This looks like an interesting conference. I will plan to attend and take notes. It will be nice to see Minnesota showcased!

Join us in Minnesota for the next stop on the gigabit highway!

Everyone who has participated agrees: the first two FTTH Council Regional Conferences: Following the Gigabit Highway have been a success! Our road trip is taking us north into the land of 10,000 lakes and within a day’s drive of close to 200 FTTH deployments. Register now and join us September 2-4 for the third stop on the gigabit highway: Minneapolis, Minnesota!

Minnesota has begun to ramp up its $20 million Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, designed to bring ultra-high speed broadband to areas currently unserved and underserved. Hear from stakeholders who are currently bringing FTTH technology to communities across Minnesota, including network operators, state officials, and community leaders.

A Conversation with Danna MacKenzie

Join us for a lunchtime keynote presentation with Danna MacKenzie, Executive Director of the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development, and learn how the state of Minnesota is successfully bringing FTTH to communities across the state!

Meet us in the Land of 1,000 Lakes – and Fiber Deployment Register now and learn how you can implement your FTTH deployment faster and more efficiently. Join the ranks of local leaders who are bringing fiber to their communities, and experience everything the Gigabit Highway has to offer. Visit the FTTH Council Regional Conference homepage for more information, including the conference agenda and hotel information.

 

According to GovTrack, the Blackburn Amendment passed with 56 percent of the votes. What does that mean?

Here’s the view from Congressman Marsha Blackburn’s office

Congressman Marsha Blackburn today secured an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2015 Financial Services Appropriations Bill that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from trampling on the rights of states when it comes to municipal broadband. Blackburn’s amendment was approved with a vote of 223-200. Municipal broadband projects have had a mixed bag of results.

There have been some successes and there have also been some spectacular failures that have left taxpayers on the hook. Blackburn’s amendment prohibits any taxpayer funds from being used by the FCC to pre-empt state municipal broadband laws.

And here’s the view from Institute for Local Self Reliance (posted clearly before today’s vote)…

Last night, GOP Representative Marsha Blackburn, introduced an amendment intended to destroy local authority for telecommunications investment by severely limiting FCC funding. The amendment, introduced during debate on H.R. 5016, targets 20 states, many with state-erected barriers already in place and/or municipal networks already serving local communities.

The vote was postponed but is expected today (Wednesday) at approximately 2:30 p.m. ET. …

through publicly owned infrastructure or through the private market. Rep Blackburn and those that support this amendment do not trust local communities to make the best choices for themselves. The FCC wants to ensure state legislatures do not impose their will as influenced by the telecommunications lobby. Call your Rep!

This will have an impact on Minnesota. We do have legislation in place that is a potential barrier to municipal networks.

Yesterday Senator Franken sent comments to the FCC on his take on Open Internet. In a nutshell these are his thoughts…

I urge the FCC to adopt strong net neutrality rules that protect consumers and preserve the open nature of the Internet. In particular, I request that the FCC adopt rules that (1) clearly and comprehensively ban paid prioritization; (2) provide robust protections for mobile broadband; and (3) are based on reclassified Title II legal authority.

His letter expands on each suggestion. Banning paid prioritization is pretty clear; he says in the letter and has said in the past, “Open Internet is the free speech issue of our time.” And Franken would like to see steps taken to make sure that everyone has equal access to hearing and being heard online.

He would also like to see the FCC protect mobile broadband especially in light of the role wireless broadband is likely to have in serving rural areas. As he points out, wireless is cheaper and will play a critical role in reaching remote areas and he is concerned…

Recent incidents – such as Verizon’s refusal to allow tethering apps and AT&T’s blocking of the Apple FaceTime application – underscore the need for mobile ISP rules. This is the unfinished work of the 2010 Order, and nothing in the Verizon opinion suggested that the rules could not apply equally to mobile ISPs.

He would like to see the same rules for mobile and fixed ISPs.

Finally Franken suggests that the FCC reclassify broadband as a common carrier. This gets a little geeky. Telephone providers were common carriers – and so when the Internet first emerged ISP were common carriers. Common carrier is responsible for transport. After looking at many definitions, I found one I liked on Wikipedia. It doesn’t refer only to telecom, but I think helps…

A common carrier holds itself out to provide service to the general public without discrimination (to meet the needs of the regulator’s quasi judicial role of impartiality toward the public’s interest) for the “public convenience and necessity”. A common carrier must further demonstrate to the regulator that it is “fit, willing, and able” to provide those services for which it is granted authority. Common carriers typically transport persons or goods according to defined and published routes, time schedules, and rate tables upon the approval of regulators.

In 1996, the FCC classified broadband as an information service not telecom service, which meant providers were no longer common carriers. Providers seem to like to have broadband listed as an information service; net neutrality advocates want to go back to telecom service

Classification is one of those geeky, but important distinctions – and the root of it is “service to the general public without discrimination.” To some it means equal service; others feel it shuts the door on innovation and investment.

Franken was not alone in his comments. According to Washington Watch, the FCC has reportedly received over 670,000 comments. Here’s their summary of notes and links to various comments compiled by Washington Watch…

ITTA said any rules the Commission adopts in this proceeding should apply equally to all broadband providers, as there is no principled basis for treating fixed and mobile broadband providers differently. Verizon and Verizon Wireless  said the FCC should rely on a flexible approach that promotes experimentation and innovation throughout the Internet environment while protecting consumers and competition from actual harm, as for more than 20 years federal policy has reflected a bipartisan commitment to light-touch Internet regulation.  Verizon argued against a prescriptive one-size-fits-all rules approach. The Penn. PUC supported a modified form of common carriage regulation for the retail and wholesale broadband access network facilities and services that enable open and non-discriminatory use of Internet-based content and applications by end-user consumers. Comcast said it is essential that the Commission strike an appropriate balance between establishing effective oversight and promoting investment in broadband infrastructure, and said the Commission should follow the D.C. Circuit’s guidance and base its new rules on Section 706.  Replies on the NPRM and Public Notice are due September 10.

Comments also filed by:

If you have an opinion, you can chime in until July 18.

 

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 15, 2014

FCC approves E-Rate for wireless connections in schools

More funding coming for broadband, which always seems good. This time the FCC has approved $2 billion for wireless access in the schools. According to Bloomberg

The Federal Communications Commission approved a plan to spend $2 billion to boost wireless Internet connectivity in U.S. schools and libraries during the next two years.

“We’re at a watershed moment,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said during a hearing in Washington today in which the panel voted 3-2 to approve the plan he proposed in April. “Because of what we do today 10 million kids will be connected next year who otherwise wouldn’t. That’s a good days work.”

The move will phase out funding under a program known as E-rate for old technologies like pagers and dial-up phone service in order to subsidize broadband and wireless Internet connections in classrooms and libraries.

I’m interested to hear how this will play out in terms of library testing spectrum to wireless connections to serve unserved areas. I also wonder if someone is setting time and/or money aside to help teachers learn to work with new technologies. Years ago I worked with teachers on developing curriculum that included access to websites. To really adopt the technology, the teachers need time, training and incentive to learn how to use it.

Connected Nation also did a nice summary of the E-Rate Reform

Many important details about the FCC’s action today will only be known upon release of the full Order, which is expected in the coming weeks. The FCC has released a Fact Sheet outlining key aspects of the Order, including:

  • Repurposing of previously collected funds under E-rate to inject $1 billion annually in 2015 and 2016 ($2 billion total) to support school and library on-campus Wi-Fi. An array of services and equipment supporting Wi-Fi connectivity across schools and libraries will be eligible for this funding opportunity, including IT equipment that enables Wi-Fi connectivity, managed Wi-Fi services and catching services. This key piece of the reform aims to address a significant gap in Wi- Fi connectivity across schools and libraries. According to FCC estimates, three in five schools in America do not have adequate on-campus Wi-Fi. The FCC estimates that this new funding will help connect 10 million students to better on-campus Wi-Fi in 2015 alone.
  • For some applicants, the new Wi-Fi program will have a different discount rate than traditional E-rate. Today, schools and libraries serving the poorest communities across the country receive an E-rate discount of 90% over retail Internet and Wi-Fi connections prices. Moving forward, the discount rate for Wi-Fi services for these institutions will decrease to 85%. Discounts for other applicants in more affluent communities, ranging from 20% to 89%, will remain unchanged.
  • The new rules will provide multi-year funding predictability for schools and libraries to tap into this separate Wi-Fi fund. While details are scant, it appears that applicant funding for Wi-Fi services will be capped using a formula based on a student basis, in the case of schools, and on a square footage basis, in the case of libraries. Libraries will be able to receive as much as $2.3 per square foot annually to support Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • There will be no change in the annual E-rate cap (currently $2.4 billion) at this time, but a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will solicit comment on adjusting this cap. The FCC’s decision to leave the current cap in place is perhaps the most controversial aspect of today’s action, and it has been criticized from multiple parties advocating for an increase in the overall E-rate fund in order to better meet increasing demand for funding at the nation’s schools and libraries. Chairman Wheeler reiterated a position he voiced as early as February of this year that, while he does not oppose an increase in the program’s cap, the first step has been to focus on a structural reform of the program, such as the one voted for today, that would re-prioritize the goals of the program, and streamline its processes. Only then would the FCC be in a position to assess the overall need for E- rate funding. This assessment will likely be the core debate for continued E-rate reform moving forward.
  • Commencement of a multi-year transition of all program funding to broadband by gradually phasing down support for non-broadband, legacy services, such as voice telephony and paging. Currently, the FCC estimates that E-rate invests $1 billion annually in support of legacy services.
  • The FCC officially adopted broadband goals for the program, including 100 Mbps per 1000 students in the short run, and 1 Gbps per 1000 students in the longer term. However, rules for funding of broadband services to the school and library remain roughly unchanged. As we have noted previously, this is a significant departure in both substance and emphasis from several proposals debated earlier in the process. The E-rate will still prioritize services that connect schools and libraries to the Internet over Wi-Fi funding through a “safety valve” mechanism. In short, the bulk of the E-rate budget of $2.4 billion will continue to support connections to school and library buildings.
  • While broadband connections to schools and libraries will be prioritized, the FCC expects that it will continue to fund Wi-Fi connections within schools and libraries beyond the initial $2 billion allocated for 2015 and 2016. Further funds are expected to fit within the current E-rate cap due to program cost savings stemming from the phase out of legacy services. FCC staff indicated that it expects the transition away from legacy services will free up approximately $300 million in Funding Year 2015, $600 million in 2016, $800 million in 2017, $900 million in 2018, and $950 million in 2019.  Other FCC actions today include providing incentivizes consortia and bulk buying, streamlining the process for multi-year applications, and expediting the processing of small applications.
  • E-rate rules now will allow E-rate applicants to purchase goods and services from federally- negotiated General Services Administration prices without having to go through a competitive bidding process.
  • The FCC will also increase transparency on how E-rate dollars are spent and prices charged for E-rate services.
  • Finally, the Order expands applicant document retention period to ten years and toughens rules for site inspection.

Additionally, the Further Notice will seek comment on the following issues:

  • Long-term program funding needs necessary to meet goals and funding targets established in the Order.

  • Further steps to facilitate the use of cost-effective consortium-based purchasing.

  • Alternative methodologies for allocating support for library Wi-Fi connectivity instead of the per- student and per-square foot approach that the FCC will use in 2015 and 2016.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 14, 2014

Broadband brings salmon to your computer

I’m a sucker for broadband allowing us to do new and different things – not just do the same things faster. So I loved the story of live streaming fish videos. I wanted to share to spur more good ideas and for folks who may be juggling work and kid management this summer. Maybe watching a little fish via device is just the distraction you need today…

Nature lovers can get a glimpse of salmon runs through a live streaming video. For the second year, the Forest Service is streaming from the bed of Juneau’s Steep Creek on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

Last year, the Steep Creek fish cam, near the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska, was viewed more than 28,000 times. Viewers watched sockeye and coho salmon – and sometimes just flowing water – for more than 627,000 minutes – or more than 10,000 viewing hours. They posted guesses on the types of fish moving in front of the camera and posted questions, which were answered by Pete Schneider, a fisheries biologist on the Tongass. A viewer even captured on video a portion of the live streaming video just as a bear went into the water, snatched a salmon and walked away to have dinner.

The best viewing times for the Alaska cam are between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. Eastern Time. The camera operates around the clock, but there’s insufficient light for decent viewing outside these hours. Salmon up to 2 feet long are likely to pass by the cam around mid-July. Viewers also will see the smaller cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden (similar to bull trout).

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 14, 2014

FCC Announces Budget for Rural Broadband Experiments

Thanks to Connect Minnesota for the update. It’s great to see that the FCC is moving forward to fund good ideas to expand broadband in rural America. As you may recall – Minnesota submitted a lot of good ideas. Hopefully folk are ready to go with an application. Between this and the Minnesota Broadband Fund, we could see another burst of communities get up to speeds in the next couple of years. Every exciting!

Applicants for both funds will just want to be clear about the ramifications of pursuing funding for both. According to the webinar on the Minnesota funds last week, the State is happy to support projects that the federal government is also funding. The feds may feel differently.

FCC Announces Budget and Application Window for Rural Broadband Experiments A Connected Nation Policy Brief July 11, 2014

At an Open Commission Meeting on July 11, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to approve a budget and open an application window for  Rural Broadband Experiments through the Connect America Fund program. Formal applications will be due 90 days after the release of the official Order, which is expected shortly. Later this year, the FCC will analyze formal applications and will select winners through a competitive auction, with the goal being to award the funds to the most cost-effective proposals to offer broadband service in rural areas of the country that do not have adequate access to broadband today.

As noted in an earlier Connected Nation Policy Brief, in January 2014 the FCC established the Rural Broadband Experiments program with the purpose of shaping and adjusting its Connect America Fund broadband subsidy program to include an application-based, competitive-bidding framework. The formal process launched today will make available funds from earlier phases of the Connect America Fund. The Rural Broadband Experiments program is the first opportunity for providers that are not the incumbent local telephone company in a particular area to receive Connect America Fund subsidies to build and operate fixed broadband networks. This “experiment” will serve as a test to the competitive bidding process the FCC will plan on using to distribute more Connect America Funds in 2015 and beyond. 

The FCC’s January action requested that providers and communities interested in the program file “expressions of interest” by March 7, 2014, and over one thousand “expressions of interest” were filed from a variety of applicants including current providers, electric cooperatives, communities, and organizations. The FCC used these expressions of interest in devising the formal rules and nature of the project announced today as well as the broadband service standards and expectations for recipients.

According to the FCC News Release, the FCC will divide the $100 million budget for the program into three buckets:  1. $75 million will be awarded to projects that will offer broadband service to residential and small business consumers at speeds of at least 25 Mbps download/5 Mbps upload speed.  2. $15 million will be awarded for projects that will offer broadband service at speeds of at least 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload.  3. $10 million will be awarded to projects that will serve “extremely high cost areas” at speeds of at least 10 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload. (The FCC has identified “extremely high cost areas” generally to be those in which a monthly subsidy of a at least approximately $2,400 in subsidy per unserved location per year.)

Formal applications will be due 90 days after release of the complete text of the FCC’s action. The Order will specify service standards for applicants and will establish a cap on project size per application.

After applications are received, the FCC will conduct a single-round, competitive auction to identify applications within each of these buckets to receive subsidies. The auction will be nationwide – for example, proposals to fund a network project in Tennessee will be competing on a per-location subsidy cost against network projects in Minnesota. The FCC will give a 25% bidding credit to projects that propose to serve Tribal lands.

In addition to the program launched today, the FCC also launched another proceeding that will consider rules for a broader, Connect America Fund Phase II competitive bidding process. The Rural Broadband Experiments program is designed to help the FCC and industry gather information on how to distribute Connect America Fund subsidies through a competitive mechanism. Phase II of the Connect America Fund is a $1.75 billion/year program targeted at the unserved areas of larger local telephone companies, such as CenturyLink, Windstream, AT&T, and Verizon. In allocating those subsidies, the FCC today proposed to offer bidding credits or incentives to applicants for those Phase II projects that include partnerships and funding from state governments and other non-Federal sources.

Dozens of communities and providers have expressed interest in this program, and Connected Nation has actively supported these initiatives and stands ready to assist our stakeholders with this process, provide information and data, and answer questions. When the Order text is released, Connected Nation will provide stakeholders information on the further details of the project (including specific application requirements and timing).
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For more information on Rural Broadband Experiments or for assistance with applications and mapping needs, please contact Connected Nation at policy@connectednation.org.

The Line recently reviewed ten fun Twin Cities apps. I thought I’d share them in case you’re interested in visiting the area and want to keep up on what to do in town. Also it’s a list of apps that your community might want to consider.

I have some of these apps installed and I use them. If I were in another town for a couple of days, I’d also be happy to install the app to find out what’s happening. And if there was a lot happening, it might be just the right introduction to a town (or county) to push me from visitor to potential relocator. Something to consider as you find ways to draw people to your area – as visitors, as businesses and potential new residents – especially if you’re looking to attract young folks. (This suggestion also assumes you have at least 3G access throughout your region. If you don’t building a community app might not be you next best move!)

The descriptions below are abbreviated. Check out the original article for full details. Also this list is a little bar-heavy; your list doesn’t need to be. Maybe best fishing spots, hunting fields or antiques shops is a better reflection on what you have to offer and/or what you want your dream visitors/residents to enjoy.

1. Happy Hour Now covers the best places to stretch your drink dollars in downtown Minneapolis, Uptown, the University of Minnesota area, Northeast Minneapolis and St. Paul.

2. MPLSDrinker offers information on drink specials.

3. Bar Sages by Wowza takes the bar concept a step further by not only leading you to a fun tavern, but by also offering trivia tidbits as conversation starters when you arrive.

4. Manly helps locate nearby bars, restaurants, nightclubs and liquor stores all with a few swooshes of the old index finger.

5. Night Pulse provides real-time feed of constantly updated information on relevant bar specials, entertainment, sporting events and other attractions (with prices and start times) based on the current time and your location.

6. Wander Wheel asks users six questions about their needs, interests and location, then creates a spontaneous goal-based adventure. 7. The Minnesota Association of Museums offers a wide palette of information about Minnesota’s museums e tal. 8. Minneapolis Historical, offered by Preserve Minneapolis, guides users to historic places throughout Minneapolis with stories and archival images. 9. Fair Shake is the Minnesota State Fair app. Getting from here to there 10. OMG Transit helps you navigate Minneapolis’ transit options: bus, light rail—and car- and bike-sharing options.

 

Forbes recently ran an article on the costs (rising) or medical care for baby boomers. One of the costliest aspects of health care if chronic disease…

Forecasters say the number of Boomers with multiple chronic diseases will quadruple by 2030. Note that chronic conditions account for nearly 75% of total healthcare spending. Also sobering: it costs, on average, up to 7x more to treat a patient with multiple chronic conditions than one with a single condition.

Yikes!

The good news / bad news is that to lower the cost much of the responsibility will be shifted to the patient. It’s unfortunate to think of individuals (especially ones who are sick) being saddled with these costs but it does provide incentives to try to get or keep healthy. The article introduces a few tech tools to help keep patients healthy. Think of it as an early Christmas shopping list for your parents or to give to your kids!

  • Activity and nutrition tracking could help stem the obesity epidemic. A recent Pew survey found that 68% of adults 50 to 64 track their weight, diet, exercise routine or other health indicators, although not necessarily online. Companies like Jawbone* and FitBit have introduced intuitive and accurate activity tracking tools that are being adopted rapidly. In 2013, the number of steps taken by FitBit users reached 2.4 trillion – roughly the distance from the Earth to Saturn – up from 47 billion in 2011. MyFitnessPal*, a calorie-counting app that is growing users at a 50% annual rate, today has 65 million people registered; together they have lost over 100 million pounds.
  • Telemedicine and advanced sensor technology can improve management of chronic care patients. Baby Boomers want to remain independent for as long as possible. A recent AARP study suggests that 90% want to stay in their homes as they grow older; 82% would prefer to age in place even after they need daily assistance. Digital health technology will help make that possible. A 2010 study conducted at Tufts Medical Center found that the cost of four days of in-hospital heart monitoring (~$25,000) could be reduced by up to 72% through the use of telemedicine and remote monitoring. Savings from using services like Doctor on Demand ($40 per visit) or Teladoc* for regular visits and consultations can be substantial as well.
  • Cost transparency tools can meaningfully address system-wide financial pressures. Today, the price and quality of care can vary greatly by location. An analysis in the California Bay Area found prices for a CT scan to vary by a factor of 16, and knee arthroscopy by a factor of 10. As aging adults assume increasing responsibility for healthcare costs, they will embrace tools like those developed by Change Healthcare, Castlight Health and ClearCost Health that provide objective cost data to make better, more informed care decisions and save money for both payers and themselves.

I am a compulsive FitBit user. (My goal is 10 miles a day, which I make most days.) If you are or know a compulsive tech-inspired exerciser, you will enjoy this article from David Sedaris on his life with the FitBit.

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 www.intelligentcommunity.org/nominations 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 www.intelligentcommunity.org/nominations. “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 www.intelligentcommunity.org

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: http://tinyurl.com/q4eow68

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 http://www.connectmn.org/ 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?

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.)

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