Monday, November 7, 2011

Governor Dayton Names Broadband Taskforce Members

Just this morning, Governor Dayton announced the formation of a task force on Broadband.  The task force is charged with developing policies to promote the expansion of broadband access in Minnesota. Dayton’s stated goal is “border-to-border” high-speed Internet and cell-phone access throughout Minnesota.

IMPACT 20/20 member, Dick Sjoberg, will serve on the Governor's task force, along with 14 others. 


Thursday, October 27, 2011

FCC Shifts Subsidy Fund to Broadband

(Reuters) - Regulators agreed on Thursday to change an $8 billion national communications subsidy program to put more emphasis on providing high-speed Internet access to rural areas.
The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to shift roughly $4.5 billion spent annually to subsidize rural telephone service over to providing broadband in rural and costly-to-serve areas.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Bringing Broadband Infrastructure to Rural Areas: Where is the Progress?"

, Deputy Editor,

Thursday October 13th 2011 – As gears up for our panel on“Bringing Broadband Infrastructure to Rural Areas: Where is the Progress?” we have been taking some notes on the FCC’s efforts to reform the Universal Service Fund and listened in on Wednesday’s Senate Commerce Hearing on “Universal Service Reform – Bringing Broadband to All Americans.” Here is a summary of some of the talking points and some highlights from the hearing. 

Read the article...

Monday, October 10, 2011

FCC Chairman Unveils Broadband Plan

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski on Thursday unveiled a plan that he said will help bring broadband service to the 18 million Americans who are currently without access.
Specifically, the plan would revamp the Universal Service Fund (USF) to include broadband. The USF is a government fund created in 1997 intended to provide all Americans with access to telecom services, as well as Internet service in schools and libraries.  Read the full article...

Monday, September 26, 2011

USDA Awards Funding for High-Speed Broadband Installation in Park Rapids Area

Paul Bunyan Communications has been granted a $17 million loan through the USDA’s Rural Utility Service broadband loan program. The funding award means that 4,000 homes and businesses in the Park Rapids area will have high-speed broadband access!
Read the full article.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

IMPACT 20/20 Submits "Reply Comment" to FCC

Broadband reform is coming, but for many Northwest Minnesotans, it cannot come soon enough. Just ask Jeff Menten, a home-based business owner from the Park Rapids area.  Menten needs broadband for his business and has concerns about the future of his business without it. 

“Since our business is home-based, we desperately need broadband,” Menten said. “The cost of satellite internet is much too high, yet we can hardly manage business with dial-up service. We are concerned that we may have to downgrade to dial-up and that would be disastrous for our business.”
IMPACT 20/20, a collaborative effort of several Northwest Minnesota leaders, has decided to tackle the rural broadband issue head-on, and for good reason.
While many in Northwest Minnesota consider themselves to have adequate broadband access, there are pockets within the region where there is either no access or speeds that are simply inadequate.  In fact, U.S. Census Track data reveals that there are over 3,600 households within the region that are without any available broadband connection.

Earlier this spring, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (NPR).  The NPR addressed many complex issues, including reform of the Universal Service Fund (USF).  IMPACT 20/20 posted a reply comment to the NPR in May, urging the FCC to reform the USF and make it a critical component of our national broadband strategy. The NPR has moved through both the comment and reply comment periods and is expected to be on the August docket of the FCC.
Although the private sector has been successful in bringing affordable high-speed internet access service to most Americans, bringing broadband to unserved or underserved areas and promoting adoption of services by underserved segments of the population (e.g. low-income consumers) will require sufficient financial support from the federal government.  IMPACT 20/20 believes that the USF will be a critical component in providing universal and equitable access to broadband services. 

It should be noted that the USF is not funded by tax dollars.  It is funded each time a phone bill is paid.  A quick look at any phone bill will reveal a line item labeled “Federal USF Charge.”  These funds are paid to the federal government and placed in a pool.  In the past, these pooled funds were restricted to supporting the installation of telephone service.  The recommended reform would remove the restriction and allow the funds to also support the installation of high-speed broadband services.
IMPACT 20/20 has set a goal that all residents of the region will have access to broadband speeds of at least 10 Mb download and 5 Mb upload.  Currently, the average download speed in Northwest Minnesota is only 2.4 and the average upload speed is only 0.8. (Source: Minnesota Ultra High-speed Broadband Report.) A quick comparison of urban vs. rural speeds highlights great disparity.  While broadband has the potential of leveling the playing field between rural and urban areas, a lack of investment into infrastructure in rural areas will further deepen the digital divide.  Large pockets of our country – including Northwest Minnesota – will be left behind.  USF reform is an important step in correcting the inequity.

IMPACT 20/20 is a dedicated group of Northwest Minnesota leaders representing diverse interests and working together for the region’s economic success. These leaders are passionate about Northwest Minnesota and its future as a place where people choose to live and do business. They believe that high-speed broadband is one of the most important components of our rural economy, now and into the future.
For more about IMPACT 20/20, visit

Friday, July 8, 2011

Kerry and Warner Urge Reforms to Broadband


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Commerce
Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, joined Senator
Mark Warner (D-Va.) in a letter today to the Federal Communications
Commission urging reform of the Universal Service Fund in order to better
deploy broadband service across the country.

The Senators urged the Commissioners to use broadband funds to bridge
private sector investment gaps, provide strong accountability and oversight
of the funds, and deliver high-speed broadband service that keeps pace with
new technologies over time.

The full text of the letter is below:

July 5, 2011

The Honorable Julius Genachowski
The Honorable Michael J. Copps
The Honorable Robert M. McDowell
The Honorable Mignon Clyburn
Federal Communications Commission
445 Twelfth Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554

Dear Commissioners:

We write in support of your efforts to reform the Universal Service Fund
(USF) to support broadband delivery. Broadband is no longer a luxury; it
has become critical economic infrastructure for Americans. Unfortunately,
broadband is still an expensive and uneven service in parts of the country.
It is very important that all Americans have access to both fixed and mobile
broadband services at an affordable price.

The Commission identified "investment gaps" in the National Broadband Plan
which would require $23.5 billion to finance a minimum 4Mbps download/1Mbps
upload for the entire country. The cost of upgrading to fiber-to-the-home
would increase the cost to approximately $55 billion. This is a significant
amount of money. Given that the High-Cost Fund outlays have been $4.27
billion for 2010, $4.3 billion in 2009, and $4.24 billion in 2008, we will
only reach these goals if we know exactly where we need to deploy and
support high-speed broadband service.

Therefore, we urge you to take the following measures as you move forward to
establish the Connect America Fund:

1. Use broadband funds to bridge private sector investment gaps.

The Commission should require that funds allocated through the proposed
Connect America Fund are used to prioritize areas without any broadband or
where no provider offers service at a baseline level of transmission speed,
as determined by the Commission.

We should also prioritize for funding those areas that are least likely to
be built out over the next three-to-five years because their geographic
and/or demographic profile make them insufficiently profitable based on
commercial business models. While coverage plans should include adjacent
communities so that isolated communities are included, funds should be
targeted to the portion of a project that covers territory where broadband
at a baseline level is unavailable. The National Broadband Map released in
February 2011 was the first attempt at mapping on a nationwide level.
Therefore, we ask that the Commission update the investment gap estimates
with more granular data as soon as a more complete version of the map is
available. As an example, Virginia’s state broadband availability map
provides data at the more useful address-level, not just at the Census-block

The Commission should revisit this baseline level annually and should set
goals for minimum target speeds for broadband that would be required to
qualify for funding. This should not be a static issue, when nothing else
in the technology world stays as it is forever. 4 Mbps download is an
acceptable speed now—it will not be in 10 years.

2. Provide strong accountability and oversight.

Any new broadband program must include strong accountability measures to
ensure that funds are being spent to achieve goals including universal
broadband access, high-quality service, and greater broadband adoption. The
Commission should also require states to disaggregate study areas in order
to ensure funding is used for broadband deployment in specific areas.
Without an accurate way of targeting unserved communities, it is likely that
high-cost areas that are presently unserved will continue to lack broadband
service in any form.

The Commission should also establish a cap on expenditures to provide an
incentive for service providers to devise lower-cost solutions that meet
nationwide needs for both fixed and mobile broadband. Funding should
require a match from service providers and should be conditioned on
reasonable access and interconnection requirements.

3. Provide high-value broadband service that keeps pace with new

The new program should support the deployment of broadband on a targeted,
technology-neutral basis—without prejudice. In some areas, the most
cost-effective service might be fixed, wireless, or satellite services. A
competitively-neutral focus on technology will also enable us to ensure that
consumers receive broadband services that prioritize quality, speed, and
efforts to encourage greater broadband adoption. Therefore, we urge the
Commission to fully consider all options in order to encourage innovation
and the growth of new technologies.

Thank you for your consideration of these views. We encourage you to think
broadly as you seek to reform the Universal Service Fund to support
broadband deployment. It is important that we improve the
cost-effectiveness of the new program, and we stand ready to work with you
in support of these goals.


Mark R. Warner John Kerry
United States Senator United States Senator

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Broadband Speed and the Consumer

How much speed are you buying in your current broadband package and are you getting what you pay for? The FCC recently released the results of a national survey that shows just how large the information gap is when it comes to broadband. According to this survey, fully 80 percent of Americans with broadband at home don't know what speed they're getting. The survey was done through a major firm and drew on a national sample of three thousand consumers. The survey found that fifty percent of fixed broadband customers were very satisfied with their service overall, and forty-one percent were somewhat satisfied. Only six percent were "not too" satisfied, and three percent were not satisfied at all.

In order to get the best service at the best value, consumers first need to understand what broadband speed they need for the applications they want to run. If you only do email and some light Web surfing, you really only need the minimum package offered. For the heavier user who might be streaming a movie on occasion or who has children in the house sharing a connection, a middle level of service might be more appropriate. And if you are a serious gamer or like to stream HD quality movie, can you get enough bandwidth?

If you think that you have the right level of service but it doesn’t seem to do everything you think it should, you might have a problem with your equipment. For example, your router might be slowing things up. If you have multiple computers on your home, test each one. Sometimes, the version of software or virus protection may be at fault. And, if you have a wireless router, be sure to secure it with a password so “hitchhikers” don’t use it for free and in the process, use your bandwidth. Also, it is important to keep your anti-virus program current. Viruses and other automated “malware” can be using your bandwidth as well as compromising your computer’s security.

In addition, broadband service providers need to advertise their speeds in clear terms, and consumers need to be assured that the speeds they actually receive match what's advertised. Broadband delivered via a cable modem or through fiber optics tend to maintain their advertised speeds throughout the system. Other systems tend to become slower as you move away from the central office or transmitting tower. If you have any questions about your service, contact your provider. They are there to help.

Great new services will be coming on the Internet. Don’t be left out. If you are not currently on the Internet and would like to be, contact a local provider for classes and services to help you learn more.
By Richard Sjoberg, President of Sjoberg's Inc.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Blandin Foundation: Broadband, the Future of Rural Minnesota

Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Public Policy and Engagement at the Blandin Foundation, discusses the benefits and advantages high-speed internet can provide rural communities.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Importance of Broadband for Northwest Minnesota

A century ago, communities that thrived were located along the railroad. Rail was a powerful economic driver, connecting small and often remote communities with the rest of the world. Whether transporting goods, services, or people, the presence of the railroad was one of the most important factors in determining the economic health of a community.

In our 21st century world, broadband is the modern-day equivalent of yesterday's rail system. Like the rail, it is a conduit by which goods and services reach their destination, but more than that, it carries information at cyberspeeds unimaginable a decade ago.

Telecom providers are now pushing 100 gigabit connectivity. These speeds sound incredible, especially to businesses and residents in Northwest Minnesota, where speeds may be as low as 0.4 Mbps.

Affordable high-speed internet access in Northwest Minnesota is no longer an option - it is a necessity. For the small manufacturer located in Red Lake Falls, for the tele-commuter working from her home on Maple Lake near Mentor, for the 72-year old retiree living in rural Ada, communicating with his health provider via a tele-health service, or for the home-based business owner, living in the woods north of Blackduck and conducting e-Commerce via the worldwide web - affordable high-speed broadband access makes it possible to live in Northwest Minnesota and enjoy the quality of life and economic opportunities available to urban counterparts.

Should rural populations have access to identical speeds as those in urban areas? That is a difficult question, and one which remains without an answer at the present time. One thing we do know: Northwest Minnesotans need and deserve higher speeds of broadband service than what is currently available. While some people have a slow connection, some have no connection at all, nor is one available to them. In fact, there are 1,553 households in Northwest Minnesota without any available broadband connection. Within that number are areas of greater distress, with one county reporting 31 percent of households with no available broadband connection. (Source: U.S. Census Track Data, April 30, 2010)

IMPACT 20/20 is a dedicated group of Northwest Minnesota leaders representing diverse interests and working together for the region's economic success. These leaders agree that high-speed broadband is one of the most important components of the rural economy, now and into the future.

IMPACT 20/20 Taskforce for Broadband has two goals:
1. All communities in the region of 500 residents or more will have business-grade broadband access of speeds greater than 20/10 (20 Mb download and 10 Mb upload) within five years.
2. All residents of the region will have access to broadband speeds of 10/5 (10 Mb download and 5 Mb upload) within that same time period.

It is imperative that national policies support development and deployment of broadband service in rural, sparsely populated and high-cost regions such as ours. Without these policies, we fear that Northwest Minnesota and other rural areas of our nation will be increasingly at an economic disadvantage.