern Minnesota, I'm sorry folks. It's a great place to live. And I think the- Christopher Mitchell: Or vacation. Matt Schmit: ... biggest challenge they have is, or vacation, come down, spend your money. It's a great place. And I think investments and infrastructure and in place making, will make those communities vibrant. And it's not only true in Southeastern, and so it's throughout rural Minnesota, and throughout rural America. But if we're not making the investments in the critical infrastructure, you need to live where you want to live and do what you want from a career perspective. There's big chunks of our country and our state that are going to be left behind. 32:53 Matt Schmit: And so that's why, I don't want to overstate the broadband calling, but it's a big deal. And I think every, and this is where we're at every decade that we take off, we are hurting rural communities. And so when you look at the approach that the federal government's taking, let's not be victims of our modest expectations. Our rural communities deserve the same level of broadband access that our urban communities have. Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, well I think and I don't want to spend too much time on this because- Matt Schmit: Well, you're getting me going here Christopher, this is the issue I'm passionate about. Christopher Mitchell: No. And I agree with you and I think you're making a point that I really want to emphasize, because this is my concern of why I want to talk politics ever so briefly. Matt Schmit: We're opening a door here. Christopher Mitchell: Which is, you have an administration right now in power, which rural America put into power and they are delivering poor policy for rural America, in my opinion, on broadband, which I'm pretty qualified to judge. And I would say similarly, I live in a city that is going to vote blue. We're going to have a Blue City Council. We're going to have a blue mayor. I live next to another city that's like that. And one party towns are not well-governed towns generally. Christopher Mitchell: I mean there's merits to who's in and what not, but fundamentally, like you said, we want some competition there.And so that's why I want to bring it up. I know that people listen to this show, a variety of politics. Fundamentally, I would think that even if we can disagree on everything else, we should agree that people should be fighting for your vote and actually be afraid they might lose their seat. Matt Schmit: I knew that you were going to bring up the idea of competition. I didn't understand that's where it was going to lead us today. But, I think there's a great point there and maybe fodder for a future, a podcast or a podcast series. But I think, again, you look at the challenges our country is facing, the disconnect between culture and geography and in our politics. And, this is one of those issues that folks on both sides of the aisle could rally around. Despite, the noise that was surrounding, the policymaking. And it's true, it should be true in every state around the country and at the federal level too. 34:51 Matt Schmit: And so I hope that we're able to dismiss pressures from different corners and focus on sound policy that... This is going to sound naive. It does bring us together that makes sound investments for the future and positions communities around the state, whether it's Minnesota or Illinois or anywhere in between or surrounding to compete in the 21st century. And so that's what's been inspiring about this work. I didn't go into it thinking I'm going to spend a decade of my life on broadband. I'm more of a transportation guy to be honest. And this goes back to my humper school days. Matt Schmit: I've spent way more time on transportation projects consulting over the years than I have on broadband. But, this is one of those areas that you realize, well, first there's an intersect. When you look at the movement towards smart cities and telecommuting, and congestion management, intelligent transportation systems, but also it's a great example of smart infrastructure. We invest in it the right way. It's going to serve us well into the future. Christopher Mitchell: Well, that brings us to Illinois, where, I mean, you're talking about good policy and in my opinion, at least not everyone likes to see raising taxes, but bold leadership to say we need better infrastructure both for transportation and for broadband. We're going to raise the gas tax, we're going to raise all of this money and we're going to spend it. It's fascinating to me and I, and it's worth I think for people to know. So the legislature moved forward and they put this on a referendum and then the people of Illinois validated that, right? 36:15 Matt Schmit: I look at what happened in Illinois in 2019, and I'm just AUSTRAC. They approached the session with an overarching value of equity and trying to produce equitable outcomes in various aspects of state government. And so that really appeals to me. I think in this point in our economy and in our political lives. And so I think it's a really important emphasis to put on it, but the investment infrastructural on $45 billion, it sets a tone that they're serious about making investments in the future. Matt Schmit: And I look at what Illinois accomplished in one short session and as a proud Minnesotan this pains me because I love my Vikings, I love my twins. I will always be a proud Minnesotan, but I think they accomplish in many cases, what we've been fighting for for a decade in Minnesota on a number of fronts. And so it's great to see that level of effort and in my hope is that we get it right on the broadband front and other aspects of our infrastructure and investment and elsewhere. And so the challenge is on, you've got this great opportunity to demonstrate, in this case, how state broadband investment can be done, right? How smart policy can result in good outcomes. Matt Schmit: And so we're kind of at the cusp right now of getting this right. And so you don't have to wish us well. Christopher Mitchell: So another bridge to Minnesota, which is, quite the double entendre, is that... When you are doing this and when you're working on this bill in Minnesota, I felt like one of the pieces of resistance we felt from Minnesota's smaller family, independent telcos, was that they felt like it was an insult that we were saying DSL wasn't good enough. And I think that that's changed. This is one of the things that I think is really, gives me a lot of hope for Minnesota, is that we see almost all those independent telcos now recognizing that the need to be investing in these higher quality, higher throughput networks. And your conversations in Illinois, I'm sure everyone's beating down your door to talk to you and to give you a sense of what's important. I'm hoping that you're hearing from people that they're all agreed that we need these very high capacity networks. Matt Schmit: Yeah. You know, so nobody has been beating down my door like this podcast from St Paul, Minnesota has been. But I mean that's the point here. You want to get it right and you want to balance interests and you want everyone to feel as though they've got a stake in this and they can be better off for it. And so that's been a deliberate approach that we've taken in Illinois. And I don't want to say that we've been perfect with it, but if there's a public hearing or if there's a meeting or if there's an opportunity to talk about the vision for connect Illinois and in ways to make it work. 38:52 Matt Schmit: I want to lean into that. I want to be part of that conversation. And so that's kinda how we've framed this investment. We have $50 million a grant window that opened up recently here in early February. It extends through April 3rd. And so we've got about eight weeks for applicants to put forward their best ideas on how to leverage this first $50 million. Christopher Mitchell: Let's just- Matt Schmit: That's what's great. The first $50 million. Christopher Mitchell: The first $50 million over a period of about two months. Minnesota has spent since you pushed, that bill through has spent on the order of 70, 80 million, I want to say. Matt Schmit: No. It's over a hundred million dollars the states. And I think that they've- Christopher Mitchell: It shows what I know. Matt Schmit: Well, the years go by I think, and so, prior to the last legislative session, your number was true. And so- Christopher Mitchell: But Illinois is catching up fast. Matt Schmit: Well, yeah, Illinois by the end of the year we may have outdone Minnesota. And so that's a challenge to my friends and family and folks in Minnesota. We're coming after you, up your ante here. But I think the point is Minnesota is done so much well on the broadband front that we're replicating a lot of our effort towards that. And so we want to borrow from what has worked in Minnesota. We're certainly putting more funding on the table at the outset. Matt Schmit: We're giving communities and providers and partnerships a chance to plan, which is critically important. But as we mentioned, the scalability piece, the expectations, the partnerships that we're trying to promote. I think the commitment, as you'd mentioned, the Minnesota offset broadband token in being a resource for all folks who are interested in broadband and being a constructive voice. That's something that we want to replicate. And so it's a lot easier said than done. 40:28 Matt Schmit: But my goal is that in addition to proving how a state can do this best, that we also leave a lot of the stakeholders who are involved in broadband feeling really good about the process. That their voice is heard. And to the extent that we're able to evolve our approach to this competitive matching grant program from one funding round to the next, and get better along the way. That iterative process is something that I take really seriously. And so I think what we'll be talking about or, in a year or two might be very different than what we're talking about right now. Matt Schmit: But the point is, come back to this. We really believe that competitive matching grant funds work at the state level, that adding value to federal investment is the only way to guarantee that those federal investments are going to stand the test of time. So we want to be able to do that. I could go on and on here, but I think that, that's the tack that we're taking and we feel really good about where we're at right now. But it's something that we're going to have to be very intentional about every step of the way. Christopher Mitchell: For people who weren't paying attention. What you just said is actually fairly controversial in Washington D.C. about being able to add on to federal funds. So right now this is big, I would say pile of confusion at the Federal Communications Commission regarding the world digital opportunity fund. Which is the new Connect America Fund Program. Which was the old Universal Service Fund. Every administration has to change the name to put their stamp on and pretend is brand new investment. But the point is just that in the rules all of a sudden without it being properly noticed and commented, I would say. Christopher Mitchell: We saw this idea that Oh and LJ areas within states that are getting state funds are not eligible and retroactively could not be eligible for these high-cost funds from the FCC. And so just let's just, let's ease into it now. What is your reaction to this concern from the FCC and this proposal that they basically not allow you to subsidize an area that they've decided to subsidize? 42:29 Matt Schmit: Well, first of all, I want to approach this conversation constructively. I think there's a lot- Christopher Mitchell: By the time this runs, it could be different. Matt Schmit: I'm going to... Yeah. And so this is a very live conversation right now. And, I just recently spent some time talking to folks at FCC and I think we're trying to get a handle on what exactly is proposed and what's next and the point is, Hey, this is an election year and it looks like the October 22nd, date they have for the action isn't a coincidence. And so that's the context we're operating in here. And that's shouldn't surprise anybody. But I think from my perspective, we want to make sure that these investments are smart because from the state level, we absolutely need federal funding to meet our goals. There's just not enough funding in any state that has significant need on the broadband access front to do it alone. And so, you've got to have that state federal partnership. You absolutely do. Christopher Mitchell: And I would just say that, I would like to note you're saying that from a state that's putting an incredible amount of money aside and a state that doesn't have as much need as some other areas. And I don't want to minimize the fact that there's a lot of people in Illinois that don't have access, but you have more than average local ISPs that have made really good investments. There are other states that are much worse off than you are. So you really do need that federal partnership. Matt Schmit: Well, it's a big state. We have 246 locations eligible for our funding and we have a lot of great providers doing really good work. But you know the challenges with broadband ubiquity and it's a lot of, challenges with putting business plans together. The return on the investment population sparsity. So without getting into that, the challenge is there in Illinois, we've got a lot of great partners. We've got a lot of great opportunity with leveraging federal funding, but we put $400 million on the table and that's not going to solve the problem overnight. We've got to go. We want to at least double that. 44:18 Matt Schmit: And in fact, to solve our challenges, I mean we were going to be looking at a leveraged investment of $1 billion plus. Well how do you do that? Well, you can get some matching funds from local communities. You can get some matching funds from the providers who apply for your grant funding. You can get investment that's made outside of any grant fund, which happens every day, which we really, really appreciate. But you also have to look at the billions of dollars that Washington is and will continue to invest in broadband. And how do you get the most out of that?And at a minimum, states should be able to work with federal funding recipients and add value to those projects. Matt Schmit: So that 25 by three becomes a hundred by 20 or gig scalable. And that's the point that we would need to make. We shouldn't be limiting any of our communities around the state of Illinois or Minnesota or anywhere around the country in terms of what they can get longterm from a public investment. It's just so foolish to set our expectations that low. And so I really hope that, here we are in February of 2020, but there's a conversation that ensues about how to get this right. That we've got a new era of state, federal partnership over broadband funding because there's a lot of work to do. Matt Schmit: And from a state perspective, we absolutely need the federal investment, but we want to be more active partners in this investment. And, I think there's a long ways to go in fully leveraging, I think a state commitment with a federal commitment to optimum benefit. And so I think it's a start of that new conversation. So stay tuned. Christopher Mitchell: So the last question is, and I don't want to put you on the spot too much here, but we had a governor Dayton, who I felt really wanted to bend over backwards and make sure he didn't upset Comcast. Governor Walz has disappointed me a little bit in terms of the focus on rural broadband. What's it like working with the governor of Illinois? Matt Schmit: I have to tell you, I have great respect for governor Dayton and governor Walz and- Christopher Mitchell: I do too. I just have a disagreement with them on pro Barb and priority, I guess. Matt Schmit: ... that being said, I'm really impressed with the governor in Illinois, and not only did he lead on the infrastructure investment that we talked about, the historic $45 billion that was put forward to capital investment in 2019. 420 million of which is going towards broadband. But he's engaged, on a week to week basis and so we've had a chance to sit down and talk broadband more weeks than not since I've been there. It's on the calendar every week. And something might come up on his end or my end. But we're talking broadband with his team and our office. And in that level of engagement's inspiring because, this is somebody who wants to see this done, right? 46:53 Matt Schmit: And who's going to be proud of this investment, what it means to Illinois and notice that every corner of Illinois ought to compete in the 21st century. In order to do that, you've got to make smart investment in 21st century infrastructure like broadband. And so it's been truly inspiring and that's the thing that makes the job really rewarding every day is knowing that you've got a lot of folks throughout state agency in leadership communities around the state, and hopefully a great cross section of our provider community. They're excited about this effort, that feel like we can all come out as winners if we do it right. And so that's kind of worth the Don of this investment, And it's really neat place to be at. Matt Schmit: And I hope, and if we talk a year from now or whatever it may be that we feel equally inspired. But it's a lot of work ahead, but we're looking forward to it. Christopher Mitchell: Good. And I think it's worth just noting that I, the things that governor Dayton achieved in Minnesota leading us to this path of billion dollar surpluses is notable. And so we can have disappointments and disagreements with them while recognizing someone's record much like, I think every vote that you took was terrible except for those on broadband. No, I was kidding. Matt Schmit: So many think that to Illinois. Christopher Mitchell: Oh, I'm sure some do. But Matt, I've wanted to have this conversation for a long time. I really appreciate you coming in to share those lessons learned and man, I'm excited to see what Illinois does. Matt Schmit: Yeah, stay tuned. It's a fun time and thanks a lot for having me over today. 48:20 Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher talking with his friend, fellow broadband advocate and former Minnesota state Senator Matt Schmit. We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available @muninetworks.org/broadbandbits. Email us at podcast@muninetworks.org with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow muninetworks.org stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other podcasts from ILSR Building Local Power and The Local Energy Rules podcast. Lisa Gonzalez: You can access them anywhere you get your podcasts. You can catch the latest important research from all of our initiatives. If you subscribe to our monthly newsletter at www.ilsr.org. While you're there, please take a moment to donate. Your support in any amount help keep us going. Thank you to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through creative commons, and thank you for listening. This was episode 395 of the Community Broadband Bits Podcast. Tags: transcript

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