The Better Government Competition is looking for good ideas. The deadline is April 16 – so plenty of time for taxes and ideas this week. The theme is Leveraging Technology to Transform the Public Sector.

Here’s the official description…

Each year the Competition focuses on one of the country’s biggest challenges.  The 2014 competition seeks technological solutions to create greater efficiency, transparency, cost-effectiveness, and higher quality service in the public sector.  The Institute seeks creative ideas and approaches utilizing technology, information systems, and telecommunications to reduce the size of government and make it more affordable, accessible, efficient, and less susceptible to fraud, waste, and abuse. Importantly, we seek ideas that are protective of individual rights. Download the contest guidelines here!

The application looks pretty short and sweet. From perusing the application notes – this looks to be the gist of it…

Submit an idea paper of five or fewer pages describing the problem you’re addressing and your solution. The “idea” can be a new concept or a recently implemented program that shows promising results. We do not expect great detail in the initial submission, but be sure to touch briefly on the following elements:

• A description, with relevant background, of the problem to be addressed.

• An explanation of the proposed solution and how it would change current practice. If appropriate, cite examples of similar approaches in place. If possible, discuss the costs and benefits of your approach compared to current practice; potential obstacles to implementation; and the potential for replication in Massachusetts. Please note: We do not consider legal obstacles or the need for new legislation barriers to entry.

The contest is Massachusetts-based but it appears to be open to everyone.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | April 12, 2014

Telework Handbook from Fergus Falls: Great Resource

fergus falls teleworkFergus Falls is the “self-proclaimed Telework Capitol of Minnesota.” I’ve written about them before. I think their approach is great. What they call “self-proclaimed,” I’d call setting a goal and meeting it. They put a stake in the ground and said, we’re going to be leaders in telework and then they made it happen. Last year the received national recognition as a Smart Rural Community, in part due to their work with telework.

The recently published a handbook/case study on the work they’ve done in their community. Here’s the table of contents:

  • What is Telework? …………………………………………………………………….4
  • Why Worry About telework? Why now? ………………………………….5
  • The Fergus Falls Telework Journey Begins ……………………………….8
  • The Telework Hotel – a Place to Get’r Done …………………………….11
  • Telework Marketing and Support ……………………………………………..18
  • Finding a Telework Job ………………………………………………………………28
  • Identifying Your Local Talent …………………………………………………….31
  • Hiring Teleworkers – the Business Side ……………………………………36
  • Finding Workers or Jobs ……………………………………………………………38
  • Outcomes ………………………………………………………………………………….39
  • Keep Telework in Perspective …………………………………………………..42
  • Looking Ahead …………………………………………………………………………..42

It’s a nice example of public-private partnership. Community leaders formed a group called Forward Fergus Falls and worked closely with the local broadband provider Park Region Telephone/Otter Tail Telcom to plan for the future. They worked within the community to create the infrastructure and demand for telework. They created their Telework Hotel and brought broadband to home businesses. They also spoke to businesses, employees and potential entrepreneurs in the area about the benefits of telework. Then they spoke with people outside the area about the great workers and infrastructure back in Fergus Falls – promoting their own as just the sort of folks you’d want to hire. My favorite story is how they work with the State to add “online” as a job location – making it easier for employers to promote telework jobs.

It’s all in the handbook, which would be inspirational and instructive for any community thinking about a similar journey.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | April 11, 2014

BCBP Webinar 700 MHz in Rural Minnesota: Archive

I’m pleased to post the archive from yesterday’s webinar…

“Making 700 MHz Wireless Work in Rural Minnesota.”

Kevin Larson, general manager of Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC) in Brainerd, will provide an overview of the potential of 700 MHz wireless Internet for rural Minnesota. Because 700 MHz is located in the sweet spot of the wireless spectrum, combining power with bandwidth, it is viewed as an excellent choice for rural wireless deployment. As a licensed frequency, interference is kept to a minimum. As the owner of the 700 MHz spectrum across a swath of central Minnesota, CTC is making plans to deploy this technology and has filed an Expression of Interest for the prospective FCC rural broadband funding.

Join us for this informative webinar that will provide an overview of this critical wireless technology and CTC’s hopes and plans for deployment. Learn about the advantages of the technology and the barriers to deployment. Find out who owns this important spectrum in your area and what community leaders might do to encourage deployment across rural Minnesota.

Kevin was joined by Tamra Johnson from Dryad Communications.

You can also see Kevin’s and Tamra’s presentations.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | April 11, 2014

Fantastic tool that creates a roadmap for digital literacy

Thanks to John Hamerlinck at Minnesota Campus Compact for sending me a fantastic digital (well web) literacy tool. It’s a point and click chart of digital literacy tasks that breaks tech skills down into easier prerequisite skills. So you can find out what skills are necessary to have before you attempt to insert a hyperlink into a website. Or conversely, once you learn how to insert a hyperlink, you can find out what some logical next skills to learn might be. It can be used by teacher or learner track progress up a ladder of increasing sophisticated web use.

It starts with web browsing and focuses on becoming a web user and content creator – so it’s not much help in terms of learning to use a spreadsheet, but the content is good and the format is very elegant. It would make a good template for other avenues of digital literacy.

web literacy pathway

Kyle Ackerman, owner of Xtratyme Technologies, had a letter in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about his disinterest in government intervention to finance broadband in rural areas…

I own a central Minnesota broadband company and have been a leading pioneer in my industry for more than 15 years. I have several issues with these discussions.

Most of Minnesota is not underserved. For example, in Sibley County, people profess to not have viable broadband options. There are at least six different private-sector businesses currently offering good broadband services to this area. ConnectMN.org can confirm this. My company will be No. 7.

Internet access (for most areas) does not need to be funded by the government. The government has no place in this discussion other than to encourage the private sector to invest in areas that need more choices. Yes, it can be a catalyst — but it does not need to be a capital investor. The private sector can and should do the funding for broadband deployments.

Broadband deployment is a perfect example of capitalism at its best. Small companies like mine can quickly provide access with little or no government restriction. We can do this anywhere in the United States, and we have provided access to many underserved areas already with relative ease.

Here is the list of providers he mentions from Connect Minnesota

AT&T Mobility LLC

Broadband Provider 61470

Services: PLATFORM TYPE: Mobile Wireless — DBA: AT&T Mobility LLC — MAXIMUM DOWNLOAD SPEED: 10 Mbps – 24.99 Mbps MAXIMUM UPLOAD SPEED: 3 Mbps – 5.99 Mbps

Blueprint America, Inc.

Broadband Provider 61471

Services: PLATFORM TYPE: Fixed Wireless — DBA: Xtratyme Technologies, Inc. — MAXIMUM DOWNLOAD SPEED: 10 Mbps – 24.99 Mbps MAXIMUM UPLOAD SPEED: 10 Mbps – 24.99 Mbps

Broadband Corp

Broadband Provider 61472

Services: PLATFORM TYPE: Fixed Wireless — DBA: Broadband Corp — MAXIMUM DOWNLOAD SPEED: 10 Mbps – 24.99 Mbps MAXIMUM UPLOAD SPEED: 768 Kbps – 1.49 Mbps

Cellco Partnership and its Affiliated Entities

Broadband Provider 61473

Services: PLATFORM TYPE: Mobile Wireless — DBA: Verizon Wireless — MAXIMUM DOWNLOAD SPEED: 10 Mbps – 24.99 Mbps MAXIMUM UPLOAD SPEED: 3 Mbps – 5.99 Mbps

CenturyTel, Inc.

Broadband Provider 61474

Services: PLATFORM TYPE: DSL — DBA: CenturyLink — MAXIMUM DOWNLOAD SPEED: 10 Mbps – 24.99 Mbps MAXIMUM UPLOAD SPEED: 1.5 Mbps – 2.99 Mbps

Frontier Communications of Minnesota, Inc.

Broadband Provider 61475

Services: PLATFORM TYPE: DSL — DBA: Frontier Communications of Minnesota, Inc. — MAXIMUM DOWNLOAD SPEED: 25 Mbps – 49.99 Mbps MAXIMUM UPLOAD SPEED: 3 Mbps – 5.99 Mbps

I’m including their map of Sibley County too – the orange areas are underserved; the pink areas are served with speeds of 10 Mbps down and 6 Mbps up (or faster).

sibley county broadband

Posted by: Ann Treacy | April 9, 2014

Fergus Falls elected officials support broadband bill

In a recent article, the Fergus Falls Journal quotes two local politicians (State Rep. Bud Nornes and Mayor Hal Leland) on their approval for the Minnesota Broadband Development Fund bill…

The Minnesota House on Thursday approved a budget plan that would spend $322 million of the state’s surplus. Included in the plan is $25 million going toward upgrading broadband access throughout the state.
The bill would help local Internet providers build high-speed broadband infrastructure. The proposal up for debate at the state Legislature started out at $100 million, but was cut down because it didn’t fit into the budget, according to State Rep. Bud Nornes.
“I would have loved to be able to vote on that as a standalone bill,” Nornes said. “It’s primarily targeted at our part of the state. I think as it goes through the rest of this process, I’m confident the Senate will have at least that much in their bill.”
The state money would only be part of the cost toward upgrading broadband, according to Nornes. Local providers would still need to make investments on their own, however; the state funds would work like matching grants, Nornes said.
“They all have plans to improve their service area,” he said of local providers. “This would just enable them to get that done faster.”

And…

Fergus Falls Mayor Hal Leland agrees, saying broadband is “absolutely critical” for any economic development or business in the area.
“It’s something that just has to take place if we’re going to have a state that overall is viable economically,” Leland said.

Like many rural areas, the town is well-served; the areas outside town are not…

But while the city is well served, the rural residents are not. At least 40 percent of the state has no availability to broadband Internet, Leland said. He supports the initiative at the legislative level to bring broadband to greater Minnesota, as long as they address the problem the right way — just enhancing what’s there won’t cut it, he said.
“We’re not eager to see other services that already exist be enhanced,” Leland said.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | April 9, 2014

79% Minnesota households use broadband

Connect Minnesota just released information on their latest residential survey. There’s a one percent increase in broadband adoption since 2012 – but it is harder to reach the people at the farthest edge of the digital divide. It’s nice to see some progress. It does seem that low-income and elderly households remain on that far end of the divide.

Residential Broadband Adoption up by 7 Percentage Points Since 2010

For Immediate Release

April 9, 2014

More than three out of four non-subscribers believe that home access could positively impact their quality of life

ST. Paul, MN – Connect Minnesota today released new data showing that broadband adoption in Minnesota is increasing, with 79% of households now subscribing to broadband service, up from 72% in 2010.* In addition to this growth in home broadband adoption, mobile broadband usage increased by 30 percentage points over the same period.

“We continue to see positive trends in both broadband access and adoption in Minnesota,” said William Hoffman, Connect Minnesota’s program manager. “As more of our educational opportunities, healthcare services, and economy move online, every Minnesota household will need to be connected.”

The data are available via an interactive widget on the Connect Minnesota website.

Among the key findings of the residential survey are:

  • More than 108,000 school-age children in Minnesota do not have broadband access at home.
  • More than 1.1 million working-age adults in Minnesota would need assistance with tasks that are often required by employers, such as creating a spreadsheet, going online from a mobile device, using a word processor, or sending an e-mail.
  • More than three out of four non-adopters in Minnesota say that it would be easier for them to shop, seek out healthcare information, or interact with government offices if they had Internet access at home.
  • Statewide, more than 441,000 households still do not subscribe to home broadband service. For many of these households, the main barrier to home broadband adoption is the belief that broadband is not relevant or beneficial to them.
  • Mobile broadband usage has also grown in Minnesota. More than one-half of Minnesota adults (56%) use mobile broadband service, up from 26% in 2010 when Connect Minnesota began measuring this trend.

This survey is conducted in support of Connect Minnesota’s efforts to close Minnesota’s digital gap and explores the barriers to adoption, rates of broadband adoption among various demographics, and the types of activities broadband subscribers conduct online, among other issues.

While the results show adoption is increasing, there are 441,000 households who do not subscribe to the empowering technology of high-speed Internet. Additionally, as highlighted above, more than 108,000 school-age children in Minnesota do not have broadband access at home To address this digital divide, Connect Minnesota offers the Every Community Online program where it offers free digital literacy training and low-cost computers and Internet access.

Connect Minnesota’s 2013 Residential Technology Assessment was conducted in late 2013 and includes responses from 1,218 residents. The survey was conducted as part of the State Broadband Initiative (SBI) grant program, funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and by the American Recovery and Reinvestment of 2009.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | April 8, 2014

Gamification of Civic Engagement via Technology

Gamification has come up in conversation half a dozen times in the last month – in short it’s using game theory (or not even theory just the idea of a game) to encourage increased participation – maybe in school or in this case with use of apps developed to facilitate citizen engagement. For me it’s come up in the world of hackfests – lots of developers are interested in the idea. It makes sense, almost by definition these hack attendees are techies who are interested in getting more involved in the community. So they’d love to get others involved in the community. For many of them gaming is fun pastime. So gamifying civic engagement is a perfect solution. And I’m not here to say it isn’t. I’m here to spread the word – and David Asp sent me a great article from GCN with some tips on building better civic apps…

Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics together with researchers with Emerson College’s Engagement Game Lab recently released a “lessons learned” booklet for developing and deploying innovative tools for engaging citizens. After many years of collaboration, the partners wanted to document their projects and processes to help other cities build on what they had learned.

The Design Action Research with Government: A Guidebook calls for collaboration between academic researchers and government offices, citizen-centered and research-based approaches well as a process that includes both research and iterative design and code.

One example…

One tool DARG is working on is StreetCred. It is based on Citizens Connect (CC), which was originally designed as a 311 app to help residents report graffiti or potholes directly to the right person at City Hall. However, in a survey of CC users, Boston found that, while CC had social features, people weren’t using them; 38 percent of users had never used the app to look at other reports; 41 percent reported they used CC “a minority of the time” and people reported items close to their home.

So when the city designed Street Cred, it incorporated gamification features such as allowing citizens to earn badges, compete with neighbors and share civic accomplishments. It also integrated Foursquare, Instagram, SMS and email to leverage existing mobile social sharing.  A new version is due out this spring

I just like to seed the boards with people who are interested in and understand the role that ubiquitous broadband should have on any effort to increase services online . So I’m sharing information on state boards that I think/hope might be of interest to some readers. Good luck – and please help folks who move services online understand that the unfunded mandates inherent in that move is infrastructure and access to computers. So helping to support broadband providers, libraries and other public access to computers and digital literacy should be part of the plan!

E-GOVERNMENT ADVISORY COUNCIL
Vacancies: One (1) State Agency Representative for a term ending January 5, 2015.

MINNESOTA e-HEALTH ADVISORY COMMITTEE
Vacancies: Six (6) Seats
- One Local Public Health Representative
- One Community Clinics/Federally Qualified Health Centers Representative
- One Laboratories Representative
- One Pharmacists Representative
- One Health System Chief Information Officers Representative
- One Professional with Expert Knowledge in Health Information Technology

Please note:  Each applicant should have interest and expertise in health information technology. The applicant must be able to: 1) bring the perspective of the particular seat to Committee discussions and decisions; 2) keep the statewide interests of e-Health foremost in their decisions and votes; 3) review meeting materials ahead of time and be prepared to contribute clear and focused ideas for committee discussion; 4) attend meetings (or send an alternate) and participate in conference calls, alerting staff and the chairs ahead of time to any scheduled absence.

STATE INNOVATION MODEL (SIM) COMMUNITY ADVISORY TASK FORCE
Vacancies: One (1) Specialty Care Provider Representative

HOW TO APPLY

Submit an Application
Complete the application form.

Applicants should include the following documents:
• Open Appointments Application Form (completed, signed and dated)
• Letter of Interest
• Resume or Biography

Applications may be submitted online, by email to Open.Appointments@state.mn.us, or by mail or in person to:

Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State
180 State Office Building
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
St Paul, MN  55155-1299

Posted by: Ann Treacy | April 6, 2014

Annandale need better broadband

The Institute for Local Self Reliance is gathering videos on broadband in rural Minnesota. They recently posted a video from Annandale on the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

In the video, City Administrator Cindy Hinnenkamp talks about like without better broadband…

Hinnenkamp describes broadband in the areas outside of Annadale as “horrific.” She goes on to discuss how the community’s poor connectivity negatively impacts its economic health. She shares a story about entrepreneurs from an artisan spice business once located in Annandale. The company started with online sales but the owners anticipated opening a storefront in the downtown area of the lake community. After contending with eight outages in three weeks, the new business pulled up stakes and moved to Buffalo.

It’s a story I heard repeated this week at the East Central Broadband Conference. Businesses are moving because of broadband. They are relocating from areas without adequate broadband. They are choosing areas with better broadband. People want lakes, woods, arts, cross country skiing (well maybe not in mid April!) but people need broadband if they are going to work, study and live a convenient life to which they have become accustomed.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | April 5, 2014

Are you an educator with a broadband story to share?

The Greater Minnesota Partnership is looking for stories from Minnesota educators who recognize the importance of broadband. If you are an educator, such as a K12 teacher or principal, with a story to share – please let me know through the comment below. They are looking for stories of success and stories of need. If you have a great project or story you’d like to share or if your students cannot get access or speeds needed for education, at school and/or at home, please let us know.

Participation in today’s webinar demonstrates that momentum is getting stronger for the Minnesota Broadband Development Fund in the legislature. It has support on both sides of the aisle. It has support from rural and urban areas; as demonstrated by a recent letter of support. What it needs now is for legislators to recognize that this is an issue that’s important to their constituents. If it’s important to you, now is the time to let your legislators and the governor know. (I’ll include some tips on how to do that below.) The webinar was informative and inspiring, featuring presenters and attendees who are very involved with broadband, economic development and policymaking. Lots of good questions and good insights. You can see the full webinar and presentation below…

Bird’s Eye View

The Minnesota Legislature is looking at a bill for $100 million for broadband development to help Minnesota reach the broadband goal of border to border broadband at speeds of at least 10-20 Mbps downstream and 5-10 Mbps up.

Details Matter

I wrote a post earlier outlining some of the details of the proposed bill. That was last week and changes have occurred since then but the big details remain the same:

  • Amount appropriated: the House is currently looking at $25 million; the original proposal was for $100 million
  • Definition of unserved. Priority will be given to unserved. There are two potential definitions of unserved (4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps up OR 10-20 Mbps downstream and 5-10 Mbps up)
  • Community characteristics. Priority may be given to communities with anchor institutions and/or communities that are economically distressed and/or where the greatest number of people can get upgraded and/or where additional funding can be leveraged.

How you feel about these details may depend on your interest and community.

Who to Contact

Thanks to the Presenters

Senator Matt Schmit, Dan Dorman from Greater Minnesota Partnership and Laura Zeigler from Minnesota League of Cities. (Laura maintains a site and Twitter account to help you keep up on the issue; Dan has a handout on the topic.)

Posted by: Ann Treacy | April 4, 2014

East Central MN Broadband Conference: Full Notes and Video

Yesterday, despite April snow showers, a good crowd gathered in Hinckley to talk about broadband. It was the second annual East Central Broadband conference – and for the second time I was very impressed. I think the idea of a regional broadband conference is very smart. It’s an opportunity for regional neighbors to learn from each other, to applaud one another and to find ways to collaborate. They talk about how to work with providers to get unserved areas covered. The message was clear – these folks want to work with providers, they don’t want to become providers.

It was interesting to learn from Kevin Larson, a local broadband provider. He explained his $49 million investment in telecommunications in the area, his desire to do more and the roadblocks. The Behemoth is funding. If funding was available, he could deploy. He explained that they have access to spectrum for wireless, but right now the equipment to manage it is too expensive to make a business case to purchase. So they are testing new, lower cost equipment. Once it’s tested and true, they can deploy – and it’s a good sign that equipment is coming down in price – but it takes time to test.

They also talk about how to boost adoption. In this pretty rural part of the state, kids can spend hours on school buses so the wifi on the bus (aka rolling classroom) is a big hit. It’s an even bigger hit for students without access to broadband at home. Businesses are learning to take advantage of broadband too. There are local community portals and business training to help boost use. One line I loved came from Cloquet Valley, where they are adopting as fast as they can deploy.

I was able to capture much of the day in video – presentations and report outs from peer discussions on topics of interest.

Welcome and introductions from Bernadine Joselyn from Blandin Foundation

  Read More…

Posted by: Ann Treacy | April 3, 2014

What’s it like to live with slow Internet access?

Listening to a legislative session the other day, I heard a few legislators ask about what a person can do with different broadband speeds. Can I do e-learning on DSL? Can I upload a video on satellite? So I was delighted to hear Stacey Stockdil (at the East Central MN Broadband Conference – full notes later) about her life with a DSL connection that clock in at 4 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps up (4/1). She has been logging how long it takes to do various tasks online.

Listening to her I am reminded that there’s a difference between broadband and Internet access, which I think was also an underlying question in the legislative session. A legislator had asked if there were areas where there was no broadband or the Internet. Really anyone with a phone can access the Internet – at dialup speeds but that’s so slow we don’t really count it anymore. It might require a long distance phone call. Access to broadband is different because there’s not one official definition of broadband. The State defined their broadband goal at 10-20 Mbps down and 5-10 Mbps up. A federal definition, however, tracks broadband at 4/1.

It’s a geeky distinction, but essential difference as we look at state and federal funding to reach unserved areas. I hope it helps to hear about life at 4/1…

Yesterday I went to the EduTEch conference at St Thomas University. I took pretty Complete notes, which I’ll post below. From a broadband perspective it was interesting to hear about education technology as a growing industry in Minnesota and to hear about the role of technology in effective pedagogy.

The day included a showcase of local emerging technology companies that support education – such as KidtoPro, which develops software tools for charter schools that facilitates experiential tech learning and Zivix, which has a modified guitar that connects with your iPad as a guitar teaching tool. (Remember that for your Christmas list next year!) I have videos of the showcase presentations.

It’s exciting to think that education technology is becoming a local industry cluster. It’s an industry that’s clean, well-paying and can be done anywhere – well anywhere with broadband.

Much of the day was spent talking about the impact of technology on education. We took a look at how little the classroom has changed over time and evaluation seems to have changed even less. Someone mentioned that the idea of knowing something has become obsolete as we can now look up ready reference questions on Google – but students need to learn how to learn, how to work collaboratively and how to be entrepreneurial. We heard from seventh grade students who are going to a school (Venture Academy) that focuses on peer-directed, now-focused, performance-oriented education. It’s made a difference for each student and technology plays a role. The school uses a flipped classroom approach and students are encouraged to pursue self-directed study, which is much easier with access to technology.

I was very impressed with the school – what caught my attention (as a parent) was their Maker Shop. Kids have access to maker tools – from traditional shop tools, to a 3D printer, to Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Kids are encouraged to invent and innovate in school. The school us currently 6th and 7th grade and plans to add a year as the students age. I have a 4th grader; I’ll be revisiting Venture Academy next year!

Notes from the conference…

Read More…

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