Are CAF II Investments Helping Rural Minnesota? Blandin Report Looks at the Data - Community Broadband Bits Podcast 318

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transcript below. 

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

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

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


Bill Coleman: So I think communities can repeat this study pretty easily by just doing driving around and doing this mapping and seeing what is being installed in our area.

Lisa Gonzalez: This is episode 318 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the institute for Local Self Reliance. I'm Lisa Gonzalez. The federal Connect America Fund has provided millions of dollars to some of the nation's largest telecommunications companies, including several that have developed projects in rural Minnesota. But are those dollars being spent wisely? In a recent report, Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors headed up a Blandin Foundation project to go to the field, document infrastructure funded with Connect America Fund dollars, and determine how and if those projects are improving broadband access in rural Minnesota. In this episode of the podcast, Bill visits with Christopher about the report and their findings. The report is available at the Blandin Foundation website,, and we also have it highlighted in our resources section on The title of the report is Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons From Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges Left Underserved. Now, here's Christopher and Bill Coleman from Community Technology Advisors.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another edition of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell with the institute for local self reliance sitting across from Bill Coleman, who's a first time guest, but the second time we're sitting across from each other. Welcome back to the show, Bill.

Bill Coleman: Hey, thanks Chris.

Christopher Mitchell: Bill is incredibly patient. For the first time in 317 shows, we lost an episode. I recorded it, and I think the USB connection was faulty. We ended up with unusable audio, and so Bill came back in because this is such an incredibly exciting report, and interesting, to make sure that we, we discussed it and got it out there. So thanks for coming back.

Bill Coleman: You're welcome.

Christopher Mitchell: Bill, you are with Community Technology Advisors. Remind me what Community Technology Advisors does.

Bill Coleman: Well, I'm a sole proprietor, and I work with communities on helping communities get better Internet service in rural areas primarily, but then also how to make better use of technology once people have broadband networks. So I've worked on both the network deployment side and the trying to create a more sophisticated rural technology environment.

Christopher Mitchell: You do both of the things that Michael Curry and I argue about, from the infrastructure and utilization.

Bill Coleman: It's fun to work with communities to see them at the beginning thinking about the infrastructure and helping them move forward, but it's an equally big lift to start making use of the technology.

Christopher Mitchell: Right? It's like I'm climbing a really intimidating peak to find out that there's more peaks behind it.

Bill Coleman: That's exactly right. That's kind of a Lewis and Clark, kind of the first time they'd get up in the Montana mountains, it's nothing but mountains in front of them. The great thing about the adoption side is that communities are really empowered to start doing those kinds of things, even with inferior networks, and they can start to make progress, make use of the bandwidth and services they have, and begin to contemplate what they can do once they have a great network.

Christopher Mitchell: And I think you're known for doing a fair amount of work with the Blandin Foundation as well, but you are your own person, your own company. You work with folks mainly in Minnesota, but um, but also you're open to working with folks elsewhere.

Bill Coleman: Sure, and Blandin Foundation is really a Minnesota treasure in terms of, uh, supporting rural leadership, rural economic vitality. And they've been working on rural broadband issues for about 15 years now.

Christopher Mitchell: Right? I fully agree, and I always recommend that to other folks. I always recommend to people from other places that they have a sense of what the Blandin Foundation does because they've done a lot of very valuable things, but just the feasibility study matching money really provides an impetus for communities to get started down this path that you've already talked a little bit about.

Bill Coleman: Right? And we work with them extensively to get them ready for that feasibility study. We see a lot of different feasibility studies that are delivered to a community, and they kind of end up sitting more on a shelf. But when a community is really ready to interact with their consultant, ask good questions, that feasibility study is really about making decisions along the way that can really help lead to implementation.

Christopher Mitchell: And we're going to talk about a report here that you did, but it was published by the Blandin Foundation.

Bill Coleman: Right? The foundation supported this work. I've been working with the economic development group in east central Minnesota called GPS 45 93. It's five counties just north of the Twin Cities, south of Duluth, and so, area with great economic potential.

Christopher Mitchell: I thought you were going to say great cinnamon rolls: Tobies.

Bill Coleman: Tobies does have good cinnamon rolls. They have bakeries and almost every town in east central Minnesota, but not much broadband, especially when you get outside the communities. And this is a region that has a lot of people who live in the exurban area, little farms and little lakes and a very great rural lifestyle with easy commuting into the Twin Cities.

Christopher Mitchell: Good bike paths. I'll plug those because I've actually biked up to Tobies one time a few years ago. And it's, there's nothing better than a Tobies roll after that, and it was very protected bike trails a lot of the way.

Bill Coleman: Oh, great. They've got the other infrastructure they need for successful rural lifestyles, but broadband, especially in the rural sections of the counties is weak. And they see that, uh, their nice lifestyle is one of their best attractors for economic development, and a lot of people who want to live there and work out of their homes bring their businesses with them. In Chisago County, they did a survey, and it goes 30 some or more percent of people who are living in the rural areas have home businesses, and so rural broadband is critical for them. And so they wanted me to look at what was being built under the CAF II networks. They had heard that this was coming, and they saw that so much of their area was CAF II eligible. They really wanted to know, is this going to solve our problem and we move on to other topics, real economic development, or do they need to continue to think about rural broadband?

Christopher Mitchell: And CAF is the Connect America Fund, which is a continuation of universal service historically focused in the case of Connect America on broadband. And the CAF II refers to the specific program in which the money is mostly going to the big carriers that are incumbents in these areas, but there will also be an auction, that I'm sure you and I will find a reason to talk a little bit more about, that'll auction off a fraction of the money that's being spent to places in which the big carriers haven't accepted the money.

Bill Coleman: Yeah. And so this fund is really designed to help motivate the larger carriers in Minnesota, primarily CenturyLink and Frontier, to invest in their rural broadband networks. And in Minnesota that this is a large sum of money that's coming to the providers and about $50 million just to CenturyLink alone on an annual basis.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the other things that I think this report gets at is that a number of legislators for the state, and in fact in most states, but in particular in Minnesota, we know that legislators, I would say are confused. They don't know that they're confused, but they, they also have, I think, a mistaken belief that this program is significantly solving a problem in Greater Minnesota.

Bill Coleman: Well, everyone likes to have problems solved on their behalf. And so as legislators consider where to put dollars, into roads or schools or any number of things, if they don't have to fund rural broadband, you know, that's good news to them.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Right, so it's very convenient for them to listen to the CenturyLink and Frontier lobbyists claiming that there's no problem because the federal government is solving it.

Bill Coleman: And I've sat in multiple meetings where the providers have described what they're going to deliver under that and it sounds pretty good. And uh, but then I thought, well, let's see what's really being built in these rural areas and bring some more factual information to the communities. And even when the providers show their plans, you know, it looks kind of impressive, but when you start to think about the distances involved in rural areas and the capabilities of the DSL services that they're deploying, you quickly see the limitations.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, and that's exactly what we're going to talk about. But we haven't given people the title of your report yet. Do you want to, you want to share it so that I can once again tease you about it?

Bill Coleman: Sure. It's the Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons From Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges Left Underserved.

Christopher Mitchell: So I continue to believe, since last week when we recorded this originally, I continue to believe that this has one of the more anodyne titles, and it is one of the greatest differences between a title that doesn't get at how interesting and new this research is, in terms of showing something that's unknown. It's quite a revolutionary approach you've taken relative to what others have done, and the title may not reveal all of that.

Bill Coleman: I think we tried to minimize our inflammatory language. The Foundation is very interested in presenting real factual, balanced information and not necessarily going in with an ax to grind but really helping community leaders truly understand what this will bring for them.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and I think making the point about an ax to grind, you did something that's very responsible at the beginning of the paper in which you discuss factors of uncertainty in terms of factors that may result in the, um, the actual coverage that you're talking about being more in favor of the incumbent providers or less in favor of the incumbent providers. I think that you came down with a very fair methodology. I think you gave every benefit of the doubt, but you were very honest about limitations of your research.

Bill Coleman: My name's on it, and so I want it to be seen as fair. I know that providers can be pretty aggressive in trying to point out issues. And so I really wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt and, uh, show the picture as fairly as I could.

Christopher Mitchell: So one of the things I wanted to do is just get a couple of key facts out of the way so we don't waste time on them and we can just move on to the interesting stuff. But it is, as you said, most of the money that's coming into Minnesota is going to CenturyLink because they have the most territory that is involved. And if you look at a map of Minnesota, of who doesn't have broadband, I think you'll find that, as is true of most of the Midwest, it's where the big providers operate. But there's $85,000,000 per year coming in over six years, I believe now. It was originally going to be five, but it's six years. Most of that money's going to Frontier and CenturyLink. And again, CenturyLink's gained the bulk of that. They have to deliver 10 Megabits down and one Megabit up by the end of the period. I believe by the end of this year, they have to have 60 percent of the area covered.

Bill Coleman: Correct.

Christopher Mitchell: And then, this impacts 170,000 households across Minnesota. So that gives you a sense of the scale of the, of the project.

Bill Coleman: One of the issues with CAF II as compared to a community doing broadband planning, is that CAF II is funding a certain number of households in Minnesota, but not all unserved households in Minnesota. Places that are either too expensive to serve are excluded as are communities that have four down and one up already. And so even though the state, or the state goal for broadband, and the FCC standard for broadband is 25 down and three up places that have four are left out of this program. So their future is quite uncertain in terms of how they are going to get better broadband.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. So let's just jump into what you're studying and how you ended up doing it. So the first thing I think is to get a sense of what exactly this paper shows and then we'll talk about how you determine that. So what did you find in the course of this research of what's the impact of the CAF II funding on these two exchange — well, I guess, you studied two exchanges and you can talk about that, but what did you find in these two exchanges?

Bill Coleman: You know, we found that there's a vast area that is still someplace served between 10 Megabits and 25 Megabits after the improvements, and as we think about an FCC standard of 25 down and 3 up and the state goal of 25/3 and then 100 down and 20 up by 2026, that these rural areas still need to keep their eyes on improving broadband services. What's being delivered to them is really inadequate today, and as we move into the future, will certainly be inadequate. When we see the gigabit availability in towns through cable companies especially, or even areas that are rural areas that are served by rural telephone cooperatives or public sector networks, they have fiber to the home.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. You could plausibly get gigabit from three different people at some houses in Minneapolis because CenturyLink, to their credit, has been more aggressive in urban areas than I ever expected them to be in recent years. So, you know, you can imagine how frustrating it is that the federal government is giving a lot of money to providers in your town so that you can have an obsolete connection when you know other people are choosing between super fast connectivity, probably at a similar price point to what you're paying.

Bill Coleman: And I think one of the big issues with the CAF II dollars is that rural telephone cooperatives and electric cooperatives have been thinking about expanding into some of these areas on a competitive basis with brand new fiber networks. And now they see this CAF II dollars being deployed and, you know, so competition is enhanced. It's not great, but I think they got the feeling too that this competition would be too much for them to really overcome with a new network.

Christopher Mitchell: This is, and this is where I get really, really, really angry because that money should have gone to the co-ops to provide very good service and instead co-ops are faced with this choice of, are we going to try and build an offer a very high quality product with no subsidies and we're going to be competing against companies that have gotten massive subsidies from the federal government and have all kinds of other advantages already? It's a hard choice to make. I think those co-ops are going to do it eventually in many cases, but it is frustrating that that's the way, that's a decision that they have to make right now.

Bill Coleman: You know, like a CAF program is providing about $3,000 per house, which in rural areas you can deploy fiber to the home someplace between $5- to $10,000 per house, maybe even higher in some very difficult areas. But that $3,000 is a big chunk. And so it would be, would have been very interesting to see where we would have ended up had the FCC applied this reverse auction approach for all the CAF II money instead of just those areas where that was declined by the larger providers.

Christopher Mitchell: We've heard from CenturyLink that in the areas where they've done CAF II that most households aren't just getting the minimum of 10 Megabits that they're required to do ,that in fact, and they have some percentage to me that seems implausibly high. I'm often frustrated at statistics when there's no means of anyone fact checking those because we don't have any good source of data as to where these household supposedly are. But to get back to your paper, you know, you show the maps of these overlapping circles of where you could plausibly be getting more than 10 megabits based on where they've laid out their physical infrastructure. So let's talk about that a little bit. Um, so how did you get a sense of what technology would be available without getting a job at CenturyLink?

Bill Coleman: DSL service has been around a long time and the well-established distance tables that show how the speed of DSL slows over distance. And so what I did was went out and did a drive around and found where CenturyLink and Frontier had installed fiber cable in the Right-of-Way and then installed DSL access modules, or DSLAMs. And so we did that, and then we drew circles around those DSLAMs: a 3,000 foot radius and a 9,000 foot radius. And within that 3,000 foot circle, you can maybe get that 25 down and three up, and within the 9,000 foot circle, then you're essentially at the 10 down and one up. And when we drew these circles, we knew that copper cabling does not go as the crow flies. It goes as the, uh, down the road and follow around the lake and maybe circle back. So, we think that the 3,000 feet and the 9,000 feet is really generous in terms of the distance.

Christopher Mitchell: Well especially because I think those, again this is very real world scenario, but you're not just dealing with length, you're also dealing with quality of the copper, and so we can assume that in many of these areas you're not dealing with pristine copper and that one of the other things that degrades the signal over distance is the quality of the copper.

Bill Coleman: Yeah. And some of this copper might be 30, 40, 50 years old, the original line when these people got telephone service in these areas. And when you talk to the residents and you ask them if their phone buzzes and cracks when it rains, many people say it, they say it does. And that is an example of those breaks in the insulation on those copper lines.

Christopher Mitchell: I wanted to prompt you on something, which is that if others wanted to recreate this, they might think, "Oh, well wouldn't it be easier just to go get the permits that are pulled by these companies to operate in the Right-of-Way?" And you tried to do that.

Bill Coleman: I did. I requested — there's four different counties involved in this research in terms of the geography, and so I made requests of those county Right-of-Way permit folks for the information. And what I got back was kind of haphazard, and when I looked at, we mapped that out and it clearly underrepresented what I knew was out in the field. And so I'm not sure if they didn't understand my request. Maybe townships were issuing those permits. Maybe there weren't permits issued at all. And so we said, well, we're just going to go out there and do the drive around. So I drove around and took pictures with my GPS-enabled iPhone and got the precise locations of the equipment.

Christopher Mitchell: And you then ran it by Frontier and CenturyLink, because you did one exchange of each, and made sure that you aren't missing any. They didn't offer any corrections to what you were doing.

Bill Coleman: No, they didn't. And they were not really excited about what we're doing and saw that as attack on the CAF II program and on them. But again, we're just trying to figure out what is really being built. And so I think that's a critical piece. Also, there's a lot of different boxes in the, in the Right-of-Way. And so I spent some time with a group of technologists, product managers, and engineers, and so on saying, "Well, what is this box and what is that box?" And wherever we saw a box that we really couldn't identify, we counted that as a DSLAM, just again to make sure that we were overstating rather than understating the coverage.

Christopher Mitchell: And so this actually is a reminder for me that we should have told people where they can find this report. The more enterprising listeners may have already gone off and searched for it, but your maps really help to spell this out. Where should people look to find it?

Bill Coleman: It's on the Blandin Foundation website. So

Christopher Mitchell: And I also recommend if you just Google "Bill Coleman CAF study Blandin," that's going to find it pretty quick as well.

Bill Coleman: Yes, yes. And, you know, it's interesting and especially in the frontier exchange we looked at, which is in Lindstrom Minnesota, the deployment, when you see the map, looks pretty good. I would say this looks great because most of the area is covered by these 9,000 foot circles.

Christopher Mitchell: Right, the blue circles.

Bill Coleman: The blue circles, yeah. And you know, you think about that, "Oh that's, you know, everyone's going to have at least 10 megabit service," which is great, you know, for people who don't have anything now or rely on satellite or very expensive cellular.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I was just talking to a woman who lives in east Texas who does not have broadband in her home, in her county, or in her library. There's nowhere close by to go at all. It gives you a sense for, you know, what some people deal with. And I, I'm sure anyone who's listening to this knows this already, but I was just reminded of this earlier in the week — I think Angela Siefer from National Digital Inclusion Alliance and I were talking about this — there are people in the United States who don't understand that there are a lot of people that don't have broadband. Like, there's people who just assume that everyone has it, which is, it's amazing to me. So your point is well taken that for people who go from zero to 10 megabits, that is a significant jump in quality of life and opportunity.

Bill Coleman: It is, and CenturyLink has talked about that they, that 70 percent of the CAF II-affected customers can get 20 Megabits or more.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. And that's one of those stats that I just, I would really like to be able to verify myself.

Bill Coleman: Yeah, and I think what I've seen is that many of the people who are benefiting from CAF II are only somewhat rural.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure.

Bill Coleman: You know, they're right on the edge of the . . . You know, before, the town had one DSLAM in the downtown area, and so if they are two miles from downtown, you know, they don't really have very good broadband. So this program has probably improved their broadband, as well as what we consider to be extremely rural.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay.

Bill Coleman: And so, back to my circles. We were able then to prepare maps where we took away the 9,000 foot circles and show only the 3,000 foot circles —

Christopher Mitchell: People that have what we would call broadband.

Bill Coleman: Right, the 25 down and three up.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, people who could plausibly get broadband. It's one of those things where not everyone inside the circle can get broadband because of the "as the crow flies" problem you mentioned earlier, but we know that people outside the circle really don't get it.

Bill Coleman: And that picture looks extremely different. You know, we — back to our geography — you know, there's, nine of these red circles can fit into one blue circle, and so, "pi r squared" comes into play there. And you can see there that eight ninths of the geography is outside that 3,000 foot circle.

Christopher Mitchell: Well, and this gets us to, again one of those rants that I'll resist going on. But this gets us to a point in which I think CenturyLink might be mad at you, but I think a lot of their public affairs people are really annoyed at their CFO because — you mentioned this at the beginning of the paper — they've been honest, they've been upfront over the course of 2018, much in the way that I believe Verizon has been historically, that they just don't see a reason to invest in rural America in the near future. Their company depends on focusing on enterprise customers in urban areas where they can be competitive, where they can get a much better return on investment. And so, you know, when you look at these smaller circles, the costs of getting broadband to people who don't live in those circles, it's almost going to be a whole new investment because there's nothing that we're going to really do to get CenturyLink to use their infrastructure — or I would argue Frontier, who hasn't made these claims, but we also know is out of money. You know, this is a wasted investment in some ways. I mean, so you make a good point that it's not wasted for the people that can at least get 10/1 or 25/3. But when we think about people who we want to be productive members of society and the economy and education, um, this money is effectively wasted for the longer term goals of Minnesota and others.

Bill Coleman: You know, they are deploying a lot of fiber. So if somebody else would come in and purchase that and make use of that fiber, that is an asset.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. If CenturyLink wanted to decide that, they could change their business model and try to, like, not focus on last mile and really just enable others to invest in there. Then boy, I would be cheering CenturyLink and singing them praises.

Bill Coleman: Yeah, and in the 1990s - early 2000s, this Fiber-to-the-Node technology is probably what a lot of our rural telephone co-ops were deploying, uh, for DSL. And from that then they have extended and, uh, gotten to Fiber-to-the-Home. So it is possible —

Christopher Mitchell: Where you have the will —

Bill Coleman: And the finances. And maybe there'll be a CAF VI where these companies will receive additional dollars to do that.

Christopher Mitchell: I would just be so angry if we throw still more money at companies. I just — you and I have talked before about how well the Dakotas have done because, um, whether it's the small family companies or the co-ops, which are more numerous, the telephone co-ops, they have an incentive to serve customers well. Whereas these big companies that are headquartered more than a thousand miles away, it's just too easy for them to forget about the rural areas. Um, but actually, so this just reminded me of something too, which is actually, you know, South Dakota, North Dakota just exploded in terms of the conductivity in statistics from, like, Ookla and that sort of thing. And what you were just saying just reminded me, I think what happened was they had built these networks, in many cases even fiber networks, and they weren't really offering higher capacity connections. And when they turned them on, all of a sudden suddenly South Dakota goes from being 30th in the nation to two according to PC Magazine for speed of the state. So just, it's one of those remarkable things. I know you pay attention to these sorts of things, so . . .

Bill Coleman: We do and you know, I work with a lot of the companies that are trying to expand into rural and the challenging business case that represents and the co-ops, even with our state broadband grant program, are looking at five, six, 10 year return on investment. I don't even think the publicly traded companies, they just cannot, you know, do that. It's not in their DNA, it's not in their bylaws, and the, uh, stock exchange will treat them accordingly if they're investing money that provides no return.

Christopher Mitchell: So it's a quick quiz: What do you call it if the CFO of a major telephone company starts talking about how they're going to invest massively in rural Americans? It's an early retirement plan because you're going to lose your job.

Bill Coleman: You know, CenturyLink, now, their goal is to be the best business technology provider in the world. And so that's a long way, unless they're thinking about home-based businesses and rural, a long way from rural deployment.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. So is there anything else that we need to cover in terms of the circles? Because I feel like people have gotten a decent sense of, of what they're looking at, which is that this is an area in which, um, you know, people are going from often nothing to something which is, again going from zero to 10 is a bigger jump from 10 to 100, but we need people to get from 10 to 100 over some period of time in the near future.

Bill Coleman: We do. And I think that the real message is the job's not done in these communities. If they were going to try and attract people to come and do home-based businesses or medical professionals, uh, to come to their community and enjoy that rural lifestyle, the 10 megabit connection is not going to be one that supports tele-radiology. Or, just as important for many people who are moving to rural areas, is what is my spouse going to do? How are they going to earn their living? And so if you think about multiple people needing bandwidth, uh, 10 megs is not going to be it.

Christopher Mitchell: It reminds me of a story that I heard — I'll bet you've heard a lot of stories like this because you, you collect these stories as well — but it was of a person, the primary breadwinner for the home, got a job in an area that was a bit rural. And in sort of talking about it as a family, the kids and the spouse basically said, "Okay, this seems like a great opportunity for you, for us as a family, but we're going to live 45 minutes away because that's the closest place we can get good broadband." And so that person — you know, you can imagine moving. A lot of people don't, when they move, they're not trying to pick a place to give themselves a 90 minute daily commute, but they did that because they were not going to live in that particular region because there was no decent Internet access there.

Bill Coleman: It certainly has moved up into the community, uh, site selection criteria for large businesses, small businesses, and residents now. I've seen the statistic that 70 percent of people won't buy a house without, uh, broadband, and I can only believe that that number will go up —

Christopher Mitchell: Oh yeah.

Bill Coleman: — as, uh, tele-medicine really becomes a reality. And just as people my age, now, you know, in the sixties, to be able to live wherever they want, that's an important factor for everyone I know in my generation.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, absolutely. Shouldn't some, some like government agency, regulatory agency, perhaps our communications commission somewhere be doing this kind of work to do basic sanity checking on what is the impact of our investment? What — you know, are some of the claims that these companies are making about services correct? Given the amount of frustration from broadband subscribers about what is represented on maps in terms of their home coverage.

Bill Coleman: You know, I think that brings to mind the famous Reagan quote "trust but verify." And, uh, so I think communities can, do repeat this study pretty easily by just doing driving around and doing this mapping and seeing, you know, what are, what is being installed in our area. Uh, your electric co-op could be of some help in this because they have to go in and install electric meters because all of these devices are powered at the site. So I think that's a way to see what is being built. And if you're trying to convince your electric co-op to become a broadband provider, you know, essentially they can see this pretty easily and really measure out what kind of service is going to be available. And once they see that, maybe they won't be so hesitant to try and compete.

Christopher Mitchell: Yeah, I think that's a very good point. Uh, I assume that if people have questions about how to do some of this and wanted to follow up with you, you'd be available.

Bill Coleman: Sure, that would be great.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you, Bill. I, I'm very excited about this. I think being able to actually look at this and not just talking generically about numbers of people who are in radiuses, but actually seeing it on the maps is a, is a really good addition to the conversation. It's a new tool that I hope people go out and use to demonstrate to their neighbors, to their elected officials the real scope of the challenge we have, even after this CAF program ends.

Bill Coleman: I appreciate the opportunity to talk about it and hope people make great use of this methodology in their own communities to drive better broadband deployment.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Thank you.

Bill Coleman: Thanks.

Lisa Gonzalez: That was Christopher and Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors discussing his recent report for the Blandin Foundation, Impact of CAF II-funded Networks: Lessons From Two Rural Minnesota Exchanges Left Underserved. Be sure to download it at or from the resources section of We have transcripts for this and other podcasts available at Email us at with your ideas for the show. Follow Chris on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. Follow stories on Twitter. The handle is @muninetworks. Subscribe to this podcast and the other ILSR podcasts, Building Local Power and the Local Energy Rules podcast. You can access them wherever you get your podcasts. Never miss out on our original research. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter at Thanks to Arne Huseby for the song Warm Duck Shuffle, licensed through Creative Commons, and thanks for listening to episode 318 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.