Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 1, 2016

CNS launches first 100Gb Transport Network in Rural MN

It’s always good to start the week off with big broadband upgrades in rural Minnesota. Here’s the latest from Cooperative Network Services

Cooperative Network Services (CNS) recently completed the required network upgrades to install their first 100 Gigabit service to a Minnesota Internet Service Provider.

The newly upgraded ROADM transport network, utilizing Cisco’s ONS platform, will deliver the bandwidth needed for the first of likely many MN ISPs and WISPs looking to upgrade their connection speeds for future high-bandwidth including the increases in providers who are now offering Gigabit services to business and residential customers.

“This 100Gb upgrade will allow us to provide the bandwidth required by MN ISPs and end-users as data transmission needs increase.” said Dean Bahls, CNS’ Network Services Manager. “We continue to see increases in Internet and dedicated circuit traffic resulting from growth in the video, mobile and cloudbased software and data backup/recover services.”

The network upgrade went smoothly, and 100 Gb wavelengths are now ready for commercial deployment throughout the CNS transport network footprint from Minneapolis and throughout Northern, MN.

“It’s exciting to cross the 100 Gb threshold as so many of the predictions about data usage are coming true. This 10Gb to 100Gb upgrade will be an important part of the advancement of emerging technologies like tele-health, distance learning, immersive entertainment, and the Internet of Things,” said Jason Dale, CNS’ CEO.

CNS’ transport network now covers over 1,100 route miles with 24 pops connecting multiple ISPs, wireless towers, data centers and end users to both Fargo and the 511 building in Minneapolis.

Covering some of the most rural parts of Minnesota, CNS connects hundreds of thousands of out-state users to the information they need each day.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | January 31, 2016

Albert Lea Tribune supports more broadband funding

The Albert Lea Tribune supports greater funding for broadband in Minnesota…

Last year, the Legislature and governor passed $10.84 million in funding for one year.

Gov. Mark Dayton and House Democrats this year have proposed $100 million for border-to-border broadband access. Proposals have not yet been announced from both parties in the Senate from the House Republicans. The governor’s task force on broadband is calling for $100 million each year for the next two years.

They add that fast Internet access to necessary for their work – and other small businesses…

Here at the Tribune, much of our day is dependent on the Internet. If the Internet is down, our operation is stunted and sometimes even halted as we rely on it to do many things.

Internet is becoming something that is not only a helpful tool, but a necessity — at least for our business.
We imagine we are not the only business in Freeborn County that relies on the Internet for much of its operations.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | January 30, 2016

Dates of the E-rate Funding Year 2016 Application Filing Window

I suspect most folks who need to know this may have received the announcement – but just in case…

Announcement – Dates of the E-rate Funding Year 2016 Application Filing Window

The window for filing E-rate applications for Funding Year (FY) 2016 will open February 3 at noon and close April 29 at 11:59:59 EDT – a window of 87 days, which is approximately two weeks longer than our usual window.

As you know, we are in the process of migrating the E-rate information technology system and forms to a whole new system using technology from Appian. Those of you who have begun entering data into your user profiles and filed requests for bids (FCC Forms 470) have already begun to interact with the new system.

The extended application window for FY2016 reflects the reality that this is an initial launch of a new system, which will, despite our best efforts, likely present many opportunities for learning and improvement as users begin filing their applications. Historically, relatively few applications have been filed in the first few weeks after the opening of the filing window. Last year, for example, slightly more than 500 applications were filed during the first two weeks of the window, and less than 2,400 had been filed by the end of four weeks. This year, we ask that early filers provide us with robust feedback on their experience and where improvements can be made. The best avenues for that feedback are our call center at (888) 203-8100, or at EPCfeedback@usac.org. We will also continue to work on additional usability features and functionality informed by our user testing. Our ability to add these features will depend on how well the system performs initially and the resulting demand on our development resources. We must ensure the system is stable, and we will work with our development partners at Appian to immediately address any critical issues that arise. We will also provide weekly communications based on our observations and any planned changes or improvements.

Whether you plan to file early, or wait until we’ve dealt with any potential initial performance issues, the best way to support your successful filing of your E-rate application is to start now with your account and user information. You can set up your account in the USAC Portal, assign user rights and establish or update your profile. For more information on how to complete the tasks mentioned above, visit our website, or if you have questions and want to speak with someone who can help, call us at (888) 203-8100.

While this new system brings a number of benefits in 2016, such as hovertext, on-screen help, error alerts, some prepopulating, and will bring even more robust benefits in 2017, the changes we are making and the new environment will also bring challenges. We understand this and are putting in place an unprecedented level of support for applicants. Most importantly, this will include significantly increased call center support, as well as education through a variety of channels. We will provide further detail on our plans prior to the window opening.

redwood 2Redwood County is hosting an open house on February 9 (3-6 pm) at the Redwood County Technology Training Lab. Part of the event is a celebration of all of the Redwood Connects events that have been happening in the area through funding from the Blandin Foundation. The event is open to everyone and they are going to have cookies – but I share their events for other communities thinking about how to increase broadband adoption and I wanted to share the brochure they developed, which does a nice job updating folks no what’s happening.

1st Round Grants Awarded
• Redwood Connect Technology Training Lab – Located in the basement of the Redwood County courthouse, this lab is available for use by the public as of January 1, 2016. To reserve the training lab, visit: econdev.radc.org (click on Redwood Connect) or call 507-637-1134. (Blandin grant=$9,150 Total project cost=$12,750)
• Redwood Area Community Education Technology Lunch & Learn – Technology classes are offered at a convenient location (Redwood Connect Lab), during a time suitable for businesses and senior citizens, taught by local experts and includes a lunch….all for the low price of $10 per class. Don’t miss the opportunity to participate in one, or multiple classes. (Blandin grant=$3,540 Total project cost=$5,980)
• PC’s for People – Red Rock Central Schools and Redwood Area Early Childhood distributed about 50 computers to income-eligible families through the PC’s for People program.

2nd Round Grants Awarded

• Redwood Falls Public Library – 20 new computers are now available for use at the Redwood Falls Public Library. (Blandin grant=$10,500 Total project cost=$16,000)
• Redwood County GIS – Redwood County is implementing a new Geographical Information System (GIS) which is now open to the public. The program allows users to view land parcels, roads, maps, infrastructure, public accesses and more. (Blandin grant=$12,100 Total project cost=$24,200)
• Redwood Area Early Childhood SMART Board Interactive Flat TV’s – Two out of the three Redwood Area Early Childhood preschool classrooms will be equipped with SMART technology. (Blandin grant=$9,648 Total project cost=$12,648)
• Redwood Area Hospital TeleHealth – The Redwood Area Hospital Telehealth communication project will move forward. Telehealth is used to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. (Blandin grant=$25,000 Total project cost=$49,430)
• Red Rock Central Schools – Red Rock Central Schools purchased a 3D printer and will be implementing classes and training for 2016. Check the Redwood Connect website for training schedule. (Blandin grant=$6,000 Total project cost=$15,000)
• Redwood Connect Marketing – Technology training lab open house, marketing brochures and advertising and sponsorship for the Social Media Rockstar event, are a few of the ways Redwood Connect spread the word about the work in Redwood County. (Blandin grant=$4,000 Total project cost=$8,000)

Continuing to track what the local papers are saying about broadband leading up to the 2016 legislative season. Here’s the latest from the Brainerd Dispatch

He [Representative Thissen] identified the issues of broadband expansion and oil train safety as possible junctions between what Democrats and Republicans want for rural areas. The House DFL together with Gov. Mark Dayton wants $100 million for expanded broadband lines in rural areas of the state.

Assistant Majority Leader Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, told the Mankato Free Press the amount allocated for broadband this biennium would likely be “north” of the $10.6 million approved last year.

“Ron has been a proponent of broadband,” Thissen said. “The problem is, the leadership in his caucus are not, and that presents a big challenge for him.”

On Wednesday, Kresha said the fact the DFL put dollar figures on its proposals before the February state budget forecast comes out was “reckless,” since lawmakers don’t know if the budget surplus will go down and leave them less money to work with.

“I think with the recent stock market hesitations, we will probably see a surplus that is less robust,” Kresha said. “Until we see those numbers, it’s a little bit premature to start putting promises out.”

On broadband, Kresha said there was “no realistic number” until the forecast came out and available federal and private dollars were assessed, other than “we need to do more than we did last year.”

And the latest from the Grand Rapids Herald

The Greater Minnesota for All proposal focuses on four areas:
• Creating jobs.
• Education and workforce training.
• Property tax relief.
• Programs for seniors.

The agenda, however, does not include any direct relief for small businesses. Thissen and Marquardt said, however, there would be help for small business owners in other segments of the proposal, such as more broadband funding.
The House DFL plan would return LGA funding to 2002 levels of $565 million annually. State budget deficits forced LGA cuts for several years.

“The lifeblood of rural Minnesota is LGA. An LGA increase is in the Senate side of the tax bill, and the governor also supports it. We can do this with political will of the House GOP,” Marquardt said.

Nearly one-third of the plan’s cost — $100 million of $350 million — would go toward broadband expansion in rural areas.

“The broadband is huge for Greater Minnesota,” Thissen said.

Sorry about the last minute notice. I just heard myself. I hope to listen to part of the session – it sounds interesting.

Broadband Industry Day
The General Services Administration (GSA) will host a Broadband Industry Day on Friday, January 29, 2016. This event will focus on permitting, contracting, and other uses of federal assets as they relate to broadband deployment and access. The participating agencies will discuss current actions and new actions that improve the efficiency of permitting and contracting as they deal with federal assets.
Representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Transportation, General Services Administration, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service will participate in a panel presentation and Q&A session which will focus on broadband deployment permitting and rights of way.

Date: January 29, 2015
Time: 1PM-3PM [EST I assume!]
Location: GSA 1800 F St. NW Washington, DC
Please email Leslie Schwager in the GSA Office of Public Engagement at leslie.schwager@gsa.gov to RSVP for the event

*Call in number for those who cannot participate in person 1-866-928-2008
Participant Code: 107407

Posted by: Ann Treacy | January 28, 2016

Faribault Daily News supports state broadband funding

Rural newspapers continue to chime in with their support for broadband funding. Faribault Daily News is the latest addition…

High speed internet has been around for a very long time in metropolitan areas like the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester and a few mid-size towns dotting the state map. But for folks in Greater Minnesota, routine streaming of Netflix, YouTube or Storify is still in the process of downloading, so to speak.

Another critical fact that should be taken into account is that Greater Minnesota students from elementary school to high school struggle daily to complete homework because of slow internet.
The perceived failings of the GOP-controlled House – including any workable resolution on broadband − will figure to be critical in the 2016 election cycle, according to House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis). Thissen said on Tuesday in an interview at the Daily News that many pieces of this agenda have been discussed for numerous years.
One of those topics is the development of broadband infrastructure. An increased focus on providing internet service at viable prices is a central component to the agenda, with Gov. Mark Dayton calling for $100 million in investments.
And here’s a suggestion that I like (although I might extend it to anyone who doubts the need for better broadband in rural areas) …
If House Republicans were made to experience the slow internet folks in Greater Minnesota experience every day, they might realize that the issue of border-to-border broadband is one worth getting behind.

I am happy to share this story from Project FINE. They have received funding from the Blandin Foundation to support their ecommerce training…

Ten years ago, a Hmong gentleman moved from the St. Paul area to Winona, MN. For years, he and his family had dreamed of owning their own business. They had worked hard and saved money to be able to fulfill their dream of entrepreneurship. When they learned that a gas station in our area was for sale, they used their savings for a down payment on a business loan.

Moving to a new community can be difficult, but they quickly got connected with Project FINE and were active participants in many of our programs. Through their participation, they were able to network with others and grow their customer base. Over the years, their business grew, as their customers appreciated their friendly service. They also continued to learn and grow, looking for ways to improve their business and increase sales. They added a deli counter and liquor store to bring in more customers.

Despite this success, their business did not have an online presence. Because he did not have any technical or business training, he was unable to develop his own website. While he wanted to reach more people, he just didn’t know how. When Project FINE started the .COM project, we reached out to him to participate. He was very excited and said “I have been waiting for a chance like this for a long time. I will make sure to attend.”

Through the project, he attended training sessions and received one-on-one assistance. He also worked with a Winona State University student to develop a website. The student met with him at the gas station to discuss plans and create a vision for the website. They also took pictures of the man and his wife and the store. The student worked to discover what specific information would be included on the website and after several meetings, the website went live.

The man and his family have been extremely happy with their website. They thanked us for helping them and have since commented that many of his customers had seen the site and given positive feedback.

He is also very excited at the prospect of reaching out to town visitors, especially hunters and
fishermen in the area. He said, “this has been so wonderful and will continue to help my business move to another level. Thank you for your support.”

Posted by: Ann Treacy | January 27, 2016

Winona talks about Minnesota broadband policy rural issue

Broadband is making the top list of a lot of articles on hot issues for upcoming legislative session. Here’s the latest from the Winona Daily News

The Greater Minnesota for All agenda splits into four sections, dealing with job growth, education investment, rural property tax relief and support for senior citizens.

House DFL leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said in a conference call with reporters Monday that their proposals hope to take advantage of a large budget surplus, but shouldn’t come as a surprise. …

Other investments they hope will increase jobs and economic growth include rural workforce housing tax credits and broadband expansion funding for rural areas.

House DFL deputy leader Paul Marquart said that joining Gov. Mark Dayton in asking for $100 million for broadband funding would be a reasonable level of investment for its benefits and need.

“This is a huge economic equalizer for rural Minnesota,” Marquart said.

Red Wing Ignite does some cool stuff. Their latest program for kids caught my eye. If only I could talk one of my teens into going to it!

One thing we are very lucky for in the fine city of Red Wing is that Red Wing Ignite, a local not-for-profit technology organization, works hard to promote technology and tries to get grants that can really help people. One of their most recent grants is for a class for high-school students, to teach them how to build and market an app. The program is FREE for them! It’s a 12 week program that meets 1-2 times per week, and includes the learning of how to use an app builder, how to plan for it, market it, and promote it. Where else can students get this knowledge, and for FREE? The class requires a time commitment and it won’t necessarily be easy every step of the way. But it’s worth it. Your teen might even find their calling!

Click here for more details (on page 17) or call Red Wing Community Education at (651) 385-4565(651) 385-4565. I am teaching the class, along with Tao Peng. If you prefer to contact me directly for more information about the class, please feel free to do so! Email me at stephjo@redwing.net.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | January 26, 2016

Will you endorse the Minnesota Broadband vision?

broadband visionParticipants at the broadband conference in November worked collaboratively to develop a broadband vision for Minnesota…

Everyone in Minnesota will be able to use convenient, affordable world-class broadband networks that enable us to survive and thrive in our communities and across the globe.

Turns out the vision is catching on! More than a dozen cities, counties and organizations have endorsed the list. (Check out the full list.)  There is a Facebook Page to help keep up with all of the endorsements – community, corporate and personal. To show your support please like the page!

Do you have an organization who would like to endorse it? (Here’s a draft resolution.) Please let us know! (You can email me atreacy@treacyinfo.com, post an announcement on the Facebook Page or  post a comment below letting us know you’ve endorsed it!)

Looks like a good opportunity…

Communities interested in using broadband service to help revitalize small-town main streets and promote economic development are encouraged to apply for Cool & Connected, a pilot program sponsored by USDA Rural Utilities Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Sustainable Communities. Through Cool & Connected, a team of experts will help community members develop strategies and an action plan for using planned or existing broadband service to promote smart, sustainable community development.

Quality broadband access can provide new opportunities for people and businesses. A growing number of communities have combined broadband service with other local assets such as cultural and recreational amenities to attract and retain investment and people, including young people. This can help diversify local economies. Such efforts typically require planning among community leaders, businesses, and internet service providers. The Cool & Connected program will provide assistance to this end, helping communities take advantage of new or existing broadband service to create walkable, connected, economically vibrant main streets and small-town neighborhoods.

Eligibility
• Any community representative is welcome to submit a letter of interest to participate in Cool & Connected.
• Special consideration will be given to small towns and rural communities that face economic challenges.
• Special consideration will be given to communities in places where USDA has provided loans or grants in support of broadband or other internet-related services.

Deadline and where to send letters of interest
Submit your letter of interest to Ed Fendley at fendley.ed@epa.gov by
Wednesday, February 24, 2016. Kindly include Cool & Connected and the name of your community in your e-mail subject line.

What to include in your letter of interest
Your letter of interest can be in the text of an email or an attachment. It should be no longer than two printed pages. If you want, you can provide additional letters of support from partners, but this is not necessary. Community representatives are encouraged to describe community needs and challenges related to downtown revitalization or other place-based development, and how a planning process might help. You should indicate any areas of interest related to internet service and place-based development, such as:
• Using new or existing broadband service to attract new types of businesses to main streets or existing rural communities
• Combining internet service with other local amenities to attract new investors, visitors, and residents
• Developing or marketing downtown Wifi zones
• Extending broadband service beyond anchor institutions in ways that promote main street development
• Selecting centrally located anchor institutions or community facilities that will receive broadband service

Community representatives submitting letters of interest are also encouraged to indicate partners that can be expected to participate in a planning process, such as local internet service providers, local officials, business associations, or local schools or colleges.

Over the weekend the Mankato Free Press posted an editorial supporting bipartisan funding increase for broadband…

While Republicans and Democrats in the Minnesota Legislature appear to be drawing familiar battle lines on tax and spending issues, both should get serious about a robust, significant and job-boosting broadband bill.

They include an update on what policymakers are planning this year…

This year the DFL House minority has proposed an outstate Minnesota package that includes $100 million for the broadband grant program. While the House GOP majority has not yet proposed a specific dollar figure, Assistant House Majority Leader Rep. Ron Kresha, Fergus Falls, told The Free Press this year’s proposed budget for broadband would be “north” of the $10.6 million last year.

If that’s the case, the House GOP plan would be targeting a level somewhere over $20 million over two years.

And example of why this may be an uphill battle that may require educating the policymakers…

The Republican House majority resisted the entire program at one point with Jobs Growth Committee Chair Pat Garofalo suggesting broadband might soon be an outdated technology.

According to MinnPost, Minnesota lawmakers https://www.minnpost.com/glean/2016/01/minnesota-lawmakers-introduce-legislation-protect-student-privacyare setting up bills to protect students privacy online…

Who knew privacy could bridge the culture wars? At WCCO-TV Pat Kessler reports, “Minnesota lawmakers announced Wednesday far-reaching efforts to stop what they say is the virtually unrestricted snooping into personal data. It’s part of a 17-state effort to introduce privacy bills across the nation. In Minnesota, an unusual coalition of lawmakers is behind the privacy push. As it stands, there are few laws stopping businesses, governments or even schools from snooping.” I really hope this isn’t news to anyone.

At the AP Kyle Potter adds, “With more laptops, tablets and cellphones in classrooms and college campuses, Minnesota lawmakers unveiled a set of bills Wednesday meant to ensure students’ private information stays that way. Joined by data privacy advocates, a trio of lawmakers vowed to introduce legislation this year to protect personal information on school-issued iPads and laptops, block third-party vendors from accessing school district troves and ensure students’ personal cellphones and social media accounts aren’t inappropriately searched.”

Just last week, Senator Franken asked Google to respond to some questions about privacy of students using Google Education tools. It’s good to see policymakers taking on the issue.

The Grand Forks Herald recently ran an editorial from Senator Klobuchar, in which she supports investment in broadband and dig once policies to reduce costs to deploy broadband…

It’s also crucial we improve access to the information highway. Today, you don’t need to live near the interstate or a major city to find a good job, launch a new business or take college classes. But without reliable high-speed Internet, your options can be limited.

I’ve held meetings in East Grand Forks and across the state to talk about the obstacles to expanding broadband. This is a serious issue for many Minnesotans and North Dakotans, with the cost of laying the broadband infrastructure in rural areas a deterrent for many communities.

There are many common-sense ways we can increase broadband access. The first is with funding. The federal government recently awarded more than $85 million to Minnesota for rural broadband deployment. This will help connect more than 170,000 Minnesota homes and businesses to high-speed Internet.

Second, I’m leading a bipartisan bill to reduce the costs of building broadband infrastructure. My legislation would require states and federal agencies to coordinate highway construction with broadband installation—in other words, implementing a “dig once” policy so when we build our roads, we’re also laying the groundwork for broadband.

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