Looks like a helpful session…

“In this special edition of Broadband US TV we examine two historic decisions from the FCC: The decision to classify broadband access as a Title II service, and the preemption of state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that placed limits on municipal broadband networks.  We’ll dive into these issues with two panels of prominent players and experts on both sides of these white hot issues.  Hear details about the rulings, predictions on implementation and court challenges, and what these rulings are likely to portend for broadband in America over the next year and beyond.  On the muni broadband panel, our own Jim Baller, lead counsel to Chattanooga and Wilson before the FCC, will go from host to panelist and mix it up with our other  guests.  We’ll be sure not to cut him any slack.”  |  For a list of speakers and sign-up information, click here:  TV Worldwide

mille lacsFor the upcoming weeks I’m working on a County-by-County look at the State of Broadband in MN. My hope is to feature a county a day (in alphabetical order). In November, Connect Minnesota released their final report on broadband availability. Here is how Mille Lacs County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 14.9
  • Number of Households: 10,166
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 44.03%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 55.99%

*note: for the  eagle eye readers, I am sneaking Mille Lacs in out of alphabetical order upon request. (I will get back to Koochiching next.) A colleague is gathering info on Mille Lacs so this info is helpful to her and she was able to share some with me – so we get a very complete look at Mille Lacs. (Also – if you have info you want me to include on a county please feel free to send it! atreacy@treacyinfo.com)

The schools in Mille Lacs are good users of broadband; Marc Erickson of ECMECC spoke recently about their work at the Minnesota Broadband Task Force meeting. The problem Marc points out is that while the schools are generally well served, students have uneven access at home. If they live in town, they have affordable, decent access; if they outside of town their options are limited an expensive. This makes is difficult for teachers to base homework on having access – although think of an assignment that wouldn’t benefit from broadband access.

Mille Lacs has been working on boosting broadband adoption through participation in the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) program. I learned at one of the BBC meetings that affordability is a big issue in Mille Lacs. Not only is affordability always an issue with non-adopters but broadband connection start at $75 per month in the area – where a similar connection might be $50 per month in the Twin Cities. They are working on programs that would provide low income homes with free computers through PCs for People and free or reduced broadband access – at least for a trial period. But the other side of the issue is that poverty rates in Mille Lacs County are high…

The unemployment rate is higher in Mille Lacs County than the state, and has been that way for quite some time. Onamia and Mille Lacs County also have much lower labor force participation rates than the state – only about 51.8% of the adult population in Onamia is in the labor force, as compared to 64.5% in Mille Lacs County and 70.3% in Minnesota. Female labor force participation rates are also much lower in Onamia (52.4%) and Mille Lacs County (60.7%) than in the state (66.4%).

Part of that is due to the city and county’s older population; but it is also due to the city and county’s lower educational attainment rates. Just 83.2% of Onamia adults aged 25 years and over had at least a high school diploma and just 14.6% had a bachelor’s degree or higher, as compared to 92.1% and 32.6% statewide, respectively. However, Onamia (25.7%) and Mille Lacs County (26.5%) did have a higher percentage of adults with some college, no degree than the state (22.3%); and a competitive percentage of people with an associate’s degree (9.2%, 9.9%, and 10.3%, respectively). But the region really lags in higher educational attainment.

This has led to lower incomes in the city and county, especially as compared to the state. The median household income in Onamia was $30,391 in 2013, which was significantly lower than in Mille Lacs County ($47,862) and the state ($59,836). Consequently, Onamia had a much higher percentage of households receiving cash public assistance income (16.0%) and food stamp/SNAP benefits (23.6%) than Mille Lacs County (3.1% and 9.4% respectively) and the state (3.5% and 8.2%).

The largest employing industry in Onamia is Leisure and Hospitality, accounting for over 60% of total employment in the 3rd quarter of 2014. Though it has many job opportunities, it is also one of the lowest-paying industries…

According to ReferenceUSA, the largest employers in Onamia are:

Organization Name                                         Employee Size                  

Grand Casino Mille Lacs                                 1000-4999 employees

Mille Lacs Band Corporate Commission  500-999 employees

Mille Lacs Hospital                                           250-499 employees

Mille Lacs Academy                                         100-249 employees

Mille Lacs Health System                              100-249 employees

Nay-Ah-Shing School                                      100-249 employees

Onamia School District                                   100-249 employees

As you’ll notice, the largest employers are the casino and a bunch of public sector education and health care service providers. Therefore, these are obviously the main employment opportunities for workers in Onamia: gaming workers, cashiers, recreation workers, cooks, waiters and waitresses, bartenders, dishwashers, and maids and housekeeping cleaners; as well as personal care aides, home health aides, CNAs, LPNs, RNs, child care workers, and teachers. There are other opportunities, but they would be pretty limited outside the areas of leisure and hospitality and education and health services. There may be small numbers of jobs in public administration, manufacturing, construction, and trade, transportation, and utilities. A quick look at MinnesotaWorks.net provides more evidence – most of the jobs currently posted in Mille Lacs County are in health care (PCAs, CNAs, LPNs, and RNs, as well as EMTs and Physician Assistants), child care, cooking and housekeeping, and a couple manufacturing positions. The largest number of jobs are posted by Mille Lacs Health System, Elim Care, and Grand Casino Mille Lacs.

This looks like an opportunity to use broadband  to lift up this whole community. Broadband could help with education (and the roots are there to support it!). Broadband can open the door to new employment opportunities – as we’ve seen in Otter Tail County. And my lifting up a county that needs the support the whole state reaps benefits in increased productivity and decreased expense for services provided.

Broadband deployment has been a tough problem to solve in Mille Lacs County. They are part of the East Central Broadband Initiative, working on broadband in the area through planning and convening. But they still sit with approximately have the county unserved.

My hope is that these county-specific posts will help policy makers and county residents understand where they stand in terms of broadband access. Assuming it might get forwarded to folks who don’t eat and sleep broadband I wanted to provide a little background on broadband to help set the stage… Read More…

All Things Considered ran an interesting story the other day on how free Wi-Fi on public buses can open the door to much greater community benefit than free Wi-Fi on the buses. But let’s start with that – free Wi-Fi on the buses. I just ran a story on how useful that is for school kids in Mille Lacs County – why wouldn’t the rest of the community benefit too? It allows people to have enough broadband on the buses to get work done (think webinar or Skye as you ride) and it saves everyone’s data plan.

According to the story, that’s just the beginning…

The service not only provides commuters with free Internet connections but also helps collect data that make the municipality run more efficiently.

That data helps power and hone the Internet of Moving Things…

Veniam sells the city Wi-Fi routers and a monthly subscription. Citizens get free Wi-Fi, without having to drain their mobile data plans. In return, the city gets a host of data collected by the Wi-Fi routers from a network of sensors planted around town.

“Environmental sensors, noise sensors. … In the end, what this project has given to the city is a lot of data,” says Filipe Araujo, Porto’s city councilor for innovation and environment. “We can understand where the city can save money, to invest in other projects. Waste management has the key role here.”

For instance, sensors attached to garbage dumpsters tell the network when the dumpsters are full. The city saves money since it doesn’t waste fuel on trips to half-full containers. It can also see which buses are stuck in traffic and reroute them, or change traffic lights in real time.

Almost $20 million in state grants have gone to 17 communities in Minnesota to expand broadband and make the case to legislators (and the general public) that such investments are wise and have a valuable Return on Investment. I wanted to delve into each project a bit to help us follow the money as it gets deployed. (See other awardee posts.)

Palmer Wireless, Becker Industrial Park. Awarded $151,934 to deploy 3.4 miles of fiber passing 21 underserved businesses in the Becker Industrial Park (city of Becker) as well as to 12 vacant city-owned lots covering 70 acres. In addition, one of the vacant lots is the future site of the Northstar station. The total project costs are $303,870; the remaining $151,936 (50 percent local match) will be provided by Palmer Wireless via a line of credit.

Community and Economic Development Impact: Superfast broadband improves the performance of existing firms, enables new businesses to emerge and encourages flexible working patterns – all positives for business and workforce needs now and into the future. Improving broadband service to the industrial park was the No. 1 priority for Becker based on a local broadband survey of residents and business owners.

Sherburne County was recently named a Blandin Broadband Community (BCC) community. Here is what they have to say about their participation…

“As we filled out the Blandin Broadband Community program application it became apparent to all involved how important Broadband infrastructure is to the entire Sherburne County region. We received support from many sectors including cities, townships, school districts, private businesses and Chambers of Commerce throughout the County. We are thrilled to be partnering with the Blandin Foundation to help us connect Sherburne County,” said Dan Weber Sherburne County Economic Development Specialist.

Leading their work is the Sherburne County Broadband Coalition, a group whose goal is to enhance the quality of life for citizens through efficient use of technology. Together, with education, nonprofit and business partners throughout the county, the Broadband Coalition will rally local leaders to develop a sustainable model for broadband access and use in Sherburne County.

They have been innovative about broadband in their area – such as installing Wi-Fi in the school buses.

The St Cloud Times recently posted an article on broadband funds being deployed in the area. They are on track with finding ways to close the access gap in their area.

Just to help track progress, here are some recent stats on Sherburne County:

OBD fund graphicOn broadband (Connect MN final stats from 2014):

  • Household Density: 67
  • Number of Households: 30,212
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 36.97%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 91.86%

Census quick facts (from 2013):

  • Median value of owner-occupied housing units, 2009-2013:  $193,400
  • Per capita money income in past 12 months (2013 dollars), 2009-2013:  $28,071
  • Persons below poverty level, percent, 2009-2013:  7.8%
  • Private nonfarm establishments, 2012:  1,895
  • Private nonfarm employment, 2012:  19,651

Wireless is complicated involving various technologies, geographic and topographic implications, legal considerations, pricing models, all wrapped in marketing jargon that is sure to confuse.

Join us for an informative webinar, aimed to give participants a more solid understanding about which wireless technologies will provide the broadband Internet your community wants and needs.

Learn:

  • The various parts of the radio spectrum are allocated and used.
  • How your community’s topography and tree cover impacts wireless performance.
  • About licensed and unlicensed frequencies and why that matters.
  • About how fiber makes wireless better

Details:

  • Thursday, March 12, 2015
  • 3:00 – 4:00 PM
  • Register!

Speaker will be: Albert Kangas, General Manager & COO
As General Manager and Chief Operating Officer of NewCore Wireless, Albert is responsible for overseeing the business, technical and day-to-day operations of the company. Albert has 24+ years of experience in wireless communications and is considered one of the leading experts in wireless communications. Having worked on all aspects of engineering and operating a wireless network, his knowledge and understanding of rural wireless networks is unrivaled.
Albert is frequently asked to speak on topics of LTE, backhaul, DAS, network build outs, industry insights and more.
Previously, Albert served as Director of Network Engineering and Operations at St. Cloud Wireless Holdings. During this time, Albert guided the team through technology changes, network expansions, system integrations and finally transitions to Verizon and Sprint.

kittsonFor the upcoming weeks I’m working on a County-by-County look at the State of Broadband in MN. My hope is to feature a county a day (in alphabetical order). In November, Connect Minnesota released their final report on broadband availability. Here is how Kittson County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 1.8
  • Number of Households: 1,986
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 43.08%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 43.08%

Kittson County is served, at least in part, by Wikstrom Telephone; they received ARRA funding; in 2012 they celebrated installation of fiber to Wikstrom customers. Earlier this year, Wikstrom received more through the Minnesota Broadband Fund to expand that network..

Wikstrom Telephone, Kittson, Marshall, Roseau Broadband Extension. Awarded $425,000 to bring fiber-to-the-home service to 73 unserved and 43 underserved locations in Kittson (15 premises), Marshall (50 premises) and Roseau (51 premises) counties. The total project costs are $943,827; the remaining $518,827 (55 percent local match) will be provided by Wikstrom.

Community and Economic Development Impact: The project leverages Wikstrom’s nearly 1,200 mile middle-mile and distribution fiber facilities to serve the grant project areas. Among other improvements in community and economic development capacity, broadband connectivity in these remote areas of northwestern Minnesota will enable more effective teleworking, which creates more and new employment opportunities for households. It also opens up additional labor force capacity for employers regardless of location.

Now 15 homes doesn’t seem like a lot – but frankly reaching the most remote areas is a game of onsie-twosies. Kittson County isn’t an area I know well. I got a flavor for the area at the last MN Broadband Task Force meeting when John Linnell mentioned that Kittson County has no stop lights – but as he pointed out at the meeting, they need for broadband to support healthcare in the community.

So there’s a recognized need and a push from a local provider and progress is being made – but they still sit with less than half the county getting service.

My hope is that these county-specific posts will help policy makers and county residents understand where they stand in terms of broadband access. Assuming it might get forwarded to folks who don’t eat and sleep broadband I wanted to provide a little background on broadband to help set the stage… Read More…

Last week, along with Net Neutrality, the FCC started to tackle some of the barriers that states have put up to make community-owned broadband networks more difficult. (It’s a move that President Obama encouraged earlier this year.) As the New Republic puts it, it may be the more important decision…

In a party-line 3-2 ruling, the FCC pre-empted state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that sought to prevent two community broadband networks from delivering high-quality, high-speed Internet access as a public utility. Overall, 19 states have laws banning or restricting community broadband, but the FCC’s ruling, if it survives court challenges, all but disintegrates them, allowing any municipality to offer a “public option” for broadband access. The ruling has major implications for promoting competition, increasing broadband speeds, and perhaps even making Internet access look more like electricity. …

If the order holds, it presents real promise for a city-by-city public option for broadband. Net neutrality ensures that the worst practices of telecom monopolies—charging for content to deliver across their pipes—won’t happen. But the public option, as Harvard law professor and former White House official Susan Crawford explained last April in an interview with Vox, could remove the monopoly itself, and the tendency among those corporate behemoths to deliver expensive, substandard service and leave many communities behind. “Just as we have a postal service that’s a public option for communications in the form of mail, we also need public options in every city for very high-capacity, very high-speed fiber internet access,” Crawford said.

Minnesota is one of the states that has a barrier – municipalities interested in offering broadband triple-play (voice, video, internet) are now required to hold a referendum to vote on whether they can provide telephone service to the community and the vote requires a super-majority(2/3 approval) to pass.

The St Cloud Times recently published an article that looks at the possible impact of changing the rules in St Cloud…

At a meeting last week, the Federal Communications Commission decided to pre-empt restrictive state laws on municipal broadband. That could lead to drastic changes for networks across the nation — the St. Cloud area included. …

Information Technology Director Micah Myers said the city of St. Cloud owns and operates about 90 miles of fiber-optic lines that connect the law enforcement center downtown, City Hall and all other government buildings except the airport, which connects to the Internet through T1 lines, a slower, older technology.

Myers said the fiber network, a “co-build with the school district” connects to St. Joseph and Clear Lake. About seven years ago, it prompted a discussion about providing competing Internet service in St. Cloud.

The city “never went anywhere” with the talks, but if more exploration would have occurred in St. Cloud, incumbent providers would have pushed back, Myers said. Entrenched cable television and telephone companies will “make your life a living hell,” he said.

The possibility is something cities should evaluate, said Chris Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, though “not every local government should do it.”

And in Annandale…

Kelly Hinnenkamp is the city administrator for Annandale, which unsuccessfully applied for funding as part of the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program.

Hinnenkamp said the city has a “great need to move forward” with a city-owned, privately operated fiber network, something to which a transplanted business can attest. …

Frustrations prompted the city of Annandale to contract out a feasibility study and later launch a public request for proposals to find firms interested in managing a city-built fiber network.

Hinnenkamp said the city got legal advice indicating officials had authority to sell bonds to build a network. An upcoming meeting with DEED and other planning will determine if the project will advance.

The article goes on to describe several public-private partnerships that are also making a difference in the area.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | March 3, 2015

STEM Scholarships from MHTA for Minnesota undergraduates

From our friends at MHTA

We are currently accepting applications for the Minnesota High Tech Association Foundation (MHTF) Scholarship. Deadline for application is April 1, 2015.
The scholarships are for Minnesota undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.
These awards include $2,500 and $5,000 awards and can include internship opportunities at MHTA member companies. MHTF supports diversity in this application and award process.

Good luck!

 

BBC MapNews from the Blandin on Broadband Blog – a compilation of February articles

Net Neutrality Become a Reality

In February the FCC voted 3 to 2 to reclassify high-speed Internet service as a telecommunications service, instead of an information service, under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. http://wp.me/p3if7-328 The result wasn’t unexpected http://wp.me/p3if7-320 but to understand the implications, it’s valuable to look at the pros, cons and basics of Net Neutrality. http://wp.me/p3if7-30X

How much broadband does a business need?

Kevin Walk of RITALKA shares a letter he wrote to the Mayor of New Ulm, detailing his need for greater broadband for his company to compete in the global marketplace. http://wp.me/p3if7-31M His views are passionate are informative.

Minnesota Technology-Related Bills

The Legislature is in session. There are dozens of bills that somehow to technology; at least two that are of great interest to broadband pundits. Both the House and Senate are looking at another round of Minnesota Broadband Funds and at continued support for the Office of Broadband Development. http://wp.me/p3if7-31I And people are talking about what should or could happen, such as the Greater Minnesota Partnership http://wp.me/p3if7-30u and national broadband consultant Craig Settles http://wp.me/p3if7-2Yu.

Minnesota Broadband Task Force: Role of Government

The Minnesota Broadband Task Force heard from several folks in government this month – from MNIT, County IT, libraries, schools and healthcare. A couple of themes emerged: Minnesota likes to leave decisions up to the most local authority. Public and private partnerships will be necessary to meet continually expanding broadband needs – even if that partnership is really local government serving as anchor tenant to entice a private provider to come into an area. http://wp.me/p3if7-31o

Broadband Industry Conference

Broadband industry folks held a conference that included telecom companies, cable companies and wireless companies. http://wp.me/p3if7-31q There were speakers from industry and policymakers, such as Senator Klobuchar. They talked a lot about FirstNet, spectrum and wireless options.

Government Apps Developed through Access to Open Data

Better technology and access to open data have made it possible for citizens to create tools that make government more accessible and civic engagement easier. Many apps can be deployed in rural and urban areas. http://wp.me/p3if7-30F

Tracking Minnesota Counties Broadband Progress

The Blandin on Broadband blog is currently working on two series of posts. The first looks at the state of broadband in each county; we strive feature a county a day. http://tinyurl.com/pl9q4q7 The second series highlights communities that received funding from the Office of Broadband Development to deploy broadband. http://tinyurl.com/oqysbj9 Individual posts from each series are listed below.

Broadband News Around Minnesota

Aitkin County
Aitkin County is last in state for access to broadband. http://wp.me/p3if7-2ZF

Big Stone County
MN Broadband Fund Award Update: A closer look at Big Stone County. http://wp.me/p3if7-2Zx

Benton County
MN Broadband Fund Award Update: A closer look at Foley, Benton County–Balkan Township http://wp.me/p3if7-2Zs

Chisholm
Chisholm holds a roundtable with Lt. Governor Tina Smith to discuss the Minnesota Broadband Funds. http://wp.me/p3if7-2ZH

Dakota County
Dakota County moves forward with plans to expand broadband to reach local businesses and residents. http://wp.me/p3if7-2Ys

Douglas County
Douglas County Broadband 2014 Update: 16 percent broadband coverage http://wp.me/p3if7-2XY

Ely
AT&T is looking to bring fast wireless to the Ely area. http://wp.me/p3if7-2ZS

Faribault County
Faribault County Broadband 2014 Update: issues with maps leave cloudy view of broadband coverage. http://wp.me/p3if7-2Y0

Fillmore County
Fillmore County Broadband 2014 Update: a look at the middle of the pack. http://wp.me/p3if7-2ZN

Freeborn County
Freeborn County Broadband 2014 Update: close to state goals. http://wp.me/p3if7-2ZP

Goodhue County
Goodhue County Broadband 2014 Update: anchor tenants’ stronger connection than residential services. http://wp.me/p3if7-305

Grant County
Grant County Broadband 2014 Update: currently at about a B grade level. http://wp.me/p3if7-30w

Hennepin County
Hennepin County Broadband 2014 Update: almost (but not quite!) ubiquitous coverage. http://wp.me/p3if7-30A

Houston County
Houston County Broadband 2014 Update: strong educators but limited broadband http://wp.me/p3if7-30V

Hubbard County
Hubbard County Broadband 2014 Update: numbers should improve with GigaZone service deployment. http://wp.me/p3if7-315

Isanti County
Isanti County Broadband 2014 Update: about half the households have access. http://wp.me/p3if7-31P

Itasca County
Itasca County Broadband 2014 Update: poised to dramatically improve access soon http://wp.me/p3if7-31T

Paul Bunyan Communications has activated its Gigabit network in the Trout Lake Township making it the first area of the GigaZone in Itasca County. http://wp.me/p3if7-31D

Jackson County
Jackson County Broadband 2014 Update: FTTH in some areas but not ubiquitous. http://wp.me/p3if7-32g

Kanabec County
Kanabec County Broadband 2014 Update: less than 30 percent broadband coverage. http://wp.me/p3if7-32i

Kandiyohi County
Kandiyohi County Broadband 2014 Update: 14 percent broadband coverage – but plenty of interest. http://wp.me/p3if7-32l

Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission are working on a survey for residents asking about their broadband use, cost and interest. http://wp.me/p3if7-30C

Lac qui Parle County
LqP County is featured in an article on “brain gain”, the idea that while rural communities may lose younger people to higher education and travel, they often gain people starting a family (ages 30-49); broadband is touted as a must-have amenity for brain gainers. http://wp.me/p3if7-32a

Lincoln County
MN Broadband Fund Award Update: A closer look around Hendricks in Lincoln County. http://wp.me/p3if7-31c

Martin County
MN Broadband Fund Award Update: A closer look at Martin County. http://wp.me/p3if7-309

Mille Lacs County
Milaca Public Schools realizes many benefits after putting Wi-Fi on buses. http://wp.me/p3if7-32c

Northwest Minnesota
Over 120 schools and libraries in northwestern Minnesota have access to up to 10 Gigabit fiber-optic connections through partnership with 18 telecom companies. http://wp.me/p3if7-31K

Otter Tail County
MN Broadband Fund Award Update: A closer look around Otter Tail County. http://wp.me/p3if7-326

Polk County
MN Broadband Fund Award Update: A closer look around Halstad in Polk County. http://wp.me/p3if7-30p

Region Five (aka Resilient Region)
MN Broadband Fund Award Update: Region 5 Virtual Highway Project includes Cass, Crow Wing and Morrison counties. http://wp.me/p3if7-307

Renville & Sibley Counties
Member communities are starting to vote on continued participation in RS Fiber, a cooperative effort to bring broadband to the area. http://wp.me/p3if7-31R

Rochester
Alcatel-Lucent is preparing a broadband feasibility study for Rochester. http://wp.me/p3if7-31w

St Louis County
MN Broadband Fund Award Update: A closer look around Northeast Service Cooperative around St Louis County. http://wp.me/p3if7-31Y

MN Broadband Fund Award Update: A closer look around Hibbing in St Louis County. http://wp.me/p3if7-31e

Stevens County
MN Broadband Fund Award Update: A closer look around Stevens County. http://wp.me/p3if7-322

Todd County
MN Broadband Fund Award: A closer look at Sauk Lake Area in Todd County. http://wp.me/p3if7-2ZY

Upper Minnesota Valley
The Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission promotes economic development in Big Stone, Lac qui Parle, Chippewa, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties. They have and continue to assist their counties with getting broadband funding. http://wp.me/p3if7-31y

Winona
Blandin Foundation supported Project Fine provides digital inclusion classes to 40 participants attending in-depth computer training. http://wp.me/p3if7-30O

Events & Opportunities:

Looking for more events? Check out TechDotMN’s calendar http://tech.mn/events/. Many events are based in the Twin Cities but it is a comprehensive list. (If you have an upcoming event, consider submitting it.)

Stirring the PotBill_Coleman

Since the New Year, Community Technology Advisors has been working with the ten new Blandin Broadband Communities. We are helping them move from Steering Team formation to Vision creation and the resulting project development.   Participation has been fantastic with strong cross-sector attendance and leadership. Mayors, school superintendents, librarians, community education, chambers of commerce, citizen activists have brought their enthusiasm to the table. There is no shortage of project ideas. While some groan at the idea of a three-hour meeting, we have found the “after-meeting meetings” to be robust. We have already seen promise of problem solving, new resources and collaboration.

 

This is our third round of MIRC/BBC communities. More than ever, the gap between those who are connected at speeds that meet the state broadband goal or higher and those who lack anything but slow DSL (1 – 3 Mb), cellular or satellite is growing larger – in both absolute bandwidth speeds and in perception of capability. The un-connected struggle to do homework, work from home and all of the other common practice applications that the connected think are so easy. As most of our “communities” are counties or even larger, large areas of rural countryside fit into the unserved and underserved broadband category.   Local leaders are fierce in their determination to solve this puzzle, but are challenged to see the path forward. The recent DEED grant awards are encouraging, but sobering. The path towards a positive partnership and affordable finance alternative seems steep and rocky.

One of the strengths of the Blandin Broadband Communities program is that it provides a platform for communities to build knowledge and momentum on the infrastructure challenge while still driving adoption and use as the program’s main goal. This dual path requires strong understanding within community leadership that infrastructure initiatives may take considerable time to come to fruition. In the meantime, they need to continue to build on their existing infrastructure, institutional and people assets to improve their tech vitality. These ten communities have started down this path. It is our privilege to guide them as they make connections, learn new things, set priorities, create teams and make good things happen in the places that they call home.

I ran into two stories of how bus riding is better now thanks to technology. Both ideas are elegant in their simplicity and the quality of life benefits make them worth exploring.

First – Mille Lacs County-Wi-Fi on School Buses

Mille Lacs County is a Blandin Broadband Community. One of their successful projects, was putting Wi-Fi on the school buses. Here’s the story, cogged from one of their final reports…

In 2012, Milaca Public Schools was looking into the viability of adding wireless access routers to a small number of District school buses. The year prior, the school rolled out a one-to-one iPad initiative and were actively looking for creative ways to utilize this new technology and expand the boundaries of learning.

The goal was to increase a student’s ability to access the Internet outside of the boundaries of the brick and mortar buildings and traditional school hours. To that end, the pilot program was a success. Students were grateful to have access on their long bus rides to and from home. We heard from student athletes who were able to access digital curriculum and resources to and from activities. We heard from teachers who were able to engage students while on field trips. And we heard from bus drivers who noticed a remarkably positive change in the bus atmosphere.

Second – Where’s my bus (or kids’ bus)? There’s an app for that.

MinnPost reports

Robbinsdale Area Schools is rolling out an app that will tell parents and students where their school bus is and how long it is estimated it will take to get to their stop. In real time. On their cell phones. On frigid corners and in idling cars.

You access the app on your phone, tablet or computer, sign in and there’s your bus, blinking along its route on a map. Unless you missed the bus, in which case — sad panda — the app lets you know it has come and gone.

kandiyohiFor the upcoming weeks I’m working on a County-by-County look at the State of Broadband in MN. My hope is to feature a county a day (in alphabetical order). In November, Connect Minnesota released their final report on broadband availability. Here is how Kandiyohi County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 19.4
  • Number of Households: 16,732
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 13.18%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 57.47%

Kandiyohi was one of the original MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) partners. One of the projects I remember most was a local partnership with PCs for People and addition of a computer lab in the Somali Center. Technology helps prepare people for jobs and increase their quality of living but it is also a bridge to/for new immigrants to the area. They have been working on adoption with the residential and business communities. And the community has been host to some of Senator Schmit’s broadband tours.

The community has also been working on access – yet they still have only 14 percent coverage. As far back as 2007 they surveyed the community about broadband coverage; the efforts continue with another survey they are working on now. In 2013, Mediacom announced upgrades (DOCSIS 3.0) to several service areas, including Atwater and Sunberg in Kandiyohi County. They need more.

My hope is that these county-specific posts will help policy makers and county residents understand where they stand in terms of broadband access. Assuming it might get forwarded to folks who don’t eat and sleep broadband I wanted to provide a little background on broadband to help set the stage… Read More…

kanabecFor the upcoming weeks I’m working on a County-by-County look at the State of Broadband in MN. My hope is to feature a county a day (in alphabetical order). In November, Connect Minnesota released their final report on broadband availability. Here is how Kanabec County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 12
  • Number of Households: 6,413
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 28.54%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 68.78%

I have spent time in Kanabec. I did some e-marketing training with local businesses. The business owners are hard-working and willing to block out a whole weekend to building a website. The Chamber is very involved. They have some excellent local technical support. They were a BBC Community. They have done some fun programming for residents with their interactive video events. The community and the local businesses have invested in broadband adoption. They just need better access.

Kanabec has also been working on trying to get better access – especially through the Kanabec Broadband Initiative. They did a feasibility study in 2012 – the upshot was $2 million for FTTH in town, $9 million for rural FTTH or $7 for fiber-wireless hybrid. More recently they are part of the East Central Broadband efforts, a multi-county effort to improve broadband access in the area. Those folks are in a tough area where it’s difficult for the commercial providers to invest in communities because the business case for a ROI is unpredictable (at best). But they continue to work on it – hopefully their coverage will improve.

My hope is that these county-specific posts will help policy makers and county residents understand where they stand in terms of broadband access. Assuming it might get forwarded to folks who don’t eat and sleep broadband I wanted to provide a little background on broadband to help set the stage… Read More…

Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 27, 2015

Jackson County Broadband 2014 Update: FTTH but not ubiquitous

jacksonFor the upcoming weeks I’m working on a County-by-County look at the State of Broadband in MN. My hope is to feature a county a day (in alphabetical order). In November, Connect Minnesota released their final report on broadband availability. Here is how Jackson County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 6.1
  • Number of Households: 4,429
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 68.78%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 68.78%

Jackson County has been thinking about fiber since at least 2009, when several cities and townships in the County decided to invest in looking at fiber options. They are part of (or located in) Southwest Minnesota, which received ARRA funds to deploy fiber to the home in several communities in Southwestern Minnesota and began serving homes in December 2011 and starting research wireless options for outskirt areas at about the same time. The providers in the areas (Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services – SMBS)  have also been Blandin Broadband Communities and have been working on promoting adoption in the area through that program. They have had success with local hotspots and Social Media Breakfasts.

So given that activity I was surprised to see that the sit at less than 70 percent coverage. But you can see from the map what is happening . FIber is deployed (in organge) and wireless is available (in green) based on where the fiber exists. There are pockets of DSL. I’m not sure if those areas areas served by SMBS or not. I suspect that SMBS will play a role in getting the rest of the county covered as they can.

My hope is that these county-specific posts will help policy makers and county residents understand where they stand in terms of broadband access. Assuming it might get forwarded to folks who don’t eat and sleep broadband I wanted to provide a little background on broadband to help set the stage… Read More…

Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 27, 2015

MN Broadband Fund Award: A closer look around Otter Tail County

OBD fund graphicAlmost $20 million in state grants have gone to 17 communities in Minnesota to expand broadband and make the case to legislators (and the general public) that such investments are wise and have a valuable Return on Investment. I wanted to delve into each project a bit to help us follow the money as it gets deployed. (See other awardee posts.)

Otter Tail Telcom, Stuart Lake. Awarded $105,364 to expand existing infrastructure to bring fiber-to-the-home service to 47 unserved locations, including 46 homes and one business near Stuart Lake, just north of State Highway 210 and east of Fergus Falls (between Clitherall and Vining). Total project costs are $210,729; the remaining $105,365 (50 percent local match) will be provided by Otter Tail Telcom.

Community and Economic Development Impact:Fergus Falls calls itself the “telework capital of Minnesota.” This project will continue the build-out in and around Fergus Falls to make that goal a reality for a growing number of people living, working, and operating and/or starting businesses in the Fergus Falls region.

Otter Tail Telcom, 245th. Awarded $108,553 to serve the northeastern outskirts of Fergus Falls near 245th Street. The project will expand existing infrastructure to bring fiber-to-the-home service to 39 unserved locations, including permanent residences and work-from-home employees. The total project costs are $217,105; the remaining $108,553 (50 percent local match) will be provided by Otter Tail Telcom.

Community and Economic Development Impact:Fergus Falls calls itself the “telework capital of Minnesota.” This project will continue the build-out in and around Fergus Falls to make that goal a reality for a growing number of people living, working, and operating and/or starting businesses in the Fergus Falls region.

Otter Tail actually received three awards; these two in Otter Tail and one in Stevens county. As the description states, Fergus Falls and the surrounding area have been focusing on becoming the Telework Capital of Minnesota. They received national recognition for their efforts in 2013 when they were named a smart community. (The have a great telework handbook if you’re looking at telework in your community!) Extending the reach of FTTH home will help extend the telework opportunities to a wider audience. But Otter Tail is more than telework. In 2014, received almost $500,000 for Otter Tail County Public Health to implement e-health programs.

But even with all of the interest and good use of broadband, the county sits at only 64 percent coverage. I know that Otter Tail Telcom has been looking for support to extend their network. They sent in rural experiment ideas to the FCC in 2014. Back in 2013, CenturyLink opted to received Connect America Funds (CAF) to serve parts of Otter Tail County. It will be fun to see what funding does for the area

Just to help track progress, here are some recent stats on Otter Tail County:

On broadband (Connect MN final stats from 2014):

  • Household Density: 10.8
  • Number of Households: 24,055
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 64.33%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 64.33%

Census quick facts (from 2013):

  • Median value of owner-occupied housing units, 2009-2013:   $159,700
  • Per capita money income in past 12 months (2013 dollars), 2009-2013:   $26,400
  • Persons below poverty level, percent, 2009-2013:   11.7%
  • Private nonfarm establishments, 2012:   1,685
  • Private nonfarm employment, 2012:   18,805
Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 27, 2015

Broadband opens the door to a rural quality of life in Minnesota

Broadband has been big in 2015 – but it feels like it’s all policy and funding and nuts and bolts. The who, what, when where and how (or how much), so I was pleased to find an article  talked about the why.

Furrow – a John Deere publication ran an article on brain gain, the notion that while young people may be leaving rural areas, “older” young people (ages 30-49) are moving to rural areas. The article highlights a few families and communities in rural Minnesota. They spoke to people who were well-educated and were happy to move back home or move to a rural area to bring up kids. It seems like people move for time and community.

Ben Winchester, a leading expert in the idea of brain gain, offer some perspective on the phenomenon…

“We are still losing many of those kids with a high school education,” says Ben Winchester, an Extension rural sociologist with the University of Minnesota. “But we’re gaining people with high education and life experience. This actually isn’t new. It’s been happening since the 1970s.”

The article highlights Lac qui Parle County, and former LqP EDA director Pam Lehmann offers a view on how broadband has opened the door to allowing more families to enjoy the quality of life they seek in rural areas…

Brett and Rose Buer both grew up on farms, left for the city, then returned. Brett started his own business as a machinist and welder, and Rose works from home as a software engineer. She has a competitive advantage that even larger cities don’t offer. Despite their isolation and low population, residents in Lac qui Parle County are in a hotbed of fiber optics with Internet speeds that are blazingly fast. Top upload and download speeds are an incredible 300 megabytes per second. Plans are to be at 1 gigabyte within five years.

“If we don’t have true broadband, we will disappear,” says Lehmann. “The younger generation will not be tolerant of not having that.”

Ongoing story. Winchester says the restructuring of rural areas will continue, but it’s important to remember that headlines of population declines don’t tell the whole story. “Just because you lose people doesn’t mean you lose everyone,” he says. “This has been going on for 30 to 40 years, even though rural communities may have done very little to encourage it.” Winchester asks a question that would make fine discussion fodder in any coffee shop. “What if we actually helped people move here?”

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