Thanks to Danna MacKenzie for presenting and for so many good questions from attendees on the Border to Border Infrastructure Grant Program. The big theme – get ready, this is a great opportunity.

Here’s the archive:

And the PPT:

It would be nice to see some Minnesota communities get recognized…

ICF opens nominations, announces theme for the 2015 Intelligent Community of the Year Awards Program2015 theme is the “Revolutionary Community” and enhanced role of urban and regional planning for cities, towns and villages

New York, NY – July 10, 2014 – The Intelligent Community Forum announces the opening of nominations for the 2015 Intelligent Community of the Year Awards Program. The 2015 Awards Program run by the New York-based think tank will name the 17th Intelligent Community of the Year, a community that is a global leader in creating wealth and jobs by seizing the opportunities of information and communications technology (ICT). The 2014 recipient was Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  Communities large and small, urban and rural, in developing and industrialized nations are all invited to apply. Nominations are accepted from local governments, institutions, companies, non-profit organizations, national government agencies and consular offices. There is no cost to submit a nomination. On average, the Intelligent Community Forum tracks the progress of 400 communities each year through its own research as well as nominations submitted by communities.  The nominations form is posted at There is also a community self-test to determine if a community could be a contender for an award. Nominations will close on Monday, Sept. 22, 2014. The 2015 Theme: The Revolutionary Community In 2015, the Intelligent Community Forum will focus on the study of urban and regional planning and how it is impacting the way people live, work and create in their cities and towns. The work of creating an Intelligent Community often begins in crisis. It may be a severe economic downturn after major employers relocate. It may be accelerating brain drain as the community’s most talented people leave in search of opportunity. Or it may be more subtle – a dawning awareness that the community faces profound risks to its future.   In response to crisis, Intelligent Communities hold public consultations, launch programs and build infrastructure that they hope will create a new foundation for prosperity and wellbeing.   But once the crisis is past, how do Intelligent Communities maintain their momentum and avoid being caught unprepared by the next wave of change? They engage in urban and regional planning – a deliberate, strategic and collaborative effort to design a prosperous, inclusive and sustainable future for their people.    But this is planning with a difference. They know that today’s disruptions in technology, the economy and the environment will only grow more intense. They understand the profound impact that the “Broadband Economy” will have on their physical form, the delivery of services and their competitive advantages. So they approach the planning of land-use and infrastructure, sustainability and community development in revolutionary ways. Creativity is added to the mix in ways never before imagined.  In the process, they reinvent what it means to plan. More information will become available in a white paper, The Revolutionary Community, to be published on the Nominations page at “Urban planning has to adapt to the same forces that are transforming cities, towns and regions,” said Intelligent Community Forum co-founder John G. Jung, an urban design expert.  “The risk for planners today is that, if they only pay attention to the physical form of the city or region without taking its virtual form into account, they will increasingly be out of step with the needs of the places for which they are planning.”   Criteria for Becoming an Intelligent Community Evaluation of nominations is based on the ICF’s five Intelligent Community Indicators, which provide the conceptual framework for understanding all of the factors that determine a community’s competitiveness and point to its success in the broadband economy.  This year, the Intelligent Community Forum is piloting the addition of a sixth Indicator focusing on environmental sustainability. In addition to the Community Indicators, this year’s Intelligent Community Awards are guided by the 2015 theme. Stages of the Program The Awards program is a 12-month, three-stage process:

  • First Stage: The Smart21 – After review of nominations received from cities and regions worldwide by an international academic team, the Intelligent Community Forum will announce the Smart21 Communities of the Year on Oct. 21, 2014. The announcement will be made at Walsh University in Ohio, USA, home to the Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community.
  • Second Stage: The Top7 –The Intelligent Community Forum invites the Smart21 to complete a detailed questionnaire, which is evaluated by an independent research firm. The seven highest-scoring cities or regions are then named as the Top7 Intelligent Communities of the Year. The Top7 will be announced on Jan. 22, 2015 in Taichung City, Taiwan, the 2013 Intelligent Community of the Year. The Top7 become the focus of intense interest around the world among governments, institutions, technology companies, the international media and the citizens of each of the seven communities.
  • Third Stage: The Intelligent Community of the Year – The Intelligent Community Forum co-founders make two-day site visits to each of the Top7 communities and write reports, which are reviewed by an international jury of thought leaders. Their votes are combined with the analysis of the independent research company to select the Intelligent Community of the Year.  Finally, during Intelligent Community Forum’s annual Summit in June 2015 in New York City one of the Top7 will be named the Intelligent Community of the Year.

About the Intelligent Community Forum The Intelligent Community Forum studies and promotes the best practices of the world’s Intelligent Communities as they adapt to the demands and seize the opportunities presented by information and communications technology (ICT). To help communities build prosperous economies, solve social problems and enrich local cultures, the Intelligent Community Forum conducts research, hosts events, publishes and produces its high-profile international awards program. Over more than a decade, the Intelligent Community Forum has become an international movement that attracts the attention of global leaders, thinkers, and media observers. The Intelligent Community Foundation consists of 126 cities and regions that have been designated as Intelligent Communities and which participate in an ongoing global dialogue to strengthen local economies. The Intelligent Community Forum recently announced publication of its third book, Brain Gain.  For more information, go to

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 9, 2014

Broadband brings baseball hall of fame to Kanabec County

kbi baseballThis looks like a very fun event! I wanted to share the invitation for folks who might be interested but also to spur ideas in other communities. It’s a great way to use technology to start conversations…

Many of you have heard about the interactive video events (sometimes called video field trips) that our area schools have been involved with for many years (through services provided by our technology cooperative, ECMECC). You also may have heard about the KBI project that has installed multimedia equipment and high-speed Internet capabilities in Mora’s Life Enrichment Center – a community facility that is part of the Eastwood senior living complex in Mora. Through this Blandin Foundation funded project, we have done two live video events from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Now, with the Major League Baseball All-Star game here in Minnesota, we thought we would focus an activity on Baseball. So….

Monday, July 14th at 4:00pm, we will be hosting a LIVE (and FREE) event coming to Mora from the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in Cooperstown New York. The focus of the event will be “Civil Rights: Before You Could Say Jackie Robinson”. See the attached flyer for more information about the program. The LEC is located at 160 Valhalla Circle, Mora, MN 55051

This would be not only a very entertaining and educational event, but one that would allow you to see how such an event works and why it is important to provide such opportunities for interactive learning to our schools and communities.

To make this event even better, there will be FREE pop & popcorn served beginning at 3:30 and through the 1-hour event beginning at 4:00. Then, at 5:00, enjoy FREE hot dogs (all compliments of Eastwood Sr. Living). AND… if that wasn’t enough, you can register to win a Twins Baseball gift basket which includes two tickets to a Twins game in August.

All ages are invited – bring your family and/or a friend. If you are interested in attending, please call the LEC at 320-679-4789 to register. Seating is limited for this free event.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 8, 2014

Minnesota Broadband Fund discussions across the state

Enquiring minds want to know what’s happening with the Minnesota Broadband Development Fund. And enquiring minds can find out with the Blanidn webinar coming up on Thursday or during the Office of Broadband Development tour coming up in the next few weeks. I will plan to attend all of the sessions I can and will take notes when I can. But if you’re in the area, I think it would be beneficial to listen first hand and be counted!

Borrowing from a recent email I received from DEED, here are the details…

Border to Border Infrastructure Grant Program

Join us for a webinar on the program! July 10 at 9:00 a.m. Blandin will be hosting a webinar with Danna MacKenzie, Executive Director of the Office of Broadband Development, who will provide an overview on the status of the grant program and application process. You can register at:

In addition, regional information meetings around the state are being scheduled. Currently, we plan to hold meetings at the following locations to discuss the proposed application process and obtain feedback:

Friday, July 18 from 1:30 to 3:00Montevideo Chippewa County Courthouse Assembly Room (basement level) 629 North 11th Street (corner of state hwy 7 and 11th Street)

Monday, July 28 from 1:30 to 3:00Brainerd/Baxter The Lodge at Brainerd Lakes 6967 Lake Forest Road Baxter, MN 56425

Wednesday, July 30 from 1:30 to 3:00Eveleth IRRRB Offices 4261 Highway  53

Tuesday, August 19Crookston Time and location TBD

Friday, August 22 from 1:30 to 3:00Owatonna Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation 525 Florence Avenue

Wednesday, August 26West Central Region—TBD

These meetings are open to anyone. Thank you to our meeting site hosts for providing the meeting space!

Potential applicants are also reminded of some available resources. First, if you are working to identify broadband availability for your project, any inquiries you have regarding the data shown on the broadband map can be submitted to Connect Minnesota for clarification—just go to the website and fill out the form. County maps will also be posted shortly showing unserved and underserved areas as reflected by the current data.

Finally, we encourage all potential applicants to subscribe to the OBD email list which will be used to distribute information on the grant process as it develops.

Over the long weekend I started to read a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that raises questions about the RUS and funding for broadband access in rural areas. I started the report several times and finally just finished it. My difficulty in reading it stems from wondering what in the heck the feds are asking about the broadband programs. But that may have been the researchers’ point. Their recommendations are…

  • evaluate loans made by RUS through the broadband loan program to identify characteristics of loans that may be at risk of rescission or default; and
  • •align performance goals under the “enhance rural prosperity” strategic objective in the APR to the broadband loan program’s purpose, to the extent feasible.

I think this is one of those topics that’s wonky but very important. It’s important to Minnesota – because traditionally we have seen a lot of the funding as the map below indicates. It’s important because what gets measured gets done and what gets measured positively gets funded again. Finally it might be helpful to the Office of Broadband Development as they talk about the Minnesota broadband fund and how to manage and measure it.

RUS loan map

The report starts with the premise that the “USDA Should Evaluate the Performance of the Rural Broadband Loan Program.” How do you rate performance?

Loan repayment?

According to the report…

Of the 100 RUS loans approved through the loan program, 48 are currently being repaid, and 9 have been fully paid back. Forty three are no longer active, either because they were cancelled before they were paid out (25 rescinded) or because the provider defaulted by failing to abide by the terms of the loan (18 defaulted).

I think the difficulty here is using business measures for government funding. If there was a business case to build out in these areas, government funding wouldn’t be necessary. One provider interviewed for the report indicated that even if a grant helped deploy broadband a business case can be difficult to make to maintain a connection to remote areas with low population density. So loan repayment, while nice, is not a great indicator of success.

The Legislators who created the Minnesota Broadband Fund were smart to create a grant program, not a loan. The grant is really an investment in infrastructure that will help the State shift services to remote areas to online services. The money may be recouped in cost saving down the line rather than repayment.

Multiple providers?

The researchers looked at how many providers served areas with and without RUS funding. There was little to no difference – although they noted that assessing information on a county-wide level was perhaps not adequate since some areas served were not lager enough to move the arrow on a county-wide assessment.

Looking at number of providers is using a metro metric on rural research. Multiple providers do create customer-friendly competition in metro areas. But in the most remote areas, with low population density there may not be a critical mass of potential market to support sustained competition. Therefore competition because counterproductive.


Deployment is a first step for broadband expansion – but without adoption, it’s not valuable. This I think is an important distinction and one that the researchers may be trying to highlight…

The goals in USDA’s APR do not fully align to the purpose of the RUS broadband loan program. The purposes of the loan program are to improve broadband deployment in rural areas—that is, increase the number of broadband subscribers with access to new or improved broadband service … This performance goal is assessed using data on the number of subscribers to be served for each loan, derived from applicants’ estimates in their approved loan applications.54 This method does not measure actual adoption of RUS-financed broadband services. As the National Broadband Plan states, “adoption is necessary for utilization, but utilization is necessary to extract value from a [broadband] connection.”

We have to stop asking about deployment and access except as a potential barrier to adoption. It’s the difference between buying a treadmill and using it. We’re just asking the wrong question. We don’t need to know if you own a treadmill – but are you using one? Once we ask that question it opens the door to funding that gets to the root of the issue. Funding may still be required for deployment but it may also be well spent in adoption programs.

Economic development?

The report indicates that RUS-recipient counties did better economically…

According to our analysis of RUS loans and economic development data, counties affected by at least one approved RUS loan were associated with modestly higher levels of employment and payroll after the year of loan approval and in all subsequent years, as compared to counties that did not receive RUS loans.47

We found that RUS loans are associated with a one to four percent higher level of employment and payroll in affected counties. As noted above, stakeholders told us that broadband access can help make businesses more efficient, which can lead to job creation and increased payroll. However, we found no relationship between RUS loans and the number of total business establishments in a community. We ran the model using several specifications, most of which involved alternative comparison groups of unaffected counties, and our results were consistent.

Yet apparently this isn’t part of the specifications…

Furthermore, USDA’s APR does not have any goals or measures to determine the loan program’s progress towards economic development outcomes.

Economic development, healthcare and potential saving in government services seem like the top things that the USDA might want to measure. They aren’t easy to measure and there are lots of contributing factors but it seems like looking at the impact of funding on these factors help to determine a successful government investment. Last year the National Agricultural & Rural Development Policy Center (NARDeP) did a report that looked closer at the impact of rural broadband. They make the case that broadband boost the economy but also found that adoption programming was at least as important in rural areas as access…

Broadband adoption thresholds have more impact on changes in economic health indicators between 2001 and 2010 than do broadband availability thresholds in non-metro counties

Again the Minnesota Broadband Fund does contain a component of broadband adoption. I’m not sure how much of a component – maybe we’ll find out when Danna MacKenzie, Director of the MN Office of Broadband Development, talks about the fund for a webinar on July 10.

National Broadband Safety NetworkI just read that police in Duluth are now outfitted with cameras to record all interactions with the public. KSTP News reports…

Duluth Police officers are now able to record any interactions they have with the public because each one of them has been assigned a body camera.

On Thursday, the small black square that hooks onto the officers’ shirts became a standard part of their uniforms. The goal is to cut down on investigation times and costs when there are complaints about officers.

The video is uploaded at the end of each shift, but the department will not be randomly viewing it. Officers have been trained to hit record before any interaction with people, like traffic stops and interviews, because it doesn’t record constantly.

Now I don’t know how I feel about recording every interaction. Will it help keep people honest? Or will it be used to create a database of anyone ever stopped? But I do wonder why they don’t just automatically upload the video rather than turn it off and on and wait to the end of the shift to upload. If you’re going to have people spot check video it seems like spot checking in real time might help prevent incident – whereas spot checking after is pure forensics.


The spot checkers could work a little like the virtual ICU nurses keeping an eye out to make sure everything is running smoothly – and step in to offer assistance when things aren’t.

Daily Yonder has been great for rural perspectives on telecom policies lately. Recently they posted an update on call completion decisions made by the FCC. I’ve tracked call completion in the blog before; it’s a big deal for rural customers. The issue is that some new phone over Internet options have had different rules and goals from traditional phone companies.

I’ll risk misstating the issue to make it very simple. (Folks are welcome to correct me.) Traditionally phone companies have paid other phone companies to accept their calls. “Your customer in NY wants to reach my customer in International Falls MN? Pay me a nickel and I’ll complete the call.” New companies didn’t necessarily sign up for this agreement. So eventually the local phone companies quit accepting those calls and/or the new internet phone companies sent the calls into a limbo rather than pay the surcharge.

What the customers experienced was that Bob in NYC ran into troubles every time he tried to call grandma in International Falls. To ensure customer quality, the FCC stepped in and up. Here’s the assessment from the Daily Yonder

The problem got so bad that the Federal Communications Commission got involved at the request of some rural phone companies, state utilities commissions and other consumer advocates.

Earlier this month the FCC reached a $875,000 settlement with a Texas company, Matrix Telecom, for dropping calls to rural customers. In February, Windstream agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a similar complaint. And last year another phone company, Level 3, agreed to pay nearly $1 million because of call-routing issues.

Plenty of folks – including the ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, John Thune (R-South Dakota) – think the FCC needs to do even more to correct this problem. They seem to disagree with Senator Johnson’s notion that competition without enforcement of the rules will make sure that rural Americans get a fair shake.

The problem of rural call completion is not over, but it’s getting better. Bad actors are on notice that someone with leverage is paying attention. And there’s a very good chance the problem will continue to improve if the FCC sticks to its guns. (If you think you’ve got a problem with dropped calls to rural areas, you can report it to the FCC here.)

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 5, 2014

Being online keeps seniors in homes longer in Lake County

The Blandin Foundation recently posted a video on home healthcare monitoring in Lake County that is helping keep seniors in their homes longer in Lake County…

Daily Yonder just posted an interesting article on the National Grange’s take on the recent court decision to handsomely compensate Apple for intellectual violations perpetrated by Samsung.

Here’s a quick description of the decision…

National Grange is concerned about a patent lawsuit that Apple Inc. filed against Samsung. A jury recently awarded Apple $399 million in damages for intellectual property violations. Samsung smart phones were infringing on several Apple patents, the court said.

The ruling said Samsung must pay Apple 100% of Samsung’s profits from the sale of the devices that infringed on Apple’s patents.

And National Grange’s take on the implications…

The National Grange believes the court should give careful consideration to the potential harm that may come from excessive design patent financial damages in this case and other cases involving smart phones.

The ruling could limit competition and makes smart phones more expensive. That, in turn, would make them less accessible to rural communities and businesses.  Samsung, for example, provides far more options for smart phones with a greater range of prices than Apple. Samsung’s products appeal to many lower-income rural residents and to businesses that have to pay attention to what they spend.

I’m an advocate of intellectual property and a supporter of open source technology. So it’s a conundrum.

The Daily Yonder always does a nice job presenting the rural side of the story. The more I talk to folks in cities, the more I realize how valuable the service they provide is. Last week they wrote a harrowing story of what it’s like to be in the wilderness in NE Wisconsin and off the communication grid when an emergency happens…

When the folks on “Green Acres” had to climb a telephone pole to make a call, it was funny. But no one here was laughing when our rural volunteer fire department had to resort to something similar. We had been paged out for a river rescue — an injured rafter clinging to a rock in a Class III rapid.

That may sound straightforward, but as usual it wasn’t. There were concerns about other members of the party, which had become separated. It was pouring rain, cold, and lightning flashed around us. We had team members on the water and others deployed at a location several miles downstream, and were getting ready to send searchers out on foot while trying to get an ambulance unstuck from mud halfway up the wheels.

And we couldn’t communicate with any of our people. Our portable radios were not connecting with the county’s communication infrastructure. So the tallest person on the scene stood on the tailgate of a pick-up truck holding a portable radio as high as possible (despite the lightning), and the best we could get was broken and scratchy.

The author explains the tower situation…

Here are some things you should know about public safety communications systems in rural areas.

Who Owns Those Towers?

Good question. In Langlade County, two of the towers are owned by the county. Others are owned by private enterprises. County zoning ordinances require any towers erected here to allow space for emergency communications equipment. The contracts are non-lapsing and the county does not pay for the use of the space, only for its equipment and maintenance. Those towers generally reserve space at the top for local government, then quickly fill up the rest with paying tenants.

And part of the problem…

It’s not just fire departments, emergency medical systems (EMS) and law enforcement using local government channels. The airways are crowded with other users that may include the Department of Natural Resources and public utilities. Last winter, when parts of the Upper Midwest had record cold temperatures that caused widespread freeze-ups in public water utility lines, we heard a lot of pages for the on-call worker for the water department in the county seat.

Public utilities are considered integral to homeland security. But a lot of that traffic on local government channels could be carried out effectively by other means. And some of it will be, soon, in our area, thanks to E-Sponder — software that sends out simultaneous phone, text and email alerts instead of paging for non-emergency situations.

Paging is what the local government communication system was designed to support. And paging was a huge step up from the telephone tree used to summon firefighters when my husband joined the volunteer fire department in 1987. But now, in addition to paging, the system is expected to support more traffic on more channels. We need to be able to get the alert for volunteers. We also need to know who’s responding and to where, to get situation reports from those first on the scene, to relay information to and get authorizations from medical control and a hundred other things. And in rural areas where small departments rely on mutual aid partners and where EMS transports are long, we must be able to communicate with each other.

Finally he adds that money is always part of the problem and/or solution too.

Just something to consider as you head out for the 4th weekend. Will you be able to communicate if you need too? What’s that worth?

I attended Senator Schmit’s broadband talking tour in Mora last month so I was delighted to see follow up in the local paper, the Kanabec County Times. It looks like a rally and local call for action getting people to start thinking about how, why, when and where they could prepare to take advantage of the $20 million broadband development fund, which should be made available later this summer.

Nice to see the conversations starting – or in the case of Kanabec County continuing. I think luck is going to favor the prepared when it comes to the broadband funds…

“KBI is ready to go,” Peoples National Bank President Doyle Jelsing pointed out, spearheading local efforts to put together a local match that may include a combination of private investment, bonding, loans and in-kind services.

A feasibility study estimated that it could cost $2-$7 million to create an effective broadband network in the county that may involve both fiber and wireless.

Telecommunications providers like CenturyLink, MidContinent Communications, Genesis Wireless, and Kanabec Systems have a seat at the table and have expressed interest in working together to help achieve the ambitious goals.

“One of Kanabec Broadband Initiative’s goals is to utilize existing broadband to help make Kanabec County a great place to live, work, play and visit,” KBI Chair Marc Johnson said. “Providing our local businesses with a Web presence will assure that they can be found by residents and visitors alike. Johnson serves as executive director of the East Central Minnesota Education Cable Cooperative (ECMECC) — a consortium of 13 area school districts along with Pine Technical College.

He also praised the support of the Blandin Foundation, which provided $47,165 in local grants this year to help increase public access to the Internet in Kanabec County by creating Wi-Fi hotspots, furnishing area businesses with a Web presence, and assisting with the development of a Telework Center with high capacity bandwidth and technology for tele-commuting and after-school homework.

Thanks to the Fairbault News for making it so easy to share any technology-related bills that took effect yesterday (July 1). I’ve talked a lot about the first – not as much about the smartphone issues, but wanted to add them as a heads up anyway…

Jobs and economic development

The biggest ticket item in this portion of the law is $20 million in one-time money for grants to improve broadband connectivity in the state. The money will be available until June 30, 2017. As part of the broadband effort, the law creates the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program to expand services in unserved or underserved parts of the state.


Manufacturers will have until July 1, 2015 to equip phones with an antitheft function. All phone dealers must keep a written record of each acquisition.

The law also requires a dealer to install and operate video cameras positioned to record the face of used cell phone sellers, and the date and time.

Smartphones manufactured after July 1, 2015, that are bought or sold in Minnesota must be equipped with antitheft functionality or capable of downloading that functionality, at no cost to the buyer.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 2, 2014

Lake County signs up first FTTH customers

Better broadband in Lake County has seemed like a dream and a nightmare – and I’m writing from the sidelines! The very abridged version is that Lake County got ARRA funding to build a fiber network. Their road was not smooth but the Lake County News Chronicle reports that they have signed up their first customers…

There has been no shortage of opposition to the ambitious project, however, and legal battles, delays caused by competitors and contractual issues have plagued the initiative since its 2010 inception.

Through all of the setbacks, the county has persevered, stringing fiber cable and touting the benefits of bringing broadband to homes and businesses throughout the area.

“Right now, we’re just focusing on finishing our build and turning up services,” said county administrator Matt Huddleston.

Roiland said about 100 customers in Silver Bay, a town of 1,800, have been connected to services and a few beta testers are trying it out in Two Harbors, including Granite Gear, an outdoor equipment company headquartered in the town. Dave Johnson, the strategic accounts manager for the 28-year-old company, said fast internet has become essential to Granite Gear in recent years.

“It’s not just nice having faster internet, but it has become an absolute necessity,” he said.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 1, 2014

Blandin Broadband e-News July 2014

BBC MapNews from the Blandin on Broadband Blog

Minnesota Won’t Make 2015 Broadband Goals
Julio Ojeda- Zapata declared in the St Paul Pioneer Press that Minnesota will not reach the 2015 broadband goals of ubiquitous broadband with speeds of 10-20 Mbps downstream and 5-10 Mbps up. The Minnesota Broadband Task Force said as much in their latest report, but getting attention in mainstream press always makes a splash.

Minnesota Poised to Take Advantage of Broadband Opportunities
Minnesota communities are talking about broadband. Senator Schmit visited nine towns throughout Minnesota to talk about broadband and the recently approved broadband development fund. He had 10-30 attendees at each session. Community leaders and stakeholders are showing innovation too. The FCC recently requested recommendations for Rural Broadband Experiments. Minnesota sent in more than 62 ideas out of 1000 sent throughout the US. It’s a good sign that Minnesota is shovel-ready and poised to deploy. It’s a bad sign that Minnesota still needs better broadband.

Broadband Task Force Learns about Real Cost of Rural Broadband
The Broadband Task Force heard from local providers about Gigabit access in Minnesota communities. During the meeting urban and rural providers outlined the differences in their markets and expenses – starting with the fact that the Gigabit access to a backbone provider costs 50 cents a month in Minneapolis, a dollar in Red Wing and $10,000-20,000 in Thief River Falls.

President Clinton offers advice that could help broadband
President Clinton spoke at the University of Minnesota. He offered advice for a more civil society, but the advice could also support broadband efforts in a community:

  • Focus on similarities.
  • If you want great impact, give aid to the bottom of the economic pyramid.
  • Strive to form a more perfect union.
  • Trust.
  • Big business needs goals beyond the shareholders.

Funding Opportunities for Communities looking at Broadband

  • The details for the Minnesota Broadband Development Fund are being decided this summer. Danna MacKenzie, Director of the Office of Broadband Development, will speak via webinar on progress of the grant process on July 10.
  • The USDA announces the availability of three funding opportunities: Community Connect, Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT), and Public Television Station Digital Transition Grant Programs. Deadline for all three is July 7.
  • AT&T is committing $100 million to award off-campus mobile broadband access to 50,000 students across the country. Connected Nation is administering the funds.

The Minnesota Judicial Branch is accepting applications for court technology funds. Deadline is August 11.

Local Broadband News

Senator Schmit stops in Aitkin as part of his broadband tour where providers and other stakeholders discussed issues including cost of developing services in unserved areas.

Senator Schmit stops in Aitkin as part of his broadband tour and hears about serious broadband outages experienced in the area.

Central Minnesota
The Initiative Foundation highlights local businesses that thrive due to smart use of broadband technology, including stories from businesses in Pierz, Menahga, St. Joseph, Little Falls and Mann Lake.

Project Lulu, based out of Duluth, creates an online opportunities that combine private journaling with community. They are currently being used to support and foster good health.

DataBank, which operates data co-location facilities in Edina, Dallas and Kansas City, Mo., plans to turn the Taystee Foods building in Eagan into a data center to serve the region.

CenturyLink sends out notices of beta testing of Gigabit access in Eagan.

Minneapolis co-working company CoCo has announced that they are launching a CoCo Fargo location, in partnership with Emerging Prairie.

Minnetonka mall upgrades Wi-Fi access to accommodate for growing need from patrons.

Senator Schmit stops in Mora during his broadband talking tour. Attendees have very specific questions about the broadband development fund.

St. PaulSaint Paul Public Schools announces a new summer-program texting service for parents looking to find activities for their kids while school is out.

Senator Schmit stops in Staples during his broadband talking tour. Attendees have concerns about accuracy of Connect Minnesota maps.

Twin Cities
Metro State is starting an IT residency or apprentice prorgam.

Google selected the University of Minnesota’s MARS Lab as its primary academic partner for Project Tango, a high-profile indoor mapping initiative that has been compared to Google Maps.

Change Lane, a startup that lets consumers order at-home oil changes via the Web, has raised about $1.2 million in capital as it prepares to test-drive its service in Wayzata.

Senator Schmit completes his broadband talking tour with a full house in Willmar.


Blandin Community Broadband Program webinar: MN Office of Broadband Development Update on Funding

MN Broadband Task Force Meeting (location TBD)

Farm Fest (Redwood County)

Stirring the PotBill_Coleman

By Bill Coleman, Community Technology Advisors

As my annual physical approaches, I can already hear my doctor proscribing “Less beer, more fiber.” I am already working on the second part of that advice, the first not so much. In turn, I will give the same advice to our Twin Cities leaders, again with the emphasis  on the second half.

Minneapolis and St. Paul are both experiencing significant redevelopment in their urban cores. In Minneapolis, it is widespread throughout the North Loop, Dinkytown, Vikingsville and Uptown. In St. Paul, the Central Corridor is undergoing rapid redevelopment. There is a continuous flow of press releases about new breweries in these neighborhoods attracting young newcomers and relocating baby boomers to enjoy the beer and bicycle urban lifestyle.

I wish I was hearing more about fiber connections in these new communities. With individual buildings containing hundreds of apartments and neighborhoods totaling thousands of new units; these developments are larger than many rural communities. With these demographics, providers have no need to educate hipster consumers on the benefits of broadband. With proximity to the downtowns and the U of M, I assume that dark fiber is readily available. With a billion dollars spent on the Central Corridor light rail, I hope that someone put some fiber and spare conduits in the ground along the route.

With a minimum of discussion and cost, city leaders could be ensuring that these new units are fiber-connected by either enacting ordinances like Loma Linda California or by simply strongly encouraging the developers, Comcast, CenturyLink or a competitive provider to install and market these fiber connected buildings. With a bit of planning, tenants in these buildings could have secure network connections to the U of M and any of the large and small companies in downtown and elsewhere.

It is possible that these buildings are appropriately fibered-up and these ultra-high speed connections are offered with as much notice as basic amenities like water and heat, but I do not think so. If fiber is being installed in these developments, then Twin Cities marketers like Mayor’s Offices and Greater MSP, are missing out on opportunities to build our brand as a place for competitive economic development and quality of life.

Back to my physical… I recognize that there is nothing that I can do today to change what my doctor will find later this week. Likewise if a business came to many towns today wanting fiber, there would be no simple and affordable solution. So, I want to recognize Eagan for its long term broadband lifestyle – convening their key technology stakeholders, installing conduit and fiber, working with broadband providers. They created and pursued strategies which emerged from a technology plan completed almost a decade ago. Congratulations to Mayor Mike Maguire and staff members Tom Garrison and Jon Hohenstein for their commitment and efforts. As a result, they have AccessEagan, a community-owned open-access fiber and conduit network that is used by multiple private carriers to provide highly competitive fiber connections to their primary business parks. Building on this infrastructure, they have just announced the imminent development of a telecom hotel/data center, also a long-term goal and a tremendous benefit to the entire metro region. And to show that Eagan is not only all about fiber, the city council has just revised ordinances to enable development of craft breweries, taprooms and distilleries!”

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Posted by: Ann Treacy | June 30, 2014

DSL not top of the class in recent FCC report

The FCC recently released a national report on the state of broadband by technology. They checked out things like does the technology/provider provide access at the speeds advertised based on monitoring 14 of the biggest providers, which serve “well over 80 percent of U.S. residential broadband connections.”

Here are the big lessons learned according to the authors…

  1. Many ISPs now closely meet or exceed the speeds they advertise, but there continues to be room for improvement.
  2. New metric this year – Consistency of speeds – also shows significant room for improvement.
  3. Consumers are continuing to migrate to faster speed tiers.
  4. Improvements in Speed are not Uniform Across Speed Tiers Tested
  5. Sharp Differences in Upload Speeds

The big takeaway I think it that all services are not created equal.

The study looks at:

  • Fiber
  • Cable
  • DSL
  • Satellite

Fiber and cable look pretty good through the study. Satellite and DSL run into some PR problems. The problem with satellite is latency. This has always been the problem with satellite. The speed of satellite is actually quite good and generally they seem to provide better than advertised speeds. BUT the latency is a problem. Here’s a excerpt on latency from the report…

Fiber-to-the-home, on average, had the best performance in terms of latency, with 24 ms average during the peak period. Cable had 30 ms latency, and DSL had 48 ms latency. The highest average latency in a speed tier for a terrestrial technology was for DSL with 54 ms measured latency. The highest latency recorded for a single ISP using terrestrial technology was 63 ms. Satellite technology, due to the distances between the satellite and terrestrial points, recorded the highest overall latency of 671 ms. 54 While the test results found variance in latencies among technologies, the latencies measured here for all of the terrestrial-based technologies should be adequate for common latency-sensitive Internet applications, such as VoIP.55 As noted, the situation is more complex for satellite, and dependent on a number of factors, including application sensitivity to latency and user perception of latency’s effects.

The problem with DSL is that it’s not getting better in a lot of places. There is an exception, but only useful if you’re in a specific market area…

While the average increase in network speed tier was about 36 percent, the results are not uniform over ISP and technology types. Most notably, those ISPs using DSL technology show little or no improvement in maximum speeds, with the sole exception of Qwest/Centurylink, which this past year doubled its highest download speed within specific market areas. The reason for this may be that DSL, unlike cable and fiber technologies, is strongly dependent upon the length of the copper wire (or “loop”) from the residence to the service provider’s terminating electronic equipment, such that obtaining higher data speeds would require companies to make significant capital investments across a market area to shorten the copper loops. On the other hand, both fiber and cable technologies intrinsically support higher bandwidths, and can support even higher speeds with more incremental investments.

The graphic below really paints the picture. The lowest speeds on the chart are for DSL. It looks as if Frontier has made improvements – but otherwise the speeds are flat-lining and the lowest possible available.

speeds of bb technologies

The report mentions that it tests for the most popular speed tiers only; implying that there may be faster tiers that aren’t as popular. But if the towns I visited following Senator Schmit’s tour of Minnesota are an indicator, choice is an issue in many rural communities.

You can also see the footprint of DSL on the Connect MN maps…

DSL map

Compare that to a map showing which areas have access to only one technology and it’s a pretty good indicator of which areas have access to DSL only (in orange)…

single tech broadband areas

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