Statewide Broadband Task Force
Thursday, November 17, 2011, 9AM-12PM
Kahtnu Room 1, Dena’ina Convention Center
600 West 7th Avenue, Anchorage
In Attendance: Mike Baker, Chris Brown, Roberta Graham, Robert Whicker, Bill Popp, Jeff Tucker, Joseph Davis, Maureen Moore
By Teleconference: John Boucher, Jim Kohler
Excused: Larry Bell, Rich Gazaway, Dave Goggins, Renee Johnson, Karl Kowalski, Stephanie Morton, Myron Naneng, Sr., Rep Joe Paskvan, Mike Robinson, Mike Todd, Rep Bob Herron
Guests: Jim Nordlund/USDA, Lance Ahern/Alaska Wireless Broadband, Sue Sherif/Alaska State Library (OWL Project), Shane Southwick/Alaska State Library (OWL Project), Heather Hudson/ISER, Rob Earl/Rep. Herron’s office,
Guests by Teleconference: Don Pomphrey/Northwest Tel, Matt LeVeque/Alaska Dep. Dir., State Troopers, Kim Van Wyhe/Rep Herron’s Office, Jean Trainor/Rep. Guttenberg’s office
Chairman’s Opening Comments: Chairman Popp apologized for late start due to technology issues. He welcomed the group and called the meeting to order at 9: 24.
Public Comments: Chairman Popp asked for public comment.
- Sue Sherif of the Alaska State Library OWL Project spoke. She explained what the OWL Project is and offered their support on rural access, and was asked to work with Joseph Davis his subcommittee.
- Lance Ahern of Alaska Wireless Broadband spoke. He explained that Alaska Wireless Broadband is a nonprofit working to provide 100 percent wireless coverage for Anchorage, and hopes to partner with carrier organizations to get the word out about the company.
Chairman Popp offered that members of the public present at the meeting should go to the various working groups to make the most expedient use of their talents.
Robbie Graham requested an update from Jim Kohler about USF reform. Jim Kohler discussed the FCC’s adoption of universal coverage and spoke about rumors regarding updates to the policy, but the current document is a short summary that only raises more questions.
Chairman Popp requested latitude in shifting items on the agenda to accommodate the presentation that was schedule by teleconference. Connect Alaska was asked to present next.
- Therese Dolan of Connect Alaska announced that Connected Nation had hired a new Program Manager, Jim Dunn. His resume was provided to Task Force members.
- She presented the results of the latest residential adoption survey and noted that the overall adoption rate had decreased across the state. This might be due to the slumping economy and resulting switches to consolidated mobile phone/internet service. Additionally, cost seems to be the main barrier to people signing up for services.
- Therese Dolan introduced a draft of a mini-field survey that will be used along with a simplified assessment workbook in the community engagement program. She mentioned possible methods of distribution for the survey (website, community meetings, newspaper inserts, through ARDORs, etc.) and requested feedback and input from task force members. Chairman Popp suggested the new project manager reach out to rural ARDORs regarding the survey.
Meeting Minutes: Chairman Popp asked if there were any issues with the minutes from October’s meeting. Maureen Moore requested a clarification regarding GCI cosponsoring a survey. Robbie Graham moved to amend the minutes to read that during a separate meeting Krag Johnson had expressed interest in GCI co-sponsoring a survey in the Terra Southwest area. The amendment passed and the minutes were approved.
Streamlining the Task Force Process: Chairman Popp raised concerns about getting the Task Force process moving, as the original plan was to go forward by next spring. He proposed a more streamlined process:
- The Task Force would not meet as a full entity again until next February. Instead, teleconferences for working group leaders would be held to discuss progress reports. He proposed an aggressive schedule of teleconferences every three weeks or so, with the intent being to get the process moving.
- The working groups would drive information out of their groups to give to a technical writer to draft the framework of the final report. This would give the Task Force something to start looking at. It would help the Task Force get ahead of information gaps and knowledge shortcomings, as well as know what research is necessary, perhaps to be implemented by January. He wants to have a draft to pull apart and put back together by April.
- This would turn the Task Force into an oversight group that comes together as drafts are finalized and can work on the higher level thinking necessary to make changes.
- Robbie Graham was in favor of this streamlining. She said it would help the research process.
- Joseph Davis agreed, but recommended teleconferences every two weeks instead of three, and Chairman Popp agreed. He hopes to keep the updates brief, to thirty minutes or so.
- Chairman Popp also expressed an interest in setting up a drop box system ASAP and reiterated that short, constant meetings would make better use of everyone’s time. He added that this would also allow outside entities to have better direction regarding who to work with.
- Joseph Davis said this would empower group chairs to have responsibility to get things done. Chairman Popp noted that teleconferences would be driven by the availability of group chairs, and that anyone else who participated would be driven by personal interest.
- Chairman Popp asked for objections.
- John Boucher said that Rich Gazaway wasn’t there and so he was acting in his place; he suggested Chairman Popp have a conversation with Gazaway when he returns. John Boucher asked Chairman Popp if he could give the report earlier than noted on the agenda as he had another meeting to attend. The Chairman agreed.
Task Force Subcommittee Discussions
- John Boucher stated that he and Rich Gazaway met with Krag Johnsen, the manager of the GCI TERRA project. John Boucher discussed barriers the project encountered.
- He envisions being able to put together a matrix of entities and barriers to try and outline the different problems that might be encountered during similar projects. He gave examples of barriers to completion that were encountered at the federal, state, and local levels.
- According to Krag Johnson, about 10 percent of total project costs were related to regulatory activities – almost $9 million for the $80 million cost. He said that though GCI is careful in its word use, it looks forward to similar projects, and that more effort to put together a picture of regulatory issues would be useful.
- Chairman Popp thanked John Boucher for his report and said the working group is headed in the right direction. He offered his help in reaching out to new entrants into the market and offered to introduce the working group to the Verizon technical team.
- John Boucher said he would like someone who can put together all the various notes and pieces, and Chairman Popp put forth the idea of a technical writer for each group.
- Chairman Popp said this was a good example of how teleconference updates would work.
- Robbie Graham (Group 1) reported that she spoke with Dr. Scott Rupp of the UAF SNAP (Scenarios Networking for Alaska Planning) project, which looks at scenarios for future conditions in Alaska.
- She has asked SNAP to do some modeling that takes into account discussions the other groups are having and to look at the economic benefits of higher broadband in Alaska to begin getting a model in place.
- She is meeting with SNAP Director Rupp and Karl Kowalski next Tuesday.
- Chris Brown said he received all the input needed to model the current state of affairs for middle and last mile. All carriers have provided information for the middle mile, and discussed the next steps to take, including developing models.
- He discussed TERRA Northwest, and noted that he expected economic realities to force the project to take a more pragmatic view.
- He noted that a model would be based on the cost and not the benefit side.
- Joseph Davis (Group 2) said that a rough draft of potential questions is ready. The questions are more of a conversation than of a technical nature. He said the idea was to try and appeal to the IT support of the Native governments and to the people directly in the community for a more practical, basic approach.
- He said they need to work on phrasing the questions in more neutral terms.
- The next thing to focus on is building a list of how to get the questions to people in different arenas of rural communities (healthcare, etc.). He also noted that there are areas in urban Alaska with poor coverage and wanted to make sure they were included.
Chairman’s closing of Subcommittee discussion
- Chairman Popp said this was a good basis to start. He stated his intent to have a teleconference with the working group chairs immediately after Thanksgiving, with the goal of explicating the work and couching the needs for research in as cognizant a way as possible. He raised the issue of how to parse the technical writers.
- Chairman Popp said that the needs for gathering survey data, economic research, etc., should be figured out for the next meeting.
- He noted that issues would flow through Robbie Graham to stay on top of the spending processes, and that needs would be done in partnership with Jim Dunn.
- Graham noted that since the Task Force won’t meet again until February they will need to ensure the fund allocation can be done
- Chairman Popp discussed the legalities of the voting process by the Task Force and stated it would be done by telephone not email.
Telecom Infrastructure Presentation from Don Pumphrey, VP of Information & Technology Management for Northwestel
- Chairman Popp introduced Don Pumphrey to the Task Force. He is based in Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory, with 120,000 Canadians in rural areas as constituents. He explained the focus of his presentation would be on a proposed US-Canada fiber network.
- Don Pumphrey explained that telecom infrastructure is a key enabler for the North, but is not always taken into consideration. It connects the North with the South, and eliminates distances and creates competitive advantages.
- Telecom networks impact economics. Massive cellular telecom infrastructure can have a massive impact, for example, but a lack of connectivity can be a barrier to things like cloud computing.
- He noted there are opportunities to strengthen network diversity in Canada and the US, and that natural synergies in infrastructure already exist; these can be leveraged in existing transportation corridors. Opportunities should be considered on a regional and international basis.
- The proposed fiber ring would connect Canada with the Southeast Alaskan network, and that there would need to be a line from Whitehorse into Skagway and underwater cables from Juneau to Skagway.
- A gap exists along the Alaska Highway connecting Alaska to Canadian networks, as well as the Whitehorse-Juneau/Skagway gap. There is an opportunity to connect at Prince Rupert and go down to the Lower 48.
- There are more options than just what Northwestel is proposing, but Pumphrey argued this would be the most cost-effective proposal.
- He noted that there are regional opportunities between the Yukon and the Northwest Territories; he noted a Mackenzie Valley proposal and reiterated there are lots of proposed opportunities for robust networks.
- Don Pumphrey also discussed the proposed undersea cable from Yellowknife that, though not for the Task Force to consider, highlights the opportunities he discussed and is a good example of what the company is doing.
- He closed by discussing the dialogue he wants to create:
o Are there public-private partnerships that can be used to advance this vision, similar to what they’ve done before with the Yukon Territories government?
o Are there funding models in place for these kinds of international/interregional partnerships?
- Robbie Graham thanked Mr. Pumphrey for the presentation and offered that Tourism North is one of the oldest and strongest regional public-private partnerships, which helps establish history and precedent for this sort of thing. She asked:
o 1) Have they sought any funding for construction or lease of the portion in the first map, Whitehorse and Juneau?
o 2) There was a previous presentation on Arctic Link, which discussed laying cables from Singapore through to the Arctic, the Canadian Arctic, and through to London. Have there been any conversations about that?
- Don Pumphrey responded:
o There have been conversations with the Yukon Territory government and Ottowan government to pull together a total plan. They could probably create interest in funding from the Canadian side, but would need a US investor with assets. Since they’re dealing with international jurisdictions, they would need to pull together people to view a “total” package.
o There have been many conversations with the Arctic Link team to provide connection points through the Northwest Passage and to provide access along the Canadian coastline. But this would require quite an investment to create a ring from the Arctic Link side.
- Chris Brown asked about structural subsidies for broadband for carriers, either provincially or nationally. Mr. Pumphrey responded that not a lot of funding is created for backhaul capabilities, such as fiber-optics or satellites. It would depend on how a program is being structured in Canada, but to date there is not a lot of infrastructure funding in broadband for backhaul. Chris Brown said that it is similar in Alaska but different in the lower forty-eight, and asked if there is a minimal acceptable broadband connection in rural areas? Don Pumphrey stated that it had previously been 1MG as a base, and anyone applying for funding would have to provide that.
- Chairman Popp said that the Task Force is not ready to answer his questions as far as any policy recommendations, but this has stirred the debate and thinking among them. He said their intention is to develop and propose a broadband plan for the governor in late spring, and that though Don came to the Task Force at the right time, they won’t have good answers yet and it will be next year before the state develops a policy.
- Don Pumphrey thanked the Task Force for giving him the opportunity to speak to them and offered to continue the conversation. Chairman Popp believed a dialogue would be started soon.