There are at least three things I love about this story

  1. It takes place in Minnesota
  2. It’s a project that started out at a Code for America event
  3. It’s a way that technology can increased civic engagemen

The details come from Minneapolis St Paul Business Journal

GovDelivery has acquired Textizen, a Philadelphia-based startup that lets government agencies communicate with the public through text messaging.

St. Paul-based GovDelivery didn’t disclose terms of the deal.

Government agencies can use Textizen to send texts containing surveys, event reminders, project updates and other notifications. It also allows governments to receive and analyze messages sent by residents.

The company previously participated in nonprofit Code for America’s incubator program, which funds and mentors government-technology startups.

“The Textizen team has demonstrated that it can use interactive text messaging technology and creative problem solving to help improve government and engage citizens,” GovDelivery CEO and founder Scott Burns said in a news release. “Textizen’s capabilities allow us to help government succeed in the critical area of driving individuals to take action.”

My secret wish – GovDeilvery hired the Textizen staff (that is true) and they moved to the Twin Cities and infused new enthusiasm, skills and experience into the local civic coding scene!

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 27, 2015

Drones for Precision Agriculture in Minnesota

Last week I wrote about drones delivering medicine in Virginia; this week I learned about what’s happening in Minnesota through The Daily – the University of Minnesota newspaper…

David Mulla, director for the University’s Precision Agriculture Center — the first of its kind in the world — said researchers and farmers are increasingly using precision agriculture technology. He said use of robots offers greater flexibility for farmers, allowing them to monitor small areas in fields.

“Precision agriculture is in the top 10 revolutions for agriculture,” Mulla said.

Jonathan Chaplin, a professor in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, said precision agriculture’s main purpose is to reduce costs and the environmental impacts from farming.

“I use drones because they are relatively inexpensive nowadays. But there are limits to what you can do with them and what they can see or measure,” Chaplin said.

Drones allow farmers to tailor the amount of fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides they use, which can have a negative impact on the environment. Using the technology allows farmers to monitor the use of fertilizer, he said.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 25, 2015

Rural Broadband “no longer a luxury”

MinnPost recently published a story on rural broadband – and the need for better broadband. It’s great to see rural broadband get the attention of the mainstream new sources. It’s good to see this happen before, during and after legislative season.

I think the writer (Gregg Aamot) does a note job of describing the need for better broadband up and down the supply chain – from builder to buyer for thriving economic development. He tells a few stories, but the Crystal Cabinet tale best exemplifies that need for a better connected change of economy…

The company ships its cabinets across the United States, from customers just a few miles away in central Minnesota to celebrities in Hollywood. Yet the viability of Crystal Cabinet Works, which employs 430 people and projects growth of 20 percent over the next three years, depends, in part, on the random patchwork of Internet service in Minnesota.

Currently, the company pays for separate Internet service at each of its three locations in and around this city of 4,700, which sits in both Sherburne and Mille Lacs counties. Some of its Internet capacity is hosted by servers in the Twin Cities. Its drafters, meanwhile, are limited by bandwidth constraints, as are the dealers who use the Internet to share kitchen and bath designs with the company.

All of those layers result in extra costs, delays and less productivity, said Sandy George, the company’s IT director. “At some point, if this is not addressed soon, it will become a serious business issue,” she said.

In numerous pockets of rural Minnesota, some close or even in the Twin Cities region, many businesses and residents live with unreliable, slow or expensive Internet service, a problem that affects all sorts of people, businesses and agencies …

Next CenNext Century Cities is a bipartisan city-to-city collaborative of over 100 mayors and city leaders who are working to ensure fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access for their residents. Several Minnesota cities are members. Next Century Cities recently published a Policy Agenda to point folks who want to support community networks in the right direction.

It takes a look at practical – or at least actionable – ways different segments can support community networks:

  • Local government
  • State government
  • Federal Government
  • Philanthropy
  • Community

It was nice to see a few Minnesota efforts used as examples:

Looking at Dig Once Dakota County gets a nice nod…

Additional Example: In Minnesota, Dakota County has saved many millions of dollars to date by laying fiber as part of other capital projects and ensuring local governments work together in planning and executing projects in the rights-of-way. [http://www.ilsr.org/all-hands-on-deck-mn/]

Dakota County gets another nice nod for streamlining permitting and rights of way management…

Example: “One Stop Road Permit Shop” from Dakota County saves an estimated $400,000 annually for the county and partner municipalities. More importantly, it has greatly simplified the permitting process for the public and private sectors alike. [Podcast and transcript: http://www.muninetworks.org/content/dakota-county-fiber-richthanks-dig-once-approach-community-broadband-bits-podcast-117]

The State of Minnesota is recognized for the Minnesota Broadband Fund…

Additional Examples: Minnesota established its one time $20 million Border-to-Border Broadband Fund in 2014 [http://mn.gov/deed/programs-services/broadband/grant-program/]; Virginia Resources Authority (VRA) has some capacity to help rural communities expand Internet access: [http://www.ilsr.org/rule/2887-2/]

And establishing the Minnesota Broadband Task Force…

Example: Minnesota established an “Ultra High-Speed Broadband” task force in 2008. The group decided on official goals for broadband in the state by 2015, which has emboldened broadband expansion advocates to demand better policies because the state has not achieved its goals. A key lesson was the importance of the Task Force traveling around the state to have local hearings, giving residents, businesses, and organizations an opportunity to speak. [Final report: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/features/2009/11/documents/Final-BB-Report.pdf]

Blandin is recognized for their support of feasibility studies.

And Monticello is used an example of what can happen without federal support for market competition…

Example: After the city of Monticello, Minnesota, built a municipal fiber network to improve Internet access in the community, Charter lowered its rates well below its own cost to drive out the new competition. [http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/03/predator-or-prey-charter-cuts-internet-pricesto-compete-with-city-owned-network/]

The Daily Yonder recently posted an Analysis on Why Rural Hospitals are Closing. It’s an interesting look at various factors – worth reading especially if you aren’t living it. Part of the answer is that people aren’t saying in rural hospitals anymore. Younger people choose to go elsewhere when they can and even older folks are going for procedures but not to recuperate. Part of the reason I suspect that hospitals are getting less use is that telehealth tools do allow people to stay home longer.

 

It’s nice to see that telehealth is addressed in a proposed solution that would keep health care options in rural areas– the Rural Emergency Care Hospital Act…

Senator Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa and Senator Cory Gardner (R) of Colorado have introduced Senate  Bill 1648, “The Rural Emergency Care Hospital Act.” The act would reduce hospitals’ financial reliance on vanishing inpatients.

The act would let rural hospitals with fewer than 50 beds, including Critical Access Hospitals, be re-designated as “Rural Emergency Hospitals.”  Such hospitals could maintain an emergency room and  ambulance and telemedicine services, as well as other traditional hospital functions, including convalescent skilled nursing care. But they could stop providing acute inpatient care.  Medicare would pay the hospital 110 percent of its costs of emergency room and ambulance services.  The hospitals would be permitted to charge Medicare for the costs of telemedicine back-up.  The emergency rooms and physicians staffing them would have to meet some new quality requirements.

The bill would let small rural hospitals save money by getting out of the inpatient care business.  They would be generously reimbursed for their emergency care, including “observing” patients, that is, keeping them for a day or so.

Would these changes be sufficient to keep failing small rural hospitals afloat?  That depends on whether local people use them.

USDA awards $349 million for rural electric including Smart Grid Technology: Minnesota gets $25.5 million

Always good to see Minnesota get funding. Nice to see part of it going to smart grid technology. Just wonder if there isn’t a way to tie the infrastructure funds into a boost for broadband too – maybe some dig once or tower options…. (I’ve highlighted the Minnesota portion.)

WASHINGTON, July 21, 2015 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $349 million in funding for 15 rural electric infrastructure projects to build or improve more than 1,844 miles of transmission and distribution lines for rural electric cooperatives and utilities in 13 states.

“Eighty years ago, USDA took on the challenge of bringing power to rural America and it helped make this the greatest, most productive country on Earth,” said Vilsack. “Today we are continuing that commitment by investing in the next generation of power transmission – smart grid technology – to make our electric system more reliable, efficient and effective. Upgrading the electric grid will not only improve reliability and better manage costs, but it will also bring jobs and increased economic opportunities, helping to build a sustainable and dynamic future for rural residents and businesses.”

The funding is being provided through USDA Rural Development’s Electric Program, which makes insured loans and loan guarantees to non-profit and cooperative associations, public bodies and other utilities. The loans primarily finance the construction of electric distribution facilities in rural areas.

For example, the Macon Electric Cooperative in Missouri has been selected to receive a $15.2 million loan to build or improve 51 miles of line and make other system improvements. The loan includes $2 million for smart grid projects.

The Douglas Electric Cooperative, Inc. in South Dakota is receiving $1.3 million to build and improve 15 miles of line and make other system improvements. The loan amount includes $270,000 for smart grid projects.

The Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative will receive a $25.5 million loan to build or improve 171 miles of line and make other system improvements. The loan includes $2 million for smart grid projects and $222,000 for service to Native Americans.

The total of $349 million in electric loans includes a $44 million loan to Eastern Iowa Light & Power Cooperative announced by Vilsack on July 17.

Smart grid increases the reliability of electric power by helping utilities better manage the electric grid to improve operational efficiencies. It includes metering, substation automation, computer applications, two-way communications, geospatial information systems, and other system improvements.

USDA has been committed to improving production and transmission of electricity for rural America since the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935. In 2014 alone, USDA’s Rural Utilities Service awarded $2.7 billion in electric loans. These loans helped 4.6 million rural residents receive improved electric service.

President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 23, 2015

Drones deliver medicine in rural Virginia

In 2013, I saw a great TED talk on drones and how they would be a great solution for delivering medicine in rural areas.. They were talking about rural in emerging countries – but that doesn’t squelch my excitement to be seeing it happening in Virginia – as reported by The Rural Blog

The first federally approved drone delivery of medicine took place on Friday at a rural field hospital in southwest Virginia, Yann Ranaivo reports for The Roanoke Times. “The drone, a hexacopter roughly the size of a portable fire pit,” made three trips from the airport two miles away, delivering 20 pounds of medicine to benefit two dozen patients at the annual Remote Area Medical mobile clinic in Wise County.

It’s a great use of a drone!

Earlier this week I mentioned new fudning from the USDA coming to Minnesota. I’m pleased to share more information from the Duluth News Tribune on the funding that the Fond du Lac reservation is receiving…

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the News Tribune that access to high-speed broadband allows communities to improve the quality of life of their residents. He said broadband allows local business owners to sell their products to a wider range of customers, helps schools provide more advanced learning opportunities and provides resources to hospitals.

“All of these things are designed to provide opportunity, equal opportunity to business owners, to students, to folks who are in the health-care system,” Vilsack said. “To make sure we improve quality of life and support quality of life.”

The grants include $3 million for a project within St. Louis County and $3 million for one in Carlton County; the Fond du Lac Reservation straddles the county line. Fred Underwood, IT director for the Fond du Lac band, said officials hope to begin construction before the year ends. The project must be completed within 24 months.

“We want to get moving on it as quickly as we can,” Underwood said. “It’s going to have a significant impact.”

The Fond du Lac band will contribute $2.2 million to the project. Underwood said that once construction is completed, 1,200 more households will have access to high-speed broadband. Members of the band are not the only ones who will have access; broadband will be available to everyone in the project area.

The USDA is trying to focus on helping Native American communities, Vilsack said.

“This particular grant is a continuation of our ongoing effort (to help) tribes … of investing a good portion of our grant money in those particular areas,” he said.

The Fond du Lac Reservation is not the only area receiving assistance in this latest round of broadband funding. Projects in South Carolina, Montana, Wisconsin, Alaska, Oklahoma and Virginia also are receiving grants or loans to help bring high-speed Internet access to rural communities.

The White House recently released an interesting infographic on the Digital Divide. Here’s a run down of stats…

Overall stats

  • 98 percent of Americans have access to the Internet
  • 75 percent have access at home

Income

  • 80-90 percent of affluent homes have access
  • 50 percent of lowest median income homes have access

Education

  • 90 percent of households where head of house has a BA (or higher degree) have access
  • 79 percent of households where head of house has some college have access
  • 63 percent of households where head of house has a High School degree have access
  • 43 percent of households where head of house has a less than High School degree have access

Ethnicity

  • 87 percent of households where head of house is Asian have access
  • 77 percent of households where head of house is White have access
  • 67 percent of households where head of house is Hispanic have access
  • 61 percent of households where head of house is Black have access
  • 58 percent of households where head of house is Native American have access

And location matters too

white house adoption stats

The Verge broke down differing segments and found that income was the most determining factor…

But when looking at broadband adoption overall, the US places 16th globally. And when you zoom in closer on the map, the divide looks less like one of urban and rural and more like one of class. For example, in several sections of central San Antonio, Texas, less than 65 percent of residents are online, while in sections of the northern suburbs, more than 83 percent are. The central sections are more densely populated but also poorer; the northern sections are more suburban, but wealthier.

This relationship holds true nationally. Both geography and income correlate with internet adoption, but income appears to play a larger role. Going from regions in the bottom quarter ranked by population density to the top quarter results in a 9 percent increase in average internet adoption. But going from the bottom income quartile to the top results in a 24 percent increase.

The findings fit with what Pew Research Center’s Lee Rainie has seen as well. “Rural areas are less likely to have broadband access, but generally if you’re looking at non-adoption, socioeconomic factors are more determinative than geography,” he says. “Income and education are highly correlated with internet use.”

It helps make the case that the Task Force is on task looking at affordability this year. And the Verge highlights the need too…

Consequently, getting everyone online in the US will be a matter of affordability and education, says Raman Jit Singh Chima, policy director at Access Now. Increasing competition among service providers could help lower costs, he says, and extending the FCC Lifeline phone subsidy to cover broadband would put internet access within reach of more people. (Last month, the FCC began the process of extending the Lifeline program to cover broadband.) Increasing internet access at schools and funding education programs at libraries and community centers would show more people how to get online and why doing so is useful.

As I mentioned yesterday, the newest Minnesota broadband maps are out. There are some big changes – many of the changes can be attributed to the change in definitions. Minnesota defined broadband as 10M down and 5 M up. The federal government used a 10M/6M ranking until earlier this year when they went with 25M/3M.

The last ranking chart we had for Minnesota looked at 10M/6M. This new map looks at 10M/5M. That makes a difference – as you can see. But there are also some standout improvements that are clearly based on more than a change in definitions.

I will try to dig deeper into each county – but wanted to post the high level info so others could use it too. (Here’s a Word version since tables and WordPress don’t always mix.) I will highlight any big leaps in access and try to indicate whether a county has risen or fallen in the ranking.

Quickly – three cheers counties that are now in the top five ranking – some a pretty rural:

  1. Red Lake
  2. Ramsey
  3. Clearwater
  4. Lac qui Parle
  5. Stevens
2014 Ranking County 2014 HH Served 2015 HH Served 2015 Ranking
1 Hennepin 100.00 98.89 6
2 Ramsey 100.00 99.75 2
3 Anoka 99.99 97.2 8
4 Red Lake 99.99 99.99 1
5 Steele 99.93 87.94 18
6 Dakota 99.90 97.17 9
7 Scott 99.81 90.1 15
8 Washington 99.65 95.28 10
9 Clearwater 99.64 99.5 3
10 Carver 99.50 91.07 14
11 Dodge 99.40 75.12 38
12 Lac qui Parle 99.36 99.36 4
13 Stevens 99.26 99.23 5
14 Waseca 98.80 70.55 45
15 McLeod 98.66 70.29 46
16 Polk 98.52 85.93 21
17 Le Sueur 98.47 75.39 37
18 Beltrami 98.46 98.07 7
19 Meeker 98.31 59.48 66
20 Rice 98.20 88.37 16
21 Olmsted 98.10 94.72 11
22 Freeborn 95.79 82.08 29
23 Goodhue 93.54 69.48 49
24 Wright 93.32 78.84 32
25 Benton 92.79 79.93 31
26 Sherburne 91.86 74.1 40
27 Stearns 91.68 84.35 24
28 Pennington 91.64 91.6 13
29 Isanti 91.54 50.36 74
30 Nicollet 91.36 84.04 25
31 Mower 90.87 82.44 27
32 Blue Earth 90.48 78.26 36
33 Winona 90.23 83.86 26
34 Sibley 89.93 50.46 73
35 Chisago 86.64 61.02 64
36 Grant 85.85 88 17
37 Brown 85.39 86.11 20
38 Clay 82.50 82.16 28
39 St. Louis 80.18 78.37 35
40 Lake 77.32 85.46 22
41 Hubbard 76.45 82.04 30
42 Wabasha 76.29 62.12 60
43 Koochiching 74.00 63.45 59
44 Big Stone 72.37 69.6 48
45 Fillmore 69.75 46.22 76
46 Houston 68.88 72.18 43
47 Jackson 68.78 68.9 50
48 Wilkin 67.05 71.39 44
49 Itasca 66.72 69.82 47
50 Rock 66.29 66.29 51
51 Traverse 65.51 65.56 53
52 Watonwan 64.58 64.58 56
53 Otter Tail 64.33 66.13 52
54 Carlton 62.81 58.88 67
55 Redwood 62.61 63.62 58
56 Norman 61.92 61.92 63
57 Marshall 61.4 30.85 82
58 Cottonwood 60.52 61.98 61
59 Wadena 60.48 86.51 19
60 Crow Wing 59.76 85.21 23
61 Becker 59.68 60.92 65
62 Martin 59.17 55.09 70
63 Nobles 59.15 65.21 54
64 Renville 58.39 52.56 71
65 Pipestone 57.57 57.01 69
66 Kandiyohi 57.47 74.4 39
67 Mille Lacs 55.99 33.28 81
68 Mahnomen 55.40 63.84 57
69 Lake of the Woods 47.08 47.08 75
70 Roseau 45.67 45.67 77
71 Murray 43.53 45.2 79
72 Kittson 43.08 3.46 87
73 Lincoln 40.90 40.89 80
74 Morrison 38.44 61.94 62
75 Faribault 38.06 92.47 12
76 Cass 37.70 57.39 68
77 Pope 31.40 64.76 55
78 Swift 30.68 78.64 33
79 Kanabec 28.54 28.05 83
80 Yellow Medicine 25.85 26.99 84
81 Todd 25.69 50.74 72
82 Chippewa 24.63 72.28 42
83 Pine 24.63 23.63 85
84 Cook 20.70 45.57 78
85 Douglas 16.21 78.57 34
86 Lyon 4.14 72.64 41
87 Aitkin 0.06 15.88 86

I wanted to share the good news. I’ve just highlighted the projects in MInnesota…

USDA Announces Funding for Rural Broadband Projects

$74.8 Million in Telecom Loans and $11 Million in Community Connect Grants will Increase Access for Rural Americans in Seven States

WASHINGTON, July 20, 2015 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $85.8 million in funding to strengthen access to high speed broadband for rural America.

“Broadband is fundamental to expanding economic opportunity and job creation in rural areas, and it is as vital to rural America’s future today as electricity was when USDA began bringing power to rural America 80 years ago,” said Vilsack. “The investments USDA is making today will deliver broadband to rural communities that are currently without high-speed internet service, or whose infrastructure needs to be upgraded. Improved connectivity means these communities can offer robust business services, expand access to health care and improve the quality of education in their schools, creating a sustainable and dynamic future those who live and work in rural America.”

Below is a summary of the loans and grants in today’s announcement.

Telecommunications Loans:

  • In Minnesota, a $12.63 million loan to Garden Valley Telephone will include fiber and electronics upgrades to improve the system for rural subscribers. Consolidated Telephone will use a $12.27 million loan to provide greater bandwidth to subscribers, allowing delivery of enhanced services with network upgrades, infrastructure additions and add a new fiber ring.
  • South Carolina’s FTC Communications will use a $12.38 million loan to upgrade their wireless telecommunications network to 4G/LTE (Long-Term Evolution), meeting growing demand for reliable, higher speed services.
  • In Montana, Triangle Telephone Cooperative Association will use a $29.95 million loan to upgrade their system with fiber to supply greater bandwidth to increase speed and the quality of service for their rural Montana subscribers.
  • In Wisconsin, LaValle Telephone Cooperative will use $7.61 million to deploy fiber and replace a switch to provide rural subscribers with improved services, including voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and the flexibility to connect to Gigabit Ethernet and IP interfaces.

Community Connect Grants:

  • In Alaska, the Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative, Inc. will receive a $1.4 million grant to provide Point Hope subscribers with high-speed internet service and prepare the network for an undersea fiber connection currently planned for construction within the next two years.
  • Minnesota’s Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC) will receive two $3 million grants for two projects to provide broadband service to subscribers on the Fond du Lac Reservation. NESC will partner with the Fond du Lac Band of Superior Chippewa.
  • Oklahoma’s @Link Services will receive a grant of nearly $1.5 million to provide high-speed broadband to homes, businesses and critical community facilities in parts of Seminole County.
  • Virginia’s Scott County Telephone Cooperative will receive $2.1 million to build a broadband network with one gigabyte of bandwidth for 540 locations in Dickenson County. This project is expected to benefit Edwards Ridge and the surrounding area by promoting economic development through improved broadband access.

Since 2009, USDA has awarded 74 Community Connect grants totaling more than $77 million to build broadband projects in rural areas that previously did not have broadband service. Nearly $20 million of those funds were to provide broadband service in tribal areas and communities of Alaskan Natives.

The Telecommunications Loan and Community Connect Grant programs are an important part of USDA’s broadband efforts. Since 2009, USDA has brought new or improved broadband access to more than 1.5 million households, businesses and community education, and public safety facilities. USDA’s broadband efforts are part of President Obama’s continued efforts to expand high speed broadband to all Americans. Since the President took office, the private and public sectors have invested more than $260 billion into new broadband infrastructure, and three in four Americans now use broadband at home. Thanks to smart spectrum policies and world-leading technology, fast 4G wireless broadband is now available to over 98 percent of Americans.

President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities.

A few of the latest Minnesota Broadband Maps were shared at the last Minnesota Broadband Task Force. At the highest level they indicate that 86.46 percent of Minnesota households have access to wireline broadband at speeds of at least 10 Mbps download and 5 Mbps up based on surveys current as of February 28, 2015. It shows an increase from 78.16% on October 1, 2014. That’s an increase of 8 percentage points. That seems significant to me.

Added 7/21: there is a map on the DEED/OBD website now that shows the results from February 28, 2015 for 10/5 wireline only service at 86.46% to the comparable map for 10/5 wireline only service from October 29, 2014 found at page 16 of the 2014 TF annual report which shows 86.53% availability.

It’s probably too early to detect the impact of the Minnesota Broadband Funds – but maybe not too late to detect the impact of raised awareness or communities preparing for the grant application last summer. And of course there’s the impact of continued support from the Blandin Foundation.

86 percent

Or maybe the providers have been more diligent about separating out the numbers needed for Minnesota (10/5) and those that were needed for the feds (10/6). I know some providers allowed that in past surveys they have gone with the federal numbers – mostly I assume because they are so close, but it makes a difference. And that difference is felt when people are looking at the numbers so closely.

The FCC changed their definition of broadband back in January. It is now 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. So the Office  of Broadband is working with that definition too. You can see the stark difference in coverage in the map below. The pink areas are unserved with no wireline broadband of at least 25M/3M. (This difference is “unserved” is important for any community looking at applying for a Minnesota Broadband Fund Grant.)

unserved

The Blandin Foundation recently held a meeting of cooperative broadband providers. One of the get started question was – What cool/unexpected way are people using your network? I thought it might be a fun start to the week to share some of the responses. Reminds us why we do what we do – to facilitate innovation in business, learning, health care and life!

  • Business owners are using security cameras to protect their businesses
  • Atomic Learning is located in Little Falls and has created a mini Apple-like environment
  • A family has set up an stellar observatory at the far end of the Gunflint Trail and is now selling subscriptions to those who want to view the stars and northern lights.
  • Two Bemidji State University graduates have set up a DNA testing lab in a garage in the north woods.  All they need is broadband and UPS delivery service.
  • A young woman, operating with the handle “GamerGirl”, plays Call of Duty live on the Internet using a webcam to broadcast her in action.  She has 16,000 people who pay to play against her and that is how she makes her living.
  • People in lake country are using an incredible amount of bandwidth, especially on busy holiday weekends.  The CTC network was extremely busy over the 4th of July weekend with the CTC network reaching 7 GB of data, about twice the amount of data that was consumed one year ago.  People are on the Internet in large numbers with large usage on Saturday and Sunday night. What would people do if they don’t have it?
  • People of all ages have growing reliance on the Internet as evidenced by 85-year old neighbors who are upset when the Internet goes down after a storm.
  • The fitness company -Snap Fitness – is installing networked devices on each piece of equipment. This is just not possible to support without fiber.
  • Teleworking is a growing trend as evidenced by our own organization. Many people, including myself, are learning to check for Internet service availability before purchasing property.  Just bought a new house and had to check and make sure he had service before they closed.
  • Robust broadband is now increasingly used to support farming applications for animals and crop production as farmers generate and consume data and use tools like remote video to monitor animals about to give birth
  • Tools to support the creation of media through collaboration are growing in use and are increasingly available at no cost to users.  Almost every night, the kids will discover and use something – Just two days ago, I saw the results of a fun lip synch video application with dub smash
  • At the cabin we have moved from wondering if we even need the Internet at the cabin to considering it essential for work (enabling longer visits) to Skyping internationally with relatives in Kiev.

I like for Minnesota to be tops in all things broadband but I have to give kudos to Wisconsin for the University-Wisconsin Extension Broadband Policy Examples. It’s a fairly dry document but it really outlines a lot of the policies related to broadband expansion – from federal to local (down to village!) perspective. They start by borrowing from Dr John Kotter’s eight steps toward change…

The stages adapted from Kotter’s eight steps include:

  1. Creating a Sense of Urgency

  2. Building a Guiding Coalition

  3. Developing and Communicating a Strategic Vision

  4. Enabling Action and Removing Barriers

  5. Generating Short Term Wins

  6. Learning from Experience/Instituting Change

As a side note, while I read this I wondered where Minnesota stood in their continuum. On a good day I think we’re between steps five and six. We have an Office of Broadband Development. They have distributed funds to support broadband expansion and we’re waiting to hear how that goes. But I think we still have a toe in steps two and three. There are barriers. And the Minnesota Task Force is reexamining the speed goals. I think that’s OK in an iterative world.

It also makes me think back to the original Task Force report. I think they did a good job getting through steps one to three in a short time and I think there are still some gems in the original report that could provide the scaffolding for a strategic vision today. Maybe the discussion on speed changes will be an opportunity for the newest Task Force to dig back into that document.

OK – back to the primer…

It includes links to necessary documents – like maps and pertinent State (and federal) offices. And it details the following local ordinances and codes…

Public Rights-of-Way Policies

  • Dig-Once Ordinances
  • Tower Ordinances
  • Public-Private Partnerships
  • Tower Agreements
  • Shared Resource Agreements
  • Partnerships for Funding Co-application

The section on Leanring from Experience does a nice job of really outlinging the various appraoches a community can take or support for improving local broadband access…

  • Private Provider Investment
  • Public-Private Partnerships
  • Cooperatives
  • Community Area Networks
  • Local Government Telecommunications Alternatives

It finsihes off with a series of local exampels, including a gauge on where various Wisconsin communities are in the 8-step process. It reads a lot like a feasibility study without the marketing, technical details and specific numbers BUT if I were a community leader I would use this as template for at least a portion of a feasibility stufy – have we looked at all of these opitons? That’s not to say that a creative mind couldn’t come up with more or with hybrid solutions but policy-wise I think this is a great resource. Maybe Minnesota could borrow and build upon it to help Minnesota communities access the info they need quickly!

NTEN and Mobile Citizen did their first digital adoption survey (Making Connections) to find out what how lack of access or adoption impacts the public/nonprofit services that people can access OR how that lack of access and adoption impact how public/nonprofit services can be delivered.

The news is as I see it is that 60 percent of the nonprofits surveyed provided some services online, which clearly means you need to have access to take advantage of those services. Also about half of the nonprofits surveyed provide or support digital inclusion efforts in their programming. Affordability was mentioned as a roadblock to adoption – both of broadband service and equipment.

To do a slightly deeper dive into it…

They are succinct in their definition of digital adoption…

Digital adoption, whether for organization or individuals, includes three requirements:

  1. Access to the Internet where and when we want or need to go online;

  2. Affordable equipment to use; and,

  3. Training, or digital literacy skills enabling us and our constituents to use the Internet to support our work and lives.

I think one of the most compelling findings is that 60 percent of the nonprofits they served said that constituents needed to have access to the internet to partake of services…

Do your constituents need Internet access to benefit or participate in your organization’s services or programs?

Nearly 60% of respondents indicate that constituents need Internet access to participate in their services. They highlight four main service areas in which this is true:

  • Communication and Information: Including completion of forms and applications, identified by 61% of respondents who indicated service areas;

  • Access to content, mostly unique to the organization but including some links to additional resources (45%);

  • Fundamental access issues, including delivery of basic services (27%); and

  • Training, including delivery and registration  (18%).

NTEN nonprofit services

Nonprofits are doing what they can to get folks online. I highlight this fact for communities who are looking at broadband expansion. It would make sense to start your digital inclusion efforts with a local survey of who is doing what in your area. You  rarely need to build from scratch – start with what’s already working and happening in your area.

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