Nothing like a rainy, long weekend to help me catch up a little. It gave me a chance to read an interesting article on broadband in North Dakota. Interesting for two reasons. First – it’s good to know what the neighbors are doing. Second, it’s good to know when the neighbors are thinking about inviting you to plant a tree.

According to the Grand Forks Herald, here’s what they’ve done…

Recently signed into law by Gov. Jack Dalrymple, HB 1385 passed both legislative chambers with zero dissenting votes—a bold endorsement of a new policy approach that encourages technology.

The act prevents the state from applying old telephone regulations on Internet protocol-enabled or voice-over-Internet protocol services and promotes a regulatory environment in North Dakota that can attract private-sector investment in broadband deployment and development.

The benefits of next-gen broadband connectivity, both wired and wireless, are essential. Faster Internet speeds, streaming video uninterrupted by buffering, more powerful mobile devices and innovation and expanded services in underserved areas — all of that can be just the beginning.

And here’s what they might have in mind for Minnesota…

Eventually, Minnesota and North Dakota could have a chance to act in tandem by enacting fair and commonsense policies such as agreeing not to regulate Internet Protocol/Voice Over Internet Protocol services. It is an awesome opportunity for the region to continue to use innovations in connectivity to improve lives and grow business.

I do like the idea of lifting up the lens on regional – even more so for deployment, especially if we can work with North Dakota to help serve Western Minnesota!

CBS Minnesota reported a couple days ago…

The central Minnesota city of Annandale would get one-fifth of the new money available statewide for broadband Internet build-outs in an earmark that passed the Legislature this week with no time to spare — and vaulted the city past a competitive bidding process that other rural towns must go through.

Annandale was passed over for a grant in 2014, but a clause inserted in a budget bill Monday night sets aside $2 million this time. The earmark by House Republican negotiators would answer what one city official called the “helplessness of not having options” to offer quality Internet to businesses and residents.

But others worry about awarding money outside a rigorous vetting process by the state Office of Broadband Development, which makes grants to cities that partner with private companies based on cost, significance to the community and evidence that an area is underserved by Internet providers.

The Governor vetoed a few bills yesterday – which means special session. So we may see some of the details of this and other projects get fleshed out yet.

I can understand the frustration for Annandale. They have been looking at broadband options for a long time – but they aren’t the only ones. It’s really an indicator or example of how many towns feel! The CBS story puts that info perspective…

“They really aren’t going to the head of the line,” Martin said. “They’re going around the line.”

This is the second year of Minnesota’s broadband grant program, which has a goal of high-speed Internet from border-to-border. About $20 million was awarded in the first year, but none of those projects are near completion. There would be $8 million left in next year’s pot.

Madeline Koch, spokeswoman at the Department of Employment and Economic Development, said the agency would rather see awards made only after potential projects are reviewed.

“DEED uses this scoring process to ensure the best projects are awarded these grants,” she said.

Good luck. Would love to see Minnesota receive sme funding…

WASHINGTON, May 22, 2015 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting applications for its Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program, which provides increased access to education, training and health care resources in rural areas.

“This program provides people who live and work in rural areas with better access to a variety of educational and health care services,” Vilsack said. “For example, because of the DLT program, students in rural areas can take advanced placement classes, residents can have access to specialized medical services not typically available, and many other benefits for rural communities.”

USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, a Rural Development agency is making $19 million available for fiscal year 2015. The Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program finances telecommunications equipment, computer networks and advanced technologies for use by students, teachers, medical professionals and rural residents. Minimum grant amounts are $50,000; maximum amounts are $500,000 for fiscal year 2015.

Since 2009, USDA has provided more than $182 million to expand access to learning at nearly 4,700 rural educational facilities and to improve delivery of medical care at more than 2,500 rural health facilities.

Details of the DLT funding are on Page 29602 of the May 22 Federal Register. The application deadline is July 6, 2015.

Just days after CenturyLink announces Gig access in the Twin Cities, Comcast announces 2-Gig service. Apparently broadband begets broadband. (US Internet was the first provider to announce 10 Gig access in the area.) There are some details that are unknown – like pricing. Although the Minneapolis Star Tribune has created a pricing table for high speed broadband in the Twin Cities…

tc bb comp

So that’s good news in the Twin Cities – but I know most of the readers are in rural areas. So what does that mean for rural areas?

Well – there’s the rising tide raises all boats theory. Now that the TCs are getting faster connections, will that mean that the speeds will rise in rural areas too? Or will the digital divide widen? I’m afraid the gap may widen, which means more than “folks can do things faster” in the Cities. It’s a matter of being able to do things differently – like run a business!

The other theory is the power of competition. Does competition have the same effect in rural areas where the business case hinges on take rates? It always seems like where there’s a market there’s a market for at least two providers; but then there are areas where there’s nothing. About a year ago I looked at the impact of competition (vs policy) in cable investment. Competition was a better predictor of further investment. But that wasn’t rural areas only

I’ve read enough feasibility studies to know that competition can also be a hindrance to business expansion. It’s easier to go into a market where there’s no competition – and I get that but I’m just not sure how much of a factor that really is.

Would competition beget competition in currently undeserved areas? Or does the utility model make more sense – one provider serving areas where competition hasn’t born out.

The USDA recently announced a new focus on region and its impact on funding through the USDA. It seems like this is an example of policy imitating life – at least broadband related life. Over the last few years there’s been a move from cities focusing on broadband, to counties, to regions. So maybe the broadband folks are even better poised to take advantage of the funding they recently announced…

USDA to Give Priority Funding for Regional Economic Development Projects

MEMPHIS, TN, May 20, 2015 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced USDA’s plan to implement a Farm Bill provision that will have a major policy impact on the way the Department helps rural communities plan and finance regional economic development strategies. The new Regional Development Priority (RDP) policy will make it easier for rural communities to access resources to invest in long-term community development efforts by giving priority to applications for Rural Development programs that include regional partnerships and strategies.

“Regional planning maximizes the effectiveness of our investments in rural America,” Vilsack said here today while addressing the 10th Annual Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Conference. “When communities come together to share resources, ideas and expertise, they can develop a cohesive economy strategy and invest in their future. With a strategy in place, USDA-funded projects can spur regional economic transformation, increase job opportunities and improve quality of life for rural communities.”

Under the RDP, communities with multi-jurisdictional economic development plans will be able to request funding priority when they apply for loans and grants in four key USDA programs. These programs help finance a variety of infrastructure, business and community development needs. They are:

Applicants seeking priority consideration will be judged by (1) how well their funding request supports a region’s existing development plan, and (2) how well the plan addresses regional collaboration and considers other funding sources including philanthropic groups and other federal agencies. Projects that receive funding will be based on locally identified needs and growth strategies that capitalize upon a region’s unique strengths. …

Congrats!

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. – Blandin Foundation announced today that it has awarded 29 grants totaling $321,245 to support rural Minnesota communities as they grow high-speed Internet access and use in their communities.

In a joint venture, Kandiyohi County and the City of Willmar will host a “hackfest,” bringing together technology enthusiasts and professionals to build stronger connections, encourage cooperation and collaboration on identifying and addressing technology needs in the area.

Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission, Long Lake Township and Mille Lacs County all will launch feasibility studies to research the possibilities of bringing broadband to their communities.

Also receiving their first round of grants are nine previously designated Blandin Broadband Communities (BBCs): Carlton County, Central Woodlands (parts of Mille Lacs, Kanabec, Pine, and Aitkin counties), Chisago County, Martin County, Redwood County, Red Wing, Renville/Sibley Counties, Resilient Region 5 (Cass, Wadena, Crow Wing, Todd and Morrison counties), and Sherburne County.

Named in November 2014, these BBCs have convened leadership teams that will lead a two-year project to make the best use of information and services that broadband can deliver.

BBC projects are focused in a number of areas, including:

Education

  • Preparing our Next Generation (Red Wing): engage and expose students to needed technology skills and hands-on experience
  • WiFi on Buses (Renville/Sibley Counties): so that students can use bus time productively and provide connectivity for students who do not have Internet at home.

Economic Development

  • Tech Center Marketing and Planning Project (Renville/Sibley Counties): determine the feasibility, market demand, and next steps in the development process.  
  • Technology Training for Businesses (Chisago County): Assist businesses in increasing their customer base and provide efficiencies through the use of Internet based technologies and applications.
  • Sherburne County Broadband Coalition Outreach (Sherburne County): build momentum for better broadband across Sherburne County.

Digital Literacy

  • Computer Training Station at Depot Commons (Central Woodlands): upgrade computer work stations and provide a one-on-one training environment for residents and businesses in the Mille Lacs Lake area.

Health and Wellness

Health and Wellness

  • Telehealth Development and Implementation (Resilient Region): provide seven tele-health training sessions on topics like reimbursement basics, Medicare guidelines, equipment demonstrations and process excellence tools.

“For rural communities to thrive in a digitally-connected world, all hands need to be on deck,” said Dr. Kathleen Annette, Blandin Foundation CEO. “Minnesota’s rural leaders such as these are rallying their communities to bring home the benefits of broadband for every community member. Blandin Foundation is privileged to be able to support the vision and commitment of community partners who understand that broadband is the indispensable infrastructure of our time, and are doing the hard work of helping their communities thrive in the new digital age.”

Since making rural broadband use and access a focus in 2003, Blandin Foundation has partnered with leaders in more than 60 communities and 80 organizations across the state.

“It is increasingly clear that ultra-fast, next-generation Internet networks are necessary to building and sustaining thriving communities,” said Blandin Foundation Public Policy and Engagement Director Bernadine Joselyn. “Broadband networks help enable accessible and affordable healthcare, world-class educational opportunities, and effective and efficient public safety. These networks don’t build themselves. Nor do the skills and culture needed to use these twenty-first century tools just appear automatically. Community leadership is key.”

Get even more details on each project.

noblesI’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 Nobles County stacked up:

  • Household Density: 11
  • Number of Households: 7,946
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 59.15%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 59.15

Nobles County was recently named a Blandin Broadband Community, which shodul help them promote and build a business case for better broadband. They are interested in improved economic development…

Leading the Blandin Broadband Community work is the Nobles Economic Opportunity Network (NEON). Together, with educational, nonprofit and business partners throughout the county, NEON will rally local leaders to develop a sustainable model for broadband access and use in Nobles County.

“We are excited to bring together ideas and options to open up faster, stable broadband to encourage economic growth over the whole county and give rural residents better connectivity,” said Cheryl Janssen, NEON committee member.

There has been movement for better broadband. In 2013, CenturyLink opted for Connect American Funds (CAF) to serve Nobles County. And Mediacom announced upgrades in Worthington about the same time. You can see from the map that there are more options around Worthington than the surrounding areas. (Worthington was an original MIRC – Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities – participant.

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…

Stories from the frontlines indicate that things were crazy at the Legislature last night but bills were passed, session was closed and now things are left for Governor Dayton. The Governor has supported broadband in the past. I guess it’s a matter of giving folks time to see what happened now that the dust is settling.

Here’s what’s happening with broadband… (Spoiler alert: $10.588 million for broadband grants and base funding for the Office of Broadband.)

14.29 Subd. 8.Broadband Development 10,838,000 250,000

14.30(a) $250,000 each year is for the Broadband
14.31Development Office.
14.32(b)(1) $10,588,000 in fiscal year 2016 is for
14.33deposit in the border-to-border broadband
14.34fund account created under Minnesota
15.1Statutes, section 116J.396, and may be used
15.2for the purposes provided in Minnesota
15.3Statutes, section 116J.395. This is a onetime
15.4appropriation and is available until June 30,
15.52017.
15.6(2) Of the appropriation in clause (1), up
15.7to three percent of this amount is for costs
15.8incurred by the commissioner to administer
15.9Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.395.
15.10Administrative costs may include the
15.11following activities related to measuring
15.12progress toward the state’s broadband goals
15.13established in Minnesota Statutes, section
15.14237.012:
15.15(i) collecting broadband deployment data
15.16from Minnesota providers, verifying its
15.17accuracy through on-the-ground testing, and
15.18creating state and county maps available
15.19to the public showing the availability of
15.20broadband service at various upload and
15.21download speeds throughout Minnesota;
15.22(ii) analyzing the deployment data collected
15.23to help inform future investments in
15.24broadband infrastructure; and
15.25(iii) conducting business and residential
15.26surveys that measure broadband adoption
15.27and use in the state.
15.28(3) Data provided by a broadband provider
15.29under this paragraph is nonpublic data
15.30under Minnesota Statutes, section 13.02,
15.31subdivision 9. Maps produced under this
15.32paragraph are public data under Minnesota
15.33Statutes, section 13.03.
16.1(1) $2,000,000 in fiscal year 2016 is for
16.2grants to cities for broadband infrastructure
16.3and other eligible expenses, as identified
16.4in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.395,
16.5subdivision 2, for a wire-line broadband
16.6infrastructure demonstration project that is
16.7part of a public-private partnership.
16.8(2) In order to be awarded the broadband
16.9infrastructure grant under clause (1), a city
16.10must demonstrate:
16.11(i) funding from nonstate sources that
16.12matches the amount appropriated in clause
16.13(1);
16.14(ii) broadband service outages of 12 hours or
16.15more in the area within its jurisdiction;
16.16(iii) a decline in the number of businesses in
16.17the area within its jurisdiction, as a result of
16.18adequate broadband service; and
16.19(iv) an agreement that the city will own
16.20the broadband infrastructure as part of the
16.21public-private partnership.
16.22(3) The commissioner of employment and
16.23economic development must award the
16.24broadband infrastructure grant under clause
16.25(1) before September 1, 2015.

Good news for a number of Minnesota areas

CenturyLink, Inc. CTL, -1.42% today announced the availability of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) fiber speeds to approximately 8,200 additional business locations across the state enabling a total of 40,500 select business locations in Minnesota with gigabit service. This deployment is part of a national fiber network upgrade that expanded availability of CenturyLink’s gigabit broadband services to nearly 490,000 business locations in 17 states.

As part of CenturyLink’s gigabit service expansion in Minnesota, speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second are more widely available in several communities and available for the first time to select business locations in these communities: Albertville, Chanhassen, Cottage Grove, Eden Prairie, Excelsior, Inver Grove Heights, Minneapolis, Rochester, Rogers, St. Michael, St. Paul, South St. Paul, Shakopee and Wayzata.

I thought some folks might be interesting in submitting a bid to “furnish all labor and materials to construct a metropolitan area fiber optic system project within Dakota County” while others might be interest in seeing a Request for Bid for the purpose of borrowing for their own community some day…

Dakota County seeks bids for four separate projects for the metropolitan area fiber optic network. Projects include:

160th Street
Lebanon Hills
Johnny Cake Ridge Road
195th Street

Bids due: Each project has a separate due date. See table below for details.

 

 

Posted by: Ann Treacy | May 17, 2015

Lake County looks at the road to better broadband

Northland News has been looking at the impact of broadband in Northeastern Minnesota. They took a look at how local businesses dealt with broadband have-nots and haves through Lake County’s fiber project and how technology has changed marketing for Granite Gear. Lake Connections was able to step up and help businesses get the broadband they need through an ARRA funded project.

The story takes a look at the history of the project, which got a limit bumpy but as they note the only barrier now is the geography. They are hoping to be done June – and as I mentioned last week, the good weather has been a friend to them making it easiest for construction

Helping to make the case the Daily Yonder made earlier this week – broadband adoption (or take rate) is important, especially to commercial providers. CenturyLink recently posted an article in their Bright Ideas blog that helps you sell the idea of gig access to your CEO.

Here are some of their tips (abbreviated by me) …

Save money—With blazing-fast gigabit fiber you can entrust more of your critical business functions to cost-effective cloud solutions, such as Google Docs, Microsoft Office365, customer relationship management (CRM), and online payroll applications.

Make employees more productive—Explain to your CEO how the fact that more employees are connecting more devices to the network—their smartphones and tablets as well as laptops—is affecting network performance. One-gigabit fiber would eliminate that. Think about it: one-gigabit fiber is 1,000 megabits per second. That’s up to 100 times faster than what your business has now.

Slash phone bills down to a fraction of what they were—With one-gigabit fiber, you can (finally) say goodbye to your conventional landline and switch to Hosted Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) phone service, which can both lower costs and provide richer call features.

Ensure the business can keep running in case of a disaster—Explain to your boss how one-gigabit fiber can ensure that your data is safe. After all, if you make copies of what’s on your computers using an online backup service, and store it remotely using a cloud-based solution, you’ll be in much better shape than if you simply had on-premise backup.

Collaborate more effectively—One-gigabit fiber means that employees can use Skype, Google Hangouts or other videoconferencing service without worrying that the call will drop or the picture freeze.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | May 15, 2015

Webinar Archive: Blandin Foundation Partnership Models

Description:

Our next Blandin Broadband webinar, Partnership Models, is May 14th from 3 – 4 PM.   Bill Coleman will highlight a variety of models involving all phases of broadband development – from market identification strategies to network deployment to spurring subscription and sophistication.  We will then take a deeper look at three projects awarded DEED Office of Broadband Border to Border Broadband grants.  These projects include small and large companies, state agencies and local governments.  Learn how governments determine their role and how companies view these partnership opportunities.

Participants include:

  • Whitney Ridlon, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board
  • Patrick Haggerty, CenturyLink
  • Kirk Lehman, Frontier
  • Kyle Oldre, Rock County
  • Bill Coleman, Community Technology Advisors

Video:

PowerPoints:

 

 

The Daily Yonder just posted a study on the digital divide – specifically what’s the cause and what sort of policies might help reduce the divide. Access is a problem but adoption is a bigger problem, especially in rural areas…

We first used Current Population Survey (CPS) data to document that the urban-rural broadband adoption gap was 13 percentage points in 2003 versus 12 percentage points in 2011. In other words, the gap remained almost unchanged even though there was a significant increase in household broadband adoption rates in both urban and rural households between 2003 and 2011.

They looked at characteristics of non-adopters and cross referenced them with rural versus urban. It turns out that even after accounting for age, education and income, 10 percent of the gap applies only to rural.

The reasons non-adopters gave for not using broadband is what we’ve heard before – the forerunner answer – there was no need.

non-adopters rural v urban

Then they looked at how policymakers are trying to address the gap. Primarily they are supporting deployment of broadband – and the authors were quick to note that deployment is important – but so is adoption…

As more and more crucial activities are being conducted online (children’s homework, searching for and applying for jobs, etc.), federal and state broadband policies should concentrate in increasing rural adoption rates targeting specific demographics with digital literacy efforts.  There is already some good work being done in these areas across the country (a nice summary of some early demand-oriented programs can be found here) and we argue that more federal funds should be used to support this type of work.  It is important to note, however, that funds should also be used to evaluate which types of programs actually work.   A preliminary study on the adoption-oriented ARRA funds (referenced in Figure 1) shows that they did not have a meaningful impact on increasing local broadband adoption rates.

An increasing body of evidence is showing that it is the adoption of broadband (and not simply the provision of infrastructure) that is responsible for improved economic outcomes in rural areas.  Refocusing national broadband programs to emphasize this adoption component is the next logical step.

I’ll add a quick note from lessons learned with Blandin Foundation’s ARRA-funded Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) program. The program supported broadband adoption initiatives in various communities around Minnesota and at the end of the project, Jack Geller researched the impact on broadband adoption rates. Here is what he found…

With these caveats in mind, at the beginning of 2012 we estimated that broadband adoption increased 7.4 percent in the MIRC communities, while the rest of rural MN increased by 5.7 percent.

… Well doesn’t seem like much of a difference!

While this difference may seem quite modest at first glance, it is important to recognize that this means the pace of broadband adoption in the MIRC communities is actually 29.8% faster than in the rest of rural Minnesota.

 

The Grand Forks Herald recently ran an interesting take on broadband as a political tool to help “build consensus by meeting rural needs.”

The premise of the editorial is that broadband can help smooth the politics, build trust and be a springboard to greater political cooperation…

Come to terms on the two big issues affecting rural Minnesota. Because getting to “yes” not only would put rural Minnesotans in a good mood, but also would build trust among the party leaders, and oil the negotiating gears.

And here’s specifically what they say about broadband…

House and Senate leaders should take advantage of Minnesota’s budget surplus, fund this vital program generously and move on.

▇ And here’s a place they can move on to: making sure rural Minnesotans have broadband access, exactly as metro-area residents have grown accustomed to.

Businesses run on broadband Internet connections these days—and iPhone- and iPad-toting Americans do as well.

But as happened in the 1920s, when electricity kept lighting up more and more American cities, small towns lag far behind. “In 1934, less than 11 percent of U.S. farms had electricity,” as Wikipedia recounts. Enter rural electrification: “By 1942, nearly 50 percent of U.S. farms had electricity, and by 1952, almost all US farms had electricity.”

Rural areas’ access to broadband can and should undergo the same transition. Democrats and Republicans in St. Paul should resolve to make that happen—and in doing so, they could set the stage for broader agreements, restoring Minnesotans’ trust in government and avoiding the shutdown that residents dread

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