Posted by: Ann Treacy | December 17, 2014

RS Fiber plans to serve 1600 customers by late 2015

KEYC-TV out of Mankato recently ran a nice story on RS Fiber…

The RS Fiber Board in collaboration with Hiawatha Broadband Communications in Winona will provide affordable fiber-optic broadband service in ten communities and 17 townships in Renville, Nicollet and Sibley County.

The service aims to provide faster and more reliable access to television, internet, and phone. With a heavy emphasis on agriculture, tele-medicine, and education.

The groups financial planner, and local business man, Phil Keithahn says,  “That’s what this does. It levels the playing field for people who live and work in rural America with people who are in the twin cities. So it’s an economic development tool for south central Minnesota.”

The initiative is expected to serve 1,600 homes and businesses by late 2015 and has the potential to reach more than 6,200 customers by by 2016.

The accompanying video provides more information on the local value and interest in the network.

Two important trends are driving more communities to consider community engagement in broadband availability for the first time. First is the fact that broadband as a necessary element of everyday life is not a theoretical discussion anymore.  Almost everyone wants broadband so that they can participate fully in 21st Century life.  What might have been hyperbole ten years ago is now undeniably true.  Lack of broadband lowers property values and impacts quality of life.  No doubt about it.  Second, the availability of state and federal fund to address rural broadband issues seems to be growing.  Unprepared communities will soon see the funds flowing to their better prepared neighbors, thus motivating communities to get busy and play catch up.

Join Blandin Foundation consultant Bill Coleman and guests for this webinar that will address key topics, like: What is broadband and why is broadband important?  How do you analyze your existing broadband networks and services.  The webinar will provide an overview of wired and wireless broadband technologies and discuss alternative paths to better community broadband.  Tools and resources for community broadband initiatives, including those of the Blandin Foundation, will be highlighted.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015
02:00 – 03:00 PM

Register Here

Posted by: Ann Treacy | December 16, 2014

How does US broadband rank? Depends what you measure.

I read an interesting report today. It’s a rebuttal to reports (such as Akamai) that show that the US is not a leader in broadband. It’s an interesting look at different ways to measure broadband expansion – or as they put it health. (The report is Internet traffic as a basic measure of broadband health by Bret Swenson.) I think Swenson’s report focuses on judging whether we’re deep enough; Akamai may be judging how wide we are. Both reports have merit.

I’ll dive deeper into it but on a high level I think the report, especially compared with others, demonstrates that there are almost two inherent industries that involve broadband. There’s broadband where there’s a market case (deep) and there’s broadband where there isn’t (wide). Swenson’s report demonstrates that the US does well where there’s a market case and he seems to dismiss the areas where there isn’t a market case by saying…

Do the traffic figures obscure the fact that some pockets of America do not enjoy quality broadband? I don’t think so. Some people in some localities simply do not enjoy access to the fastest networks. This is true, however, for any geographically diverse nation or region. The per user and per capita traffic comparison does show that despite all of America’s challenges, broadband still excels.

The trouble with broadband (in terms of comparison and policy) is that deep and wide are completely different; both are important but supporting each seems to require different courses of action

Back to the report, Swenson sets out to measure Internet traffic per capita and per user. He gets his stats from Cisco, CIA Factbook and Live Stats…

To compare and contrast among nations and regions, I used Internet traffic estimates from the June 2014 edition of the widely cited Cisco Visual Networking Index, population data from the July 2014 update of the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, and Internet user data from Internet Live Stats,17 which compiles its estimates using data from the ITU and national and regional authorities.

 

Using that data, the US shines at number two. The report also looks at consumer Internet traffic (per capita and per user) the ranking results are the same. Here are the specifics…

The US world share of consumer Internet traffic, at 31.5 percent, is actually higher than its share of total traffic. Per capita consumer traffic is 49.8 gigabytes per month (see figure 3), and consumer traffic per Internet user is 56.7 gigabytes per month (see figure 4). This is 7.6 times the global per capita average and 3.2 times the global per user average. It is 2.3 times Japan’s per user consumer traffic and 2.7 times that of Western Europe (see table 1).

What I think this indicates is that the US has some great power users – both in industry and consumers. Swenson dismisses that idea, but to the detriment of his own merit I think…

Some might argue that a small portion of a nation’s users could generate enough traffic to skew global comparisons. It is true that some power users generate disproportionate shares of traffic. But every developed nation has power users, and other evidence shows why they alone do not account for the disparity.

I’d maintain that the US has a lion’s share of power users because we are innovative and entrepreneurial, which helps us produce companies like Google and YouTube sensations such as Rebecca Black. (Sort of the best and worst of America’s entrepreneurialism there.) I’ve heard many broadband providers say – show us the business who will pay for broadband and we’ll get it to them. The key is “who will pay.” US broadband expansion will go deep when there’s a market case to be made. We have policies in place that support broadband expansion as a business tool and it’s working! That’s a good thing.

The problem is going wide. Going wide is providing service in areas where no one can pay or at least they can’t pay enough to merit a business case. That’s where the Akamai results are useful. For example the US is not coming up when they look at “percentage of users with better than 4 Mbps connectivity.”

That means that there is a sub-sect of the US with hindered innovation (as far as technology goes) but that group also suffers with limited educational access, healthcare use and access to government services. Suddenly broadband isn’t just a business tool; it’s a utility. Suddenly from a policy perspective we need to look at more than a commercial business case scenario for providing service – but what is the cost to tax payers (in terms of making resources available offline to the disconnected), to quality of life and to civic engagement to not provide service. The policy implications to support a utility is very different than supporting a commercial business tool.

But as I said – both views are important. We do need to look at all sides – and we need find a way to support what we’re doing well (deep) as well as support areas where we need better expansion (wide). When we’re able to do that we can be leaders on all of the lists! More importantly we can all reap the benefits.

The Blandin Foundation is planning the 2015 webinar series to support communities that are looking at better broadband. In 2014, topics ranged from digital inclusion programming to market assessment tools. This year the plan is to start broadband and dive deep into the topics that are top priorities for the Blandin Broadband Communities. We wanted to whet your appetite by reposting one of the favorites from last year – Bill Coleman’s Pre-conference  on a Comprehensive Community Approach to Broadband.

If you have a topic you’d like to see Blandin tackle via webinar in 2015, please post it as a comment below. We have already scheduled the first webinar (Getting Started on Community Broadband) for Wednesday, January 7 from 2-3pm. Details to follow soon.

The Washington Post recently ran an article promoting reduced rates as a way to get more people to subscribe to broadband…

In a survey of 15,000 Americans who don’t have broadband, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they wouldn’t consider signing up for the service at any price. This reflects what we already know: That people who aren’t connected largely aren’t interested in being connected and don’t see how it would be relevant to their lives. But the remaining third of the sample leads the researchers to this promising conclusion:

The data indicates that up to 10 million households in the U.S. for which broadband is available might be willing to subscribe if a subscription discount is offered.

How much of a discount are we talking about? The researchers — a number of whom work for the Federal Communications Commission, which is tasked with promoting broadband nationally — estimate that to achieve a 10 percent increase in the share of Americans who are connected to broadband, the price of Internet would have to drop by 15 percent from what it would currently cost them.

I think this is great news. Two years ago, Connected Nation did a similar survey and found that non-adopters who could be swayed by price were saying $20 per month was their magic number. At the time, that was a 50 percent discount.  Fifty percent is a game changer; fifteen percent is pretty reasonable.

And I wonder if once they had access if they might be able to see the value of continuing even at a higher price. Several Blandin Broadband Communities have tried that tactic – offering reduced rates to get people started and providers have found many customers (one example was 80 percent; I’ve heard higher and lower) remain customers even when the prices went up.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | December 12, 2014

2015 Association of Minnesota Counties’ Broadband Platform

I am pleased to share the Association of Minnesota Counties’ (AMC) broadband platform (with permission).

2015 AMC Broadband Platform

  • AMC supports identifying and implementing actions to achieve by 2020 the goal of statewide deployment of advanced broadband networks and symmetrical high-speed capacity.
  • AMC supports initiatives to make it easier for counties, townships, cities, municipal utilities, schools, libraries, and other public sector entities to collaborate and deploy broadband infrastructure and services at the local and regional level.
  • AMC supports public/private collaboration to achieve state broadband goals, including partnerships and cooperation in providing broadband services and infrastructure.
  • AMC supports removing barriers to the exercise of local authority to provide such services, including repeal of Minn. Stat. § 237.19, that requires a supermajority voter approval for the provision of local phone service by a local unit of government, and clarifying county and state bonding authority.
  • AMC supports offering incentives to private sector service providers to respond to local or regional needs and to collaborate with cities and counties to deploy broadband infrastructure capable of delivering sufficient bandwidth and capacity to meet immediate and future local needs.
  • AMC supports completely and continuously updating comprehensive statewide maps of broadband services to identify underserved areas and connectivity issues.
  • AMC opposes the prohibition of public money to be spent on broadband infrastructure projects.
  • AMC supports permanent funding for the Office of Broadband Development within DEED, and continued funding for the Border to Border Broadband Development Fund.
  • AMC supports removing the prevailing wage requirement for the Border to Border Broadband Grant Program, and to allow non Minnesota based COOPs to apply for the grant as long as the project is in MN, if the program is continued.

There’s a lot of support for what is already happening, which is good. There are some specific suggestions for change. I’ve mentioned several times – broadband is poised to be a hot topic in the MN Legislature this year. It’s good to see people preparing!

Dosomething.org has a great opportunity for youth and seniors – teach a senior about the Internet and you may win a $10,000 scholarship. I’m going to paste the info from the website here – but the quickest way to get started is to visit the Dosomething.org site.

Teach tech basics to older adults and improve their quality of life.

40% of seniors don’t use the Internet.

That can leave many feeling depressed or isolated from loved ones. So, teach an older adult the basics — and wonders! — of technology!

Grandparents Gone Wired | DoSomething.org | America’s largest organization for youth volunteering opportunities, with 2,700,000 members and counting

Teach tech to an older adult, send a pic of the two of you in action, and — bam! — you’ll enter to win a $10,000 scholarship.

AND, for each senior you teach, you earn another entry to win. So teach one senior and send a photo = one chance to win. Teach 12 seniors and send 12 photos = 12 chances to win. (And so on!)

Check out the Official Scholarship Rules for more details

 

Yesterday the Task Force held the last meeting before their big annual report is due. Like last year – some of the meatiest discussion of the year happened at the end of the year. The Task Force seems to agree on so much:

  1. public private partnership will be required to meet state broadband goals
  2. the goals set years ago are outdated
  3. affordability is a bigger issue than access.

BUT the devil is in the details and that’s where people disagree AND the disagreement often taps into definitions and ideologies that are larger than the topic at hand…

  1. What is the role of state government? Does broadband need state funding, different regulation or should government have ability to run networks?
  2. What speeds are appropriate? Do we look to the feds who currently use much slower definitions than MN does? Do we look at international definitions even though they have different regulatory structures?
  3. What is affordable? And are we talking affordable for a home, business or community?

The differences seem larger in black and white, so there seems to be a desire to stay vague in the report so that everyone can agree – but I suspect that leaves some parties feeling lukewarm about the report. Whereas the original report focused on hard fought compromise, this report comes less from compromise and more from general softening of all sides. That being said – this report (and the report last year) has a pointed recommendation for funds. That recommendation was successful last year and signs point to fertile ground again this year. And I think everyone on the Task Force feels that’s a good thing.

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband December 9, 2014 DEED –
James J. Hill Conference Room
1st National Bank Building 332
Minnesota Street Saint Paul, MN, 55101-1351

10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m – Full Notes & Video…

Read More…

Wireline Competition Bureau announced the entities provisionally selected for Rural Broadband Experiments. That list includes some Minnesota companies. According to the FCC press release

This Public Notice announces the bidders that have been provisionally selected for funding in each category, subject to the post-selection review process. Each identified bidder must complete certain steps in order to be authorized to receive Connect America Fund support for its rural broadband experiment. …

  • 19 entities seeking support to build networks that are capable of delivering 100 Mbps downstream and 25 Mbps upstream to all locations in the project census blocks in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, and Texas.
  • 12 entities seeking support to build networks capable of delivering 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream to all locations in the project census blocks in Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.
  • 9 entities seeking support to build networks capable of delivering 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream to all locations in project census blocks that are extremely costly to serve in California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, North Dakota, Kansas, South Dakota, and Texas.

At first I was a little put off by the fact that Minnesota has companies in only one category – then I realized that one category is the *one* that really offers broadband connectivity. (I get that 10/1 Mbps is better than nothing but not better than 100/25 Mbps!)

Here are the Minnesota-related companies/projects that were listed:

Bidder Name State(s) Selected Bids Support Requested for Selected Bids Census Blocks Covered by Selected Bids Selected Bid Project IDs
Lake County d/b/a Lake Connections MN 1 $3,499,965.00 847 1
LTD Broadband LLC IA, MN 1 $20,000,000.00 10,122 1
Posted by: Bernadine Joselyn | December 9, 2014

Gratitude and good wishes to Carolyn Parnell

Bernadine_InCommonsLast week Governor Dayton thanked Carolyn Parnell for her service at MN.IT  Services Commissioner; she is resigning and we are sad to see her go. Like the Governor, we thank her for her hard work in improving IT services and reducing costs for the State…

As Commissioner of MN.IT Services, Carolyn Parnell ably led major reforms in our state government’s information technology and related services,” said Governor Dayton.  “This consolidation improved agencies’ efficiencies and saved Minnesota taxpayers nearly $28 million. I am grateful to Carolyn for her dedicated service to the people of Minnesota

“I couldn’t be more proud of the accomplishments we’ve made in the past four years to improve how information technology powers state government,” said Commissioner Carolyn Parnell. “While the investment in information technology is never done, I know that the changes we have made over the past four years will make it far easier for the State, going forward, to invest wisely in the things that matter.”

We thank her for her innovation and imagination, which was recognized last year when she made Gov Tech’s list of the Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers. We thank her for the countless ways she shared her expertise. And for her support of Open Government – from supporting Open Government efforts to supporting events such as Hackathons that promote Open Government.

I got to know Carolyn through her work on the Blandin Broadband Strategy Board. The job is part approving broadband grant applications and part helping to steer conversations in and out of the boardroom to promote better broadband in Minnesota. Busy as she is, Carolyn always came prepared, had great questions about the grant applications and great insight for conversation.

I was personally impressed with how down to earth, yet geeky Carolyn is. She’s the sort of woman who grows her own food – but using the latest precision agriculture apps, even in her own backyard. She’s very practical and able to look at a very large picture (like IT throughout State offices and agencies) and bring better order and process to it.

Carolyn came to the job with a wide range of experience working for MNSCU and private companies and that mix of understanding public service and appreciating business acumen made her an asset to the State; one that will be hard to replace. (Although they are already accepting applications!)

I’ve written a few times about the growing murmur for rural broadband from the connected (politically, not necessarily technically) masses. Earlier today I added a DEED report to the voice for the need for broadband, not necessarily a voice for spending. The Minneapolis Star Tribune draws a direct correlation between the political interest in making rural Minnesota feel the love and access to $200 million for rural broadband…

Can House Republicans buy love in Greater Minnesota on the cheap? And will they try, after learning Thursday that expected state revenues now exceed expected spending by a cool $1 billion through June 2017?

These are questions on the minds of folks at the Greater Minnesota Partnership. It’s an 18-month-old collection of nearly 80 business, higher ed, nonprofit and local economic development groups that proved its mettle in the DFL-dominated 2014 session, winning $20 million for the public share of public-private efforts to improve broadband Internet service where it’s lacking — which is outstate.

For the 2015 Legislature, the Greater Minnesota Partnership has set its sights on 10 times that much for broadband. And that $200 million is just for starters.

Last summer DEED held a number of around the state to talk very broadly to locals about the economy. Here’s a little background on the efforts (from the report)…

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has embarked on a regional economic competitiveness project that is identifying opportunities to sharpen its strategies and help drive regional economic growth. DEED leadership recognized that the state’s economic policy needs to be updated to reflect post-recession realities. To generate long-term, quality growth across the state, Minnesota needs to focus on three key economic drivers – innovation, trade, and human capital. The state needs to find ways to empower regions to act on those drivers, enabling them to leverage their distinctive strengths.

As part of this project, DEED has worked closely with local regional organizations (listed below) to convene over 22 meetings in 21 cities throughout Minnesota and meet with over 400 regional leaders representing businesses, workforce development organizations, economic developers, chamber officials, and foundation leaders.

DEED focused on three areas: talent, innovation and trade. Broadband came up as a support for innovation…

Most of the discussions on innovation focused on investing in the infrastructure needed to position regions for future growth. In addition, there was recognition for the need of developing and supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs that will build the next great companies in Minnesota. Some of the common themes identified included:

* Expanding the availability and adoption of broadband; this was of special concern in more rural regions of the state where advanced agriculture and manufacturing increasingly rely on advanced information technology for enhancing competitiveness.

* Supporting local innovation and local entrepreneurs; there was wide recognition that, for longterm sustainable growth, the focus should be on retaining local business and supporting homegrown innovation and entrepreneurs that are connected to the communities in which they grow.

According to DEED…

We have recently shared what we heard with the Governor’s office and leaders from other agencies as they frame their priorities for the upcoming legislative session.  There will, undoubtedly, be more on the to-do list than can be done in one year, but we are hopeful that many to the issues brought forward in our conversations will be addressed this upcoming legislative session. We will plan to report back in February with an update on this work.

 

It seems like one more voice in the growing mass supporting broadband!

Posted by: Ann Treacy | December 6, 2014

Minnesota Broadband Task Force Meeting Dec 9 Agenda

The Broadband Task Force is meeting next Tuesday. I’ll be taking notes – but there’s always room for more…

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
December 9, 2014
DEED – James J. Hill Conference Room
1st National Bank Building
332 Minnesota Street
Saint Paul, MN, 55101-1351

10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m

10:00 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. – Welcome/Approval of Minutes/Public Comments

10:10 a.m. – 10:20 a.m.   – Update from Office of Broadband Development

10:20 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Review of Task Force Report Draft

12:00 p.m. – 12:45 p.m. –  Lunch Provided for Task Force Members

12:45 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. –  Review of Task Force Report Draft

2:30 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. –  Upcoming Meeting Details and Adjournment

Some good news for fans of rural broadband coming from BringMeTheNews

A surplus of more than $1 billion in Minnesota’s state budget over the next two years should be put towards improving rural broadband access and a childcare tax credit, Gov. Mark Dayton has said. ..

And speaking at a press conference Thursday, Gov. Dayton said he wants to see some of this surplus used to pay for a childcare tax credit, better broadband access for Greater Minnesota, and early childhood scholarships, according to WCCO.

The Broadband Task Force has been talking about recommending for $200 million. And there has been rural support for the investment. The Task Force has also quoted $900 million to $3 billion as a back of envelope guestimate for deploying ubiquitous broadband in Minnesota.

I guess we have to ask – with $1 billion in surplus should broadband proponents be asking for more?

 

Bernadine_InCommons

“We’re not the broadband foundation,” is something I’ve heard Bernadine Joselyn say many times, “We’re the Blandin Foundation.” It’s true and it isn’t true. The Blandin Foundation is so much more; they focus on student success, community engagement, rural leadership and more. But they’re also really good at broadband.

They started by recognizing early that broadband was a game changing tool  – in a positive way for the communities and people who “got” it and negatively for those who remained on the wrong side of the ever deepening digital divide. So they have worked on informing policymakers by coordinating a Blandin Broadband Strategy Board that helps to define and champion a broadband vision for Minnesota. They worked on supporting practitioners with grants and community coaching. They raise the topic continually through annual conferences, other events and by maintaining this blog!

They have raised interest and emphasis in broadband in Minnesota and they are now in a position to encourage other foundations to do the same. The Council on Foundations just published a great piece from Bernadine that speaks to other foundations, making the case for supporting broadband in their areas and offering some lessons learned to help them get the efforts off the ground and headed in the right direction…

Top 5 Lessons Learned

  • Peers make great teachers. Peer-based learning formats that encourage local businesses to share practices, questions and experiments are a popular, low-cost, and easily sustainable tool to build a community’s technological savvy.
  • 4. Engage tomorrow’s leaders today. Recognize and engage the talents of young people. This next generation of leaders brings energy and sustainability to any community initiative.
  • Broadband is not an end in itself. It is a means to the higher ends of increased economic vitality, equal opportunity and improved quality of life for all. Framing this work in these terms is likely to be more successful than by calling out the technical infrastructure itself.
  • Have patience. This work takes time. Look for and celebrate early and easy “wins” along the way, but think long-term and build capacity and energy for the long-haul.
  •  It all comes down to community leadership. Help local broadband champions get and use skills to frame issues, build and sustain relationships and mobilize people to build a community’s capacity to achieve its broadband goals

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