The Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission promotes economic development in Big Stone, Lac qui Parle, Chippewa, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties. They were Blandin MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) cohorts, which means they received support and funding from the Blandin Foundation (and ARRA funds) for broadband development. They have been working on broadband adoption for years.

Lac qui Parle also received ARRA funding to deploy FTTH. So as a group they have also been thinking about access. Prairie Business reports on their continued effort with Minnesota Broadband Funding…

Policy-makers in the counties see broadband access as critical to providing the economic and social competitiveness that constituents in the counties want, explained Dawn Hegland, executive director of Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission, which serves Big Stone, Lac qui Parle, Chippewa, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties.

The growing interest is paying dividends. The Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband project recently awarded a $3.92 million grant to Big Stone County and Federated Telephone Cooperative to lay fiber optic cable to 1,072 sites in the county.

It follows the lead of Lac qui Parle County, which previously obtained $9.6 million in loan and grant funds to deliver fiber optic technology to an estimated 3,700 people. The county worked in partnership with Farmers Mutual Telephone to become a leader in rural, broadband access.

The RDC assisted Big Stone County in making its successful application for the Border-to-Border funding. It also assisted Swift County in applying for the funding. Hegland expects Swift County re-apply if the Legislature approves the funding to continue the Border-to-Border initiative.

Hegland said Chippewa and Yellow Medicine counties are likewise working with the RDC office on this broadband initiative.

It’s nice to see that regional approach.

In an effort to track the MN Broadband Fund projects..

SAINT CLOUD, Minn. – February 19, 2015 – NewCore Wireless, the leading full-service hosted switching and services provider, announced today they have been chosen by Palmer Wireless, a Central Minnesota communications company, to provide services that support their fiber to the home and business projects for an awarded Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant. The Minnesota Office of Broadband Development, an arm of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), awarded Palmer Wireless the grant earlier this year.

The Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program recently issued grants to expand broadband service in unserved and underserved regions throughout Minnesota. The grants aim to bring high-speed Internet to nearly 6,100 homes, 83 community institutions and hundreds of businesses statewide. Palmer Wireless, a recipient of one of the grants, will focus on the project to service 21 underserved businesses in the Becker Industrial Park, as well as 12 vacant city-owned lots covering 70 acres in this Central Minnesota town.

“Palmer Wireless is proud to have chosen NewCore Wireless as our partner in providing services for our upcoming project. NewCore Wireless has the most experience in rural service solutions and are truly dedicated to this industry and assisting its partners,” said Laura Kangas, Co-Founder of Palmer Wireless. “NewCore Wireless shares our commitment to helping address the challenges of improving network accessibility and keeping up with the ever-evolving demands of today’s rapidly-changing network. They are able to aggregate the needs of multiple companies across the upper Midwest and allow local companies to cost effectively deliver advanced solutions that have positive impacts on the communities they serve. Together we can expand economic development, create jobs and strengthen the Becker community for many years to come.”

The grant awarded to Palmer Wireless will focus on expanding service throughout the Becker, Minnesota coverage area. Expanding broadband Internet service has become critical for cities across the nation to compete in the new global economy. Having fiber to the home and business that delivers high speed Internet service has become a game changer for those communities.

“Palmer Wireless is focused on providing the best solution to our end users. In some situations, our 3G and 4G wireless network will be the best fit for a customer, whereas with other situations fiber will be the best solution,” further added Laura Kangas. “With our fiber solution to the Becker Community, we will be able to deliver up to 1 Gbps services where previously these businesses only had access to 3 to 6 Mbps service.”

“We are pleased to have been chosen by Palmer Wireless to assist with providing solutions to the Becker area,” said Paul Vershure, Executive Director of Site Development and Construction Services at NewCore Wireless. “Palmer Wireless has made great strides in providing surrounding residents, municipalities and businesses with better telecommunications services and technology. We look forward to working with them to continue their leadership and service offerings.”

NewCore Wireless is a full-service hosted wireless switching provider offering solutions to carriers. They provide technology platforms capable of switching 2G (GSM), 3G (UMTS) and 4G (LTE) wireless services, as well as Value Added Services like SMS, MMS, voicemail, prepaid, E911, CALEA and CMAS that allow small carriers the opportunity to compete on the same level as Tier 1 carriers.

NewCore Wireless, in addition to working with its business partners to provide hosted wireless switching solutions, has experience working with Federal, State and Local officials as well as municipality leaders to provide a host of solutions and services in both the wireline and wireless industries. The company has provided solutions for Smart Agriculture and agricultural monitoring, wireless surveillance, Wi-Fi solutions for school and school buses, fleet tracking and management and many more. To learn more about how NewCore Wireless is leading the Internet of Things (IoT) with its solutions and services, click here.

About NewCore Wireless NewCore Wireless is the leading full-service hosted wireless switching provider offering solutions to carriers. Our Switching Platforms are capable of providing 2G (GSM), 3G (UMTS) and 4G (LTE) wireless services.  We also provide Value Added Services like SMS, MMS, voicemail, prepaid, E911, CALEA and CMAS that allow small carriers the opportunity to compete on the same level as Tier 1 carriers.  NewCore Wireless was founded in 2008 with the mission of providing innovative technology solutions to rural carriers that deliver scalable, end-to-end solutions.  We offer each of our network partners the flexibility to run their own wireless business without the added expense of the core network.   The company is headquartered in St. Cloud, MN. For more information, visit www.newcorewireless.net

Media Contact:

Cami Zimmer, NewCore Wireless

Cami.Zimmer@NewCoreWireless.net 952-239-9822

Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 21, 2015

Capitol Hill questions Minnesota broadband coverage claims

Broadband is a hot topic in the Minnesota legislature this year, which means it’s getting attention is mainstream media. I always like to see what folks who don’t eat and sleep broadband think. Sometimes I’m surprised, as I was with MPR’s Capitol View’s view that any internet connection should suffice…

But DFL Sen. Matt Schmit of Red Wing said not everyone can get a connection.

“Nearly 20 percent of Minnesota, that’s 450,000 households, currently lack access to broadband – to basic broadband,” he said in a press conference presenting the DFL senators’ plan.

The state has a set of broadband goals: By 2015, all residents and businesses should have access to high-speed broadband that provides a minimum download speeds of 10 to 20 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of five to 10 megabits per second.

The state is behind in meeting those goals.

According to a 2014 report from Gov. Mark Dayton’s broadband task force, a little more than 20 percent of Minnesotans lack access to a fixed broadband connection that meets Minnesota’s speed standards. If you account for cellular connections – which experts say are inferior partly because they can be costly – roughly 10 percent of Minnesota households lack access to broadband that meets Minnesota’s speed standards.

But Schmit’s claim makes it sound like 450,000 Minnesota households can’t connect at all, and that’s not true. According to the task force report, nearly 100 percent of Minnesota households have access to some sort of broadband connection, both wired and cellular combined – though some of those connections may be very slow.

This is where definitions can be very important and what you choose to show in a report is equally important. I suspect that 100 percent of Minnesota has access to the Internet BUT that doesn’t mean broadband. In Minnesota, as the article points out, the definition of broadband is “a minimum download speeds of 10 to 20 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of five to 10 megabits per second” anything less than that isn’t broadband.

The case is confused because at a federal level broadband was defined as 4 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up BUT the FCC is changing that definition to be 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up.

What’s the difference? Access to the internet is probably sufficient if you want to check email – but if you want to watch a Khan Academy video for homework, get tech support through an interactive chat, or fill out a job application you’re going to need broadband.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 21, 2015

Gigabit Internet Service Comes to Itasca County

gigazone

I’m pleased to share the news…

Gigabit Internet Service Comes to Itasca County
Trout Lake Township First Area of GigaZone Network in Itasca County

(Bemidji, MN) (February 17, 2015) – Gigabit Internet service has come to Itasca County. Paul Bunyan Communications has activated its newly constructed network in the Trout Lake Township making it the first area of the GigaZone in Itasca County.

“The GigaZone provides Internet capabilities unsurpassed by any other rural provider or region in the country. The GigaZone not only provides the capacity to handle current communication technologies quickly and efficiently, it also meets the increasing demands of the next generation of broadband innovations,” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.

“Our cooperative already has the region’s largest all fiber optic network, upgrading it for the GigaZone continues our commitment to keeping our region at the forefront of broadband access.” said Steve Howard, Paul Bunyan Communications IT & Development Manager.

“We started expansion of our communications network into the Trout Lake Township last summer. It is the first area in Itasca County to gain access to our Gigabit network and our additional GigaZone service options. This is only the start. As we continue to upgrade our existing network many more areas will become part of the GigaZone,” added Brian Bissonette, Paul Bunyan Communications Marketing Supervisor.

Most current wireless routers cannot support blazing GigaZone Internet speeds. To help, the cooperative is offering GigaZone Integrated Wi-Fi that uses the latest in advanced Wi-Fi technologies to maximize the in-home wireless experience. This service is free to all new GigaZone customers for the first six months, with a minimal charge thereafter.

GigaZone services are expected to be made available in March in the cooperative’s Park Rapids exchange which also includes the areas of Two Inlets, Dorset, and Emmaville. Additional GigaZone upgrades in 2015 are planned for Lake George, Big Falls, as well as more areas in and around Bemidji, Cohasset, and Grand Rapids. Ultimately the GigaZone will encompass the cooperative’s entire 5,000 square mile service area.

“We know that many of our members will want access to GigaZone services and we will make it available as quickly as we can. It will take us a few construction seasons to get it everywhere we serve but once done it will be one of the largest Gigabit networks in the United States!” said Bissonette.

GigaZone service options including unprecedented Broadband Internet speeds of up to 1000 Mbps – a Gigabit. Members who subscribe to GigaZone Broadband can also add PBTV Fusion and/or low cost unlimited local and long distance GigaZone voice service. All current service options also remain available to cooperative members within the GigaZone.

Paul Bunyan Communications has the region’s largest and fastest all fiber optic network with over 5,000 square miles throughout most of Beltrami County and portions of Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties. The Cooperative provides Broadband High Speed Internet Services, digital and high definition television services, Smart Home services, digital voice services, and more.
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Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 20, 2015

The price of free for a feasibility study in Rochester?

Alcatel-Lucent has offered to do a broadband feasibility study for Rochester – for free. According to Watch Dog

The proposition? A gratis report, except for city staff time to dig up data, on whether Rochester should get into the government-owned broadband business, in which Alcatel-Lucent specializes.

“We’re going to turn this rock over with you, if you’ll allow us, over the next 60 to 90 days, and we’ll come back to you with a deliverable that is, essentially, that business case model with its alternatives, and we’re going to hand it back to you,” Brayen said.

And apparently the locals are worried that there’s no such thing as free…

“I think you would have to appreciate why I would be skeptical that a global company, who makes their business, bread and butter, selling telecommunications equipment and services, would offer to do a free study for me,” said City Council President Randy Staver. “I can pretty much predict what the outcome of that study will be.”

The Internet industry company partners with about 30 government entities on broadband services, all operating in the black, according to Brayen. The audience received assurances, however, that Alcatel-Lucent would walk away, no strings attached — unless the prosperous city, home to the Mayo Clinic, decides to proceed.

I will admit that before I read any report, I like to see who funded it and who wrote it. Authorship matters. I’ve read more than a dozen feasibility studies – in depth. Here’s the thing: authorship matters but it doesn’t negate the research, legwork and expertise. Most (probably all) of the feasibility studies I read favored a movement for better broadband. When the business case was tough to make – the feasibility studies got creative.

When the author or funder (especially if it was a provider) was involved in the process that slanted the outcomes BUT it makes sense because having a partner who is ready, willing and able makes a huge difference.  An invested partner is a good partner. But even when it seems like there’s an obvious partner it doesn’t always come to fruition.  I’ve seen “other” companies get the contract to move forward. The value is really in the details as much as the conclusions.

Yes Alcatel-Lucent has motivation to say move forward – but they work with commercial providers as well as municipalities. The value they bring in a free feasibility study is that they know the range of possible answers, they can think creatively and they will help gather the details. It’s wise to understand their motivation and perspective and remember it when you read the report, but otherwise it seems like a good deal to me. It must have to Rochester too…

Alcatel-Lucent got the go-ahead to complete the broadband business plan over the next two to three months. But the exercise still leaves open to question the worth of a “free” study. After all, council members agreed any findings would need to be vetted by another study, commissioned and paid for by taxpayers.

Ben Franske is a professor of Information Technology and Security at Inver Hills Community College. MinnPost published a recent article from him that sounds like a strong endorsement for a government-owned Open Access Model for broadband…

We have also tried to spur network improvements by giving hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits and incentives to existing private telecommunications companies through the National Information Infrastructure program. This broken promise by incumbent carriers for ultra-high speed connections throughout the country years ago has still not been seen. Clearly waiting for the incumbent providers to do something on their own or even providing substantial incentives to motivate them is not working. There must be a better way.

A simple solution is to encourage municipalities to build out this so-called “last-mile” connection to individual homes and businesses by installing publicly owned fiber. This “dark fiber” would not necessarily have any service on it provided by the municipality. Instead, it would function as a “road” to one or more centralized publicly owned “meet-me” locations. At those locations you could have the fiber connected to a service provider of your choice, possibly even multiple service providers.

Because it is much more cost effective for private service providers to wire to a few central locations than to run cables to many individual homes and businesses, there is a lower barrier to entry. The effect of this would be to dramatically increase market competition in the space. If community members were interested they could create a nonprofit cooperative to compete and provide service as well.

This model addresses many of the concerns with municipal broadband — such as a lack of choice and poor customer service, or concerns about filtering, privacy and tracking — while retaining the true need and competitive advantage of offering very high-speed connections critical to future growth and prosperity. By separating the true infrastructure from the services that can ride on top of it we have, in effect, created something much more analogous to the road network that is provided publicly but utilized by many people and businesses in many different ways.

The article spurred plenty of comments. From folks who feel that there is no role for government…

“Those who are against it state that what we have now is working — that the market for broadband is flourishing and competitive in providing most Minnesotans with access — and sometimes question its importance.”

That’s not our argument. Our argument is that it’s not the role of government to be in the broadband business any more than it’s their role to be in the telephone business or the ice cream business. When a legitimate private sector exists with real players and investors in the marketplace, the role of the government is to butt out.

To folks who feel government should go whole hog…

Personally, if I were a municipality I would build an entire network and not just the last mile. A government owned system wouldn’t have to worry about price gouging, executive perks, or even making a basic profit margin. They just need enough to pay employee salaries, maintain the network, and a little cushion so the network can be upgraded periodically.

No corporate jets, no wood paneled offices, and no billion dollar golden parachute clauses to cover.

The whole thing can be paid for in part with municipal bonds, user fees, and LGA (Local Government Aid) from the state. Take all the money that would have been wasted on new highways around the state and the whole thing will be built and paid for in no time.

Check out MinnPost for move views. I always think it’s interesting to see what people have to say.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 20, 2015

Minnesota Broadband Industry Conference Notes: Feb 19

There was a full room at the Broadband Industry Conference today downtown St Paul. It was great to have different broadband factions in one room talking about policy and technology. There were reps from cable, wireless and telecom and there were policymakers, business owners and folks from local government.

I learned a lot about spectrum, FirstNet and DOCSIS 3.0 and what sort of help providers need to reach remote and high cost areas. And for better or for worse everyone seemed to agree that the job of pushing for better broadband would never be done. Someone called it a journey, not a destination.

We also heard from Senator Amy Klobuchar:

Get the full notes… Read More…

Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 19, 2015

MN Broadband Task Force Notes Feb 2015: Role of Government

This month the Minnesota Broadband Task Force met at MNSCU. They heard from several folks in goverment – from MNIT, County IT, libraries, schools and healthcare. A couple of themes emerged. First, Minnesota tends to like to leave decisions up to the most local authority. Public and private partnerhips will be necessary to meet continually expaning broadband needs – even if that partnership is really local government serving as anchor tenant to entice a private provider to come into an area.

Here are the full notes: Read More…

Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 18, 2015

MakerBot Academy – a 3D printer in every classroom

This isn’t really about broadband – but I had to share the opportunity from Tech Republic for teachers to get a 3D printer. Imagine what a kid could do!

MakerBot Academy is STEM initiative to put a MakerBot desktop 3D printer in every classroom in America. Any full-time teacher can register a campaign to get one through DonorsChoose.org, an online charity that helps educators crowdfund for things they need in their classrooms. Once the project reaches its goal, the purchase order is sent to MakerBot. Brooklyn Tech, pictured here, is a high school in NYC that used MakerBots to further their engineering curriculum.

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

Mediacom, Pintar Road. Awarded $137,848 to provide broadband services to 122 unserved homes and businesses on the southwest edge of the city limits of Hibbing. The full cost of this project is $275,697; the remaining $137,849 in matching funds (50 percent) will be provided by a private investment made by Mediacom.

Community and Economic Development Impact: Residents will be able to access the latest telemedicine innovations and will be able to telecommute. Existing commercial accounts that currently contract with Mediacom will be able to expand their telecommuting employee bases by leveraging the broadband services made available to their employees’ homes.

Entry costs for advanced services will be lowered for all businesses as a result of this project’s extension of service. It will also provide for future public-private partnerships with St. Louis County by leveraging the expanded fiber optic network.

Hibbing and the Iron Rage have been thinking about broadband – fiber specifically – for a long time. Back in 2008, Hibbing stepped out of the Iron Range FiberNet initiative that was looking at how to deploy fiber. Hibbing’s move may have been the end of that project. At least one vocal resident (Aaron Brown) has been telling us the story of life without broadband ever since. Commercial providers have entered (or sustained) the market. AT&T entered the wireless market in the area in 2013. Mediacom upgraded services in 2013. Northeast Service Coop has laid fiber in Hibbing in 2012. SO a lot has been happening with deployment.

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

On broadband (Connect MN final stats from 2014):

  • Household Density: 12.4
  • Number of Households: 84,783
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 62.86%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 80.18%

Census quick facts (from 2013):

  • Median value of owner-occupied housing units, 2009-2013:  $137,500
  • Per capita money income in past 12 months (2013 dollars), 2009-2013:  $45,517
  • Persons below poverty level, percent, 2009-2013:  16.4%
  • Private nonfarm establishments, 2012:  5,371
  • Private nonfarm employment, 2012:  84,561

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

  • Household Density: 8.7
  • Number of Households: 8,661
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 76.45%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 76.45%

Hubbard County has been vocal about their need for better broadband. In 2012, the Executive Director of Hubbard County Regional Economic Development Commission expressed concern saying, “Approximately 4,000 homes and businesses within the Park Rapids (MN) phone exchange currently are not served, and have to rely on satellite or dial up service. These options are unacceptable.” They had been working with Paul Bunyan Communications to expand broadband to those areas but efforts were thwarted when the FCC reformed Universal Service Funds, making the business case more difficult for the provider. Fast forward three years and it looks like good news may be on the way – Park Rapids and other parts of Hubbard County are on the short list to become GigaZones through Paul Bunyan as early as March 2015. Great news for the area!

And maybe this is a promising story for other communities that are dealing with dialup and satellite services.

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…

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

Interstate Telecommunications Cooperative (ITC), Hendricks Town FTTP. Awarded $700,000 to bring the town of Hendricks in Lincoln County service that surpasses state speed goals. Underserved customers that would benefit include 377 households and farms, 57 businesses, three home-based businesses and eight community anchor institutions. The full project cost is $1.87 million; the remaining $1.17 million (63 percent) match will be provided by a private investment made by ITC.

Community and Economic Development Impact: The Hendricks Town FTTP Project will promote rural economic development by providing access to state-of-the-art broadband services to 100 percent of the households and businesses in the funded service area. It will expand the educational, economic and health care opportunities for the community. It will also address public safety concerns in the area by delivering highly desirable broadband services to community anchor institutions and wireless towers in the area. The proposed network has the ability to provide broadband data speeds of 1 Gbps or more in the future. ITC and city leaders believe that sustainable broadband adoption will transform this underserved, low- income area into a highly productive community.

With 40 percent broadband coverage, Lincoln County can certainly use the support and Connect Minnesota maps indicate that Lincoln has been hovering around that mark since 2011; the definition of broadband used for the maps in 2011 was slower – but percentage-wise the county remains drastically underserved. Yet I know there has been interest in improvements. A year ago, MVTV voiced an interest in serving Lincoln County with wireless services. (I’m not sure if the plan was to include Hendricks.) Mediacom upgraded services in three communities (Ivanhoe, Lake Benton and Tyler) in Lincoln in 2013; Hendricks did not make that shortlist. It would be nice to see the OBD funded project spur expansion from Mediacom and MVTV wireless too.

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

On broadband (Connect MN final stats from 2014):

  • Household Density: 4.7
  • Number of Households: 2,574
  • Percentage serviced (without mobile): 40.90%
  • Percentage serviced (with mobile): 40.90%

Census quick facts (from 2013):

  • Median value of owner-occupied housing units, 2009-2013:  $86,100
  • Per capita money income in past 12 months (2013 dollars), 2009-2013:  $26,767
  • Persons below poverty level, percent, 2009-2013:  8.7%
  • Private nonfarm establishments, 2012:  209
  • Private nonfarm employment, 2012:  1,598

I thought folks might have some good ideas…

The Knight News Challenge: Elections will open for applications on Feb. 25 asking people to submit ideas that address the question: How might we better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections?

Winners will receive a share of more than $3 million from the challenge, a collaboration between Knight, the Democracy Fund, Hewlett Foundation and Rita Allen Foundation. We are interested in ideas from anyone including: civic technologists, local election officials, academics, students, startups, and nonprofits, as well as governments and individuals.

Applications will be accepted from Feb. 25 – March 19 on newschallenge.org. For more information take a look at this blog post. Follow #newschallenge on Twitter for updates and please spread the word through your networks.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 16, 2015

Government apps developed through access to open data

A couple of weeks ago someone asked me about government use of broadband. I’ve written in the past about some uses such as traffic control – especially in Dakota County. While I think that’s a great use of broadband, it’s not low hanging fruit; it requires a lot of investment, coordination and broadband. I wanted to come up with a list of applications that were easier to develop, deploy and frankly understand. I asked some friends at Smart Chicago, the Midwest hub for Code for America. They got me started and then I branched out to find more apps that might appeal to rural communities and local governments.

My secondary purpose is to create a list of potential projects for rural hack fests – maybe build a local appetite for holding rural hack fest (like the Red Hot Hack in Red Wing in March) and promote greater civic engagement.

app - flu shots

ChicagoFluShots.org – an interactive map of places to get flu shots, including hours open and noting free locations. If you allow the app to track your location, it will send you to the closest place to get your shot. The map application is hosted by the Smart Chicago Collaborative. The code behind this web application is free, open, and under a MIT License. If you can get info on flu shot locations in your town, you could replicate this map!

app - mrelief

mRelief – helps you check your eligibility for benefits in Chicago and Illinois. You answer a series of questions – it tells if you are a likely candidate for benefits. It is available in Spanish and via text messaging. The app was developed by an all-women team of developers and started at a hack fest type event. It’s an example of how developers can solve problems by talking to the frontlines. A description of the benefit of mRelief from their press release, “Before mRelief was integrated into the workflow of caseworkers at the King Center, Chicagoans were not preliminarily screened for benefits eligibility when seeking social services. mRelief’s questionnaire accounts for the requirements of several government benefits, including Medicaid and SNAP Benefits, so that staff can assist residents in need in a matter of minutes. Now applicants can rely on this quick pre-screen tool before taking valuable time to complete detailed application forms, gathering identifying documents, and waiting at the appropriate office for an interview.

app - mybuildingdoesntrecycle

MyBuildingDoesntRecycle – a website where you can report your landlord if the building doesn’t recycle. This is a nice example of an app making it easier for citizens to engage by telling them the law (in Chicago you must recycle if you have 5 or more residential units in one location) and providing a relatively easy way to report infractions. Part of the problem in Chicago is that the law isn’t enforced. This site helps report specific examples and provides information in aggregate so that policymakers and others can see magnitude of the problem. Again, this app was developed at a civic coding event and the code is available to others. Recycle may or may not be a big issue in some communities – but you could replace shoveling or mowing in place of recycling.

app - communitykc

CommunityKC – is another interactive map (you can see the similarity to other maps listed here) that shows community activities and projects tracked by location and type of project. The idea being that like projects in a community could collaborative and/or learn from each other. I could see this be a tool on a county-wide or regional scope in rural area both to encourage collaboration but also to reduce redundancies and fill gaps. The project was developed by volunteer software coders and web developers of the Kansas City Code for America Brigade. The Brigade meets every week to create digital apps that use public data fill a community need.

app - school bus

Where’s My School Bus – is a location information app allowing parents to track their child’s bus in real time. A student’s bus is displayed on a detailed map, showing both its recent and current location. This app is currently running in Boston, but the coding and infrastructure are available through the Code for America site. In fact there are a range of apps available and ready to be deployed locally on the Code for America site.

app - public art

Public Art Finder – helps users find public art through a mobile, map-based UI allowing them to view additional background information on individual artworks. Again, this comes from the Code for America site. It is my favorite app so far. It’s been deployed by a handful of big cities. I would love to see it developed on a county or statewide scope. I would be all over helping to make that happen in Minnesota!

Posted by: Ann Treacy | February 16, 2015

Memex: like Google search but better

Did you know that popular search engines only track about five percent of the content on the web? DARPA (the federal agency that developed the Internet) has apparently developed a search engine for the other 95 percent. According to InfoWorld

Dan Kaufman, director of the information innovation office at DARPA, says Memex is all about making the unseen seen. “The Internet is much, much bigger than people think,” DARPA program manager Chris White told “60 Minutes.” “By some estimates Google, Microsoft Bing, and Yahoo only give us access to around 5 percent of the content on the Web.”

Google and Bing produce results based on popularity and ranking, but Memex searches content typically ignored by commercial search engines, such as unstructured data, unlinked content, temporary pages that are removed before commercial search engines can crawl them, and chat forums. Regular search engines ignore this deep Web data because Web advertisers — where browser companies make their money — have no interest in it.

Memex also automates the mechanism of crawling the dark, or anonymous, Web where criminals conduct business. These hidden services pages, accessible only through the TOR anonymizing browser, typically operate under the radar of law enforcement selling illicit drugs and other contraband. Where it was once thought that dark Web activity consisted of 1,000 or so pages, White told Scientific American that there could be between 30,000 and 40,000 dark Web pages.

As a librarian, I find this fascinating. It opens up so many research and ready reference doors. But is also means that we all really are producers as well as consumer of information – whether intentional and now the info we leave can be as valuable as the info we get…

In a demo for “60 Minutes,” White showed how Memex is able to track the movement of traffickers based on data related to online advertisements for sex. “Sometimes it’s a function of IP address, but sometimes it’s a function of a phone number or address in the ad or the geolocation of a device that posted the ad,” White said. “There are sometimes other artifacts that contribute to location.”

White emphasized that Memex does not resort to hacking in order to retrieve information. “If something is password protected, it is not public content and Memex does not search it,” he told Scientific American. “We didn’t want to cloud this work unnecessarily by dragging in the specter of snooping and surveillance” — a touchy subject after Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations.

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