Fast, affordable Internet access for all.
But the entire congratulatory press release glosses over a key fact: the reason that Monticello received a fiber network was the town's decision to install a municipal-owned fiber network to every home in town… spawning a set of TDS lawsuits that went all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the town.I might also note that the press release and much of the coverage also glosses over a one-year contract and early termination fee (though it isn't clear if this is applied in all circumstances). However, Nate nails the story by framing it with the title "Want 50Mbps Internet in your town? Threaten to roll out your own."
We spoke to TDS about the situation last year, and its director of legislative and public relations told us that TDS didn't act earlier because it didn't actually know that people really, really wanted fiber; once the referendum was a success, the company moved quickly to give people what it now knew they wanted.Of course, TDS did not start rolling fiber after the referendum. They waited. It was only after the City successfully bonded for the project that TDS acted (first by filing a lawsuit to block competition and second by investing in their network to be competitive when the doomed lawsuit would inevitably be dismissed). TDS did not change course because they suddenly realized that people wanted better broadband, they did it because they knew that they would have to invest or perish when confronted with actual competition. Nate's article looks at other communities that have followed a similar trajectory.
“My understanding is that we have allowed the companies that have not provided the needed broadband coverage in our state to steer the broadband mapping process itself because of a stated need for confidentiality. That need is questionable,” said Fleck. “And it puts the state in a position where if the maps show there is no problem with broadband coverage, then we won’t need legislation, regulation, or any other policies and it creates the risk that the telecom industry can continue to provide inadequate coverage to underserved areas — usually areas of low-density and low-income. And because of the inadequacy of these maps, eventually we will have to undertake broadband mapping again at taxpayer expense. To me, this is an irresponsible use of public money.”The story also quotes me and links back to our story on Connected Nation in Minnesota. I want to note that states and federal agencies can demand more in terms of better maps and data transparency. It is somewhat disingenuous to lay the blame solely at the doorstep of this telecom-front organization when elected officials refuse to demand more from an industry that has long retained legions of lobbyists. Make no mistake, Connected Nation's conflict of interest is a serious problem, but we need our elected officials to stand up to the telecommunications companies and demand better mapping data. We had higher hopes from the NTIA, but clearly that was misplaced. More recently, Sharon Schmickle of MinnPost wrote about plans for a publicly owned network in Cook County, Minnesota. It touches on the major issues that many communities face when deciding whether to build their own network.
I'm pretty cranky about this process. Nice n'cozy. Nice n'closed. Nice bypass of the Task Force. No public input at all as far as I can see. Looks like there was lots of opportunity for providers to provide input about their confidentiality needs, not too much input about what consumers need. Look forward to more sub-par optimistic maps, and impossible to use/verify data, peepul.He references the ample opportunity for providers to express their preferences, this comes from the letter from the two commissioners to the governor:
The other primary reason that we are recommending Connected Nation is that in conversations with and letters from the broadband provider community (including the Minnesota Telecom Association, the Minnesota Cable COmmunications Association, Qwest and Comcast), they have noted their satisfaction with the work Connected Nation as done, the professionalism displayed. Most important, the providers have confidence in Connected Nation's ability to protect their sensitive, nonpublic infrastructure information.The letter goes on to discuss the other possible mapping entity - the University of Minnesota:
First, the University indicates that it has entered into confidentiality agreements on other projects.
The NOFA explicitly calls 768/200 Kbps broadband “sufficient access to broadband service to facilitate rural economic development,” but how many jobs will this kind of broadband really attract to a depressed area? How many new services can service providers sell over such networks? Will the networks support public needs for distance education or health care? And how long will it be before the equipment has to be replaced? In the words of a rural telco manager I spoke with recently, “You want to put money into something long-term if you’re going to start building networks. Don’t build something you’ll have to throw away in two or three years.”Steve Ross takes a look at two networks in Minnesota - the much discussed Monticello FiberNet and a proposed network in Lake County (see Lake County Fiber Network Project FAQ):
Lake County is a rural area in northeastern Minnesota. Its planned network requires 800 miles of fiber to more than 7,300 homes and 500 businesses – every premises in the area that has electricity or telephone service now. It’s the first project of National Public Broadband (www.nationalpublicbroadband.org), a nonprofit helping communities develop and operate municipal fiber networks. NPB’s CEO is Tim Nulty, director of the ECFiber project awaiting funding in Vermont.Steve discusses the crap that TDS is pulling to again prevent competition in Monticello. Despite being laughed (albeit slowly) out of court in their attempt to stop the city from building a fiber network, they are now attempting to incite a bondholder lawsuit by spreading more FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). Interestingly, Steve suggests that TDS' numbers do not add up and that they are advertising fiber services while offering advanced DSL (not that any other private companies have similarly lied).
Frontier Communications expects to extend its Wi-Fi hot spot service to Burnsville's performing arts center this fall, but a company official admitted Friday that knitting together complete citywide coverage has gone more slowly than expected. The phone provider for the southern part of Burnsville as well as Apple Valley, Farmington and Lakeville, Frontier had expected to have 90 percent of the city covered with a network of broadband Internet Wi-Fi hot spots by now. But Frontier is still moving its wireless service from the south, where it kicked off service in October 2007, into the northern parts of the city.Additionally, the public-private partnership in Minneapolis remains behind schedule (privately owned but built with substantial amounts of public money). The problem is the technology - not the ownership. We continue to believe that the future should feature wireless as a complement to the more reliable and faster wired connections that should be available to everyone. But the more we talk to communities, the more we learn that wireless is more difficult to work with and often more expensive than expected.
Currently, over 4,000 locations are served with our fiber-to-the-home network, which represents about 30 percent of our entire network. For these customers, thanks to the benefits of fiber optics, we can deliver high-speed Internet services up to 40 Mb (both upload and download) and a host of advanced television services including multiple streams of high-definition television, digital video recording, and on-demand services.For those who claim that people in rural areas just don't understand broadband or don't want it, this company has an answer:
One specific example the fiber optic network capacity can have on a business is Northwood DNA, Inc. This is a business operating in a very rural area, Becida, MN, that provides DNA sequencing and genotyping services globally. The services they provide require receiving and sending large data files electronically. Prior to the deployment of the fiber optic network, their business was only able to report two to three test results per day. Today, with the benefits of the all fiber optic network, they report over 50 test results per day.The full story starts on page 9 of the 2009 July FTTH Prism.
The problem, as city and county broadband planners see it, has less to do with technology than with the sheer legwork required to create an acceptable proposal. Applicants must prove that all the areas they propose to serve would meet a narrow federal definition of being underserved -- that 50 percent or more households in the area lack broadband access, or that fewer than 40 percent of the households already subscribe to broadband. That puts the burden on cities and counties to undertake expensive and time-consuming door-to-door surveys, because telephone and cable companies don't reveal which areas they serve.In the meantime, private companies like Qwest are not even sure they will participate as they do not like the requirements that grantees operate the network without discriminating against some kinds of content (meaning they want to charge more to visit some sites than others). Though Qwest has not been as bullish on this money-making idea as AT&T, one assumes it is not too far off. Telephony's Ed Gubbins also comments on the many municipalities that have little hope of grants under NTIA's rules:
One group of broadband stimulus hopefuls that has been in large part swept out of the running by the specifics of the plan is individual municipalities of any size.