I like for Minnesota to be tops in all things broadband but I have to give kudos to Wisconsin for the University-Wisconsin Extension Broadband Policy Examples. It’s a fairly dry document but it really outlines a lot of the policies related to broadband expansion – from federal to local (down to village!) perspective. They start by borrowing from Dr John Kotter’s eight steps toward change…

The stages adapted from Kotter’s eight steps include:

  1. Creating a Sense of Urgency

  2. Building a Guiding Coalition

  3. Developing and Communicating a Strategic Vision

  4. Enabling Action and Removing Barriers

  5. Generating Short Term Wins

  6. Learning from Experience/Instituting Change

As a side note, while I read this I wondered where Minnesota stood in their continuum. On a good day I think we’re between steps five and six. We have an Office of Broadband Development. They have distributed funds to support broadband expansion and we’re waiting to hear how that goes. But I think we still have a toe in steps two and three. There are barriers. And the Minnesota Task Force is reexamining the speed goals. I think that’s OK in an iterative world.

It also makes me think back to the original Task Force report. I think they did a good job getting through steps one to three in a short time and I think there are still some gems in the original report that could provide the scaffolding for a strategic vision today. Maybe the discussion on speed changes will be an opportunity for the newest Task Force to dig back into that document.

OK – back to the primer…

It includes links to necessary documents – like maps and pertinent State (and federal) offices. And it details the following local ordinances and codes…

Public Rights-of-Way Policies

  • Dig-Once Ordinances
  • Tower Ordinances
  • Public-Private Partnerships
  • Tower Agreements
  • Shared Resource Agreements
  • Partnerships for Funding Co-application

The section on Leanring from Experience does a nice job of really outlinging the various appraoches a community can take or support for improving local broadband access…

  • Private Provider Investment
  • Public-Private Partnerships
  • Cooperatives
  • Community Area Networks
  • Local Government Telecommunications Alternatives

It finsihes off with a series of local exampels, including a gauge on where various Wisconsin communities are in the 8-step process. It reads a lot like a feasibility study without the marketing, technical details and specific numbers BUT if I were a community leader I would use this as template for at least a portion of a feasibility stufy – have we looked at all of these opitons? That’s not to say that a creative mind couldn’t come up with more or with hybrid solutions but policy-wise I think this is a great resource. Maybe Minnesota could borrow and build upon it to help Minnesota communities access the info they need quickly!

NTEN and Mobile Citizen did their first digital adoption survey (Making Connections) to find out what how lack of access or adoption impacts the public/nonprofit services that people can access OR how that lack of access and adoption impact how public/nonprofit services can be delivered.

The news is as I see it is that 60 percent of the nonprofits surveyed provided some services online, which clearly means you need to have access to take advantage of those services. Also about half of the nonprofits surveyed provide or support digital inclusion efforts in their programming. Affordability was mentioned as a roadblock to adoption – both of broadband service and equipment.

To do a slightly deeper dive into it…

They are succinct in their definition of digital adoption…

Digital adoption, whether for organization or individuals, includes three requirements:

  1. Access to the Internet where and when we want or need to go online;

  2. Affordable equipment to use; and,

  3. Training, or digital literacy skills enabling us and our constituents to use the Internet to support our work and lives.

I think one of the most compelling findings is that 60 percent of the nonprofits they served said that constituents needed to have access to the internet to partake of services…

Do your constituents need Internet access to benefit or participate in your organization’s services or programs?

Nearly 60% of respondents indicate that constituents need Internet access to participate in their services. They highlight four main service areas in which this is true:

  • Communication and Information: Including completion of forms and applications, identified by 61% of respondents who indicated service areas;

  • Access to content, mostly unique to the organization but including some links to additional resources (45%);

  • Fundamental access issues, including delivery of basic services (27%); and

  • Training, including delivery and registration  (18%).

NTEN nonprofit services

Nonprofits are doing what they can to get folks online. I highlight this fact for communities who are looking at broadband expansion. It would make sense to start your digital inclusion efforts with a local survey of who is doing what in your area. You  rarely need to build from scratch – start with what’s already working and happening in your area.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 17, 2015

PCs for People distributes computers in Sherburne County

Digital inclusion has come up in a lot of meetings I’ve attended lately. One consistent roadblock noted by technology non-users is the cost of the equipment. PCs for People does a nice job getting computers in the hands of folks who need them so I’m always happy to share their story. The most recent chapter comes from the West Sherburne Tribune

Last year, Sherburne County was one of 10 communities across the state selected by the Blandin Foundation to be part of the Blandin Broadband Communities. …

As part of that program, each member partner received 50 computers from PCs for People to distribute in its community. PCs for People is a non-profit organization that receives donated computers, refurbishes them then provides free or low-cost computers to different organizations and families in need.

Tuesday, those computers were distributed to Sherburne County organizations and individuals through the Workforce Center in Monticello.

Ten computers were given to Guardian Angels for the senior community in Elk River.

The Sherburne County Fair Board received one and other qualifying individuals who signed up through the Workforce Center received coupons in the mail to receive a computer.

Tuesday, as they arrived between 3 p.m and 6 p.m., they had a choice between a Hewlett Packard or Dell PC system, complete with tower, monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Sherburne County also recently donated 75 used desktop computers and 50 laptops to PCs for People to refurbish and distribute.

I am passing this on for the Center for Rural Strategies. Firsthand stories are so persuasive so I hope folks will help spread the word and get the firsthand stories into the right hands to amplify to make a difference. Thanks!!

Lifeline is a federal program that provides discounted telephone service (landline or wireless) to qualifying low-income individuals. The Federal Communications Commission is considering allowing Internet providers to offer discounted broadband service via the Lifeline program. This would help low-income Americans to afford internet service.

The FCC will face opposition to this reform from members of Congress that dislike social benefit programs. The Rural Broadband Policy Group supports offering Internet service via the Lifeline program, and will begin documenting stories about the benefits of the program and how Internet can help improve the lives of rural residents. We need your help finding these stories.

Could you help us identify a person in your community that:

  • Has used Lifeline phones to improve their lives?
  • Wants to use Internet service to improve their lives, and would like Lifeline to offer this service?

We would like to feature these stories in blogs, news publications, and video at the Rural Broadband Tales webpage. These stories will help us encourage the FCC and Congress to offer affordable broadband service to low-income Americans.

We are hoping to have these stories by July 31. Thank you for considering our request.

In solidarity,

Danielle & Edyael

Danielle King, MPH
Program and Research Associate
Center for Rural Strategies
46 East Main Street
Whitesburg, Kentucky 41858

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 16, 2015

If you can see the Northern Lights, forget the internet

I ran across this personal account of life in a Minnesota community without adequate access to the Internet. I am purposefully not trying to pinpoint the location or think about which providers he may have used. It’s really a story of what life is like without consistent broadband access and the frustration of having no solution in sight. This is a personal account but I have certainly heard community accounts that are as bleak.)

Yesterday at the Task Force they began a discussion on changing the broadband speed goals. I applaud the effort. But this story is a reminder that while that discussion is important – so is action today. (It sounds like the author lives in an area that received a Minnesota Broadband Grant – which means they could get access “late next summer or fall, and certainly by the following spring of ‘17”. So just imagine the timeline for his counterparts in communities without support.)

I will just post the beginning of the account from the Listening Stones Farm – it is well worth reading in full!

Moments like these give me cause to believe I may be a man of faith. So begins a writing that may see the light of day …  since its being published depends on the beaming up of our internet. I’m happy to report that yesterday we were connected most of the day, which was the first time we’ve enjoyed a full day of service in what seems like weeks. “Months” might be more accurate, but I write as a man of forgiving faith.

Despite becoming on a first name basis with our designated service rep, Chad, we awake each morning wondering if life on our farm will reach beyond our small prairie. We are at the mercy apparently of a universe beyond our blue planet, as explained by Chad. Sun spots. And this: “If you can see the Northern Lights, forget the internet.” I haven’t seen them here on the farm, yet we still lack a worldly connection. So sun spots and Northern Lights are among the culprits. So, too, are tree limbs, rain and fog, and the other day, the talkative young man suggested we keep the modem out of the sunlight. We moved it from the top of the printer where we had anxiously monitored the status lights, which blink like a Dallas disco … all except for the little designated light of wonder, which barely and rarely comes to a full summer green.

Today the meeting was held in Brainerd. It was good to see the town as welcoming as ever after recent storms. It was also good to hear from CTC about the different partnerships they have and how they have helped them bring fiber to wider and wider groups of their customers. The Task Force also got a crash course in E-Rate by hearing aboy how it works and what it means to Brainerd Schools. Read on for full notes…

Read More…

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 15, 2015

Promoting Better Broadband in Sherburne County

shebandSherburne County recently received funds from the Blandin Foundation (through the Blandin Broadband Communities initiative) to support efforts to encourage better broadband in the area. They have built a website and Facebook page that does a nice job of positioning broadband as a tool that builds a better community.

Jolene Foss, Community Development Director at the City of Princeton was kind enough to tell me a little bit about how and why they started on the jounrey for better broadband…

The City of Princeton is unique in that it sits on the line Between Mille Lacs County and Sherburne County.  As I became more informed of the status of high speed, reliable and affordable internet in our community, I was shocked to find out how many residents are underserved, or completely unserved!  Businesses were suffering economically due to high rates and lost opportunities.  The students in our counties were struggling to complete assignments and do research from home, especially those who reside in rural locations. People couldn’t bank or take care of their online medical needs with poor internet service. Quality of life was being affected and some of the leaders of our community recognized a need for change.  The Blandin Foundation has graciously awarded these communities the resources needed to take necessary steps in the right direction. As a member of the Broadband Steering Committee for Sherburne County, our group decided to start a Community Outreach Subcommittee to educate and inform residents and elected officials on the importance of affordable reliable high speed internet service.  We would like to see people reach out to the elected officials and express the need for more funding to enhance partnerships between providers and other stakeholders.  These partnerships will pave the way for economic viability and secure our place in this fast paced world.  Our people deserve every advantage that anyone else gets.  We need to stay competitive if we want to see future success.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 15, 2015

MInnesota Broadband Task Force Meetings for July and August

More news from the Office of Broadband Development…

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband: The next meeting is Wednesday, July 15 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the CTC Conference Room at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber located at 224 West Washington Street, Brainerd, MN 56401 (in the Tyrol Hills Shopping Center). The Task Force will be welcomed by Chamber President Matt Killian, hear a presentation from CTC, discuss the broadband speed goals and hear about the Brainerd School District’s use of federal E-rate funding.

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband at Farmfest! The August meeting of the Task Force will be held as part of Rural Broadband Day at Farmfest on Tuesday, August 4th. The Task Force will hold its business meeting from 9:00 to 10:30 and then various broadband presentations and panels are scheduled for the remainder of the day. Farmfest is located at the Gilfillan Estate in Redwood County. More information is available at http://www.ideaggroup.com/farmfest

I hope to attend both and take notes.

Hot off the presses from the Office of Broadband Development…

The  application period is now open for the 2015  Border to Border Broadband Infrastructure grant program!

The application is available on our website at http://mn.gov/deed/programs-services/broadband/grant-program/index.jsp. Applications are due by 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 15, 2015. We have also posted an FAQ document based on commonly asked questions during the 2014 grant round and questions we’ve received over the spring/summer 2015. If you have any additional questions, you can reach us at 651/259-7610 or at DEED.broadband@state.mn.us

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 12, 2015

Competition with broadband providers – what does it mean?

I’ve talked about the seemingly opposing views of broadband competition – we need lots of competition to keep prices low and options high AND in unserved areas (mostly rural areas) competition is an issue because there isn’t enough business to go around. I came across an interesting site – the Big Old Broadband Cafeteria the other day, which strongly supports completion. Here’s their pledge…

“I want MORE choice for broadband service. I do not want a monopoly or duopoly controlling my access to the Internet. Broadband competition brings lower prices, better service and more innovation.

Policy makers must make broadband competition a priority in Washington DC. Our leaders must encourage broadband competition across all technology platforms, and make access to more choices available to all. The result will be better service for our homes and businesses, and our schools, hospitals, and government buildings.”

I was just talking about competition in my neighborhood the other day – and coffee shops. A franchise moved into a building across the street from a beloved independent coffee shop. People were up in arms! But it was the best thing to happen. The independent upped their game with new furniture and WiFi. And a few years later both places are packed. It’s become a coffee corner – everyone knows you can get good coffee there.

The same can happen in a rural town – a little friendly competition and everyone ups their game. And in the process, they just might increase the overall take-rate making a business case for more than one provider. Another issue (and I’m hoping to post info based on comment on a recent post on whole sale cost of broadband) is the wholesale or backhaul cost of providing broadband. Sometimes competition doesn’t just support the end customers but helps folks all the way down the supply chain.

According to the Rural Blog

Rural areas typically only served by a weekly newspaper are seeing an increase in Facebook pages that offer up-to-the-minute local media alerts, Able Allen reports for Mountain Xpress in Asheville. In the past year in rural Western North Carolina, “almost a dozen local alert pages (some with affiliated websites) have cropped up in various rural counties in the region, and some are already attracting followers in numbers comparable to the established print outlets’ circulation figures.”

The local shift reflects a national trend, with a Pew Research Center study saying 30 percent of adults say they get their news from Facebook, Allen writes. The difference in rural areas is that the news is localized, mostly concerning traffic, weather, Amber alerts, arrest reports and information about public events and meetings.

Social media (Facebook, Twitter even an online blog) seems like a natural fit to keep rural areas in the know between editions of a weekly newspaper. It’s something worth considering if your community doesn’t have an online news channel. It’s free, which is almost a necessity. (I am on the board of an online newspaper in the Twin Cities. I know newspapers can be tough to sustain.) It just relies on people reporting the story.

There may be some decision making there. Do you allow anyone to post news? Or do you continue with the newspaper model and find an editor to post or at least approve/disapprove citizen input. I suspect the answer will be different for different communities.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 10, 2015

Reminder: Adoption is still key to closing digital divide

Someone kindly sent me an interesting article on the digital divide. There’s nothing very new about the statistics if you’ve been following broadband a while. BUT I haven’t written about adoption for a while and I think it’s a good reminder than while ubiquitous coverage is important – it’s only half the battle. We’ve got to get people using broadband too.

I see the affordability is top of the list of non-adopters. It’s one reason I was glad to hear that the Minnesota Broadband Task Force would be tackling the issue this year!

In a recent broadband adoption study, the barriers facing those who are currently not connected were examined, and the following are the report highlights: Broadband use at home

  • 65% of adults use Broadband at home
  • 22% do not use the Internet at all

A view of the non-adopter

  • 57% of non-adopters are woman
  • 39% of non-adopters are people with disabilities
  • 11% of non-adopters are college graduates
  • 32% of non-adopters are age 65 or older
  • 43% of non-adopters live in households with annual incomes of $20,000 or less
  • 24% of non-adopters live in rural areas

Main Reasons for not being a broadband adopter

  • Affordability Related (Computer, Monthly Fees, Activation) – 30%

  • Lack of Relevance or Importance – 26%

  • Computer or Internet Skills Related – 16%

  • Not Available – 2%

  • None of the Above, Combination, Other Reasons – 23%

Thanks to everyone who participated in the webinar this week. Below is the archive, description and PPTs.

Does broadband promote creativity? Not alone it doesn’t but it can be an ingredient that spurs or supports a community effort. You also need people to make it happen. In this webinar we’ll hear from people who have promoted creativity in their community at least in some part through technology. We’ll learn about what they are doing, how they started it and what it has meant to the community.

Matthew Marcus and Aaron Deacon on Kansas City Startup Village: A community situated around the first neighborhood to get Google Fiber in KC but built by local entrepreneurs to be fertile ground to grow startups from KC and beyond. They community grew organically as if something was in the air. Hear their story and think about how we can replicate that here.

Fred Underwood on Duluth Maker Space: A sustainable multi-field community workshop for local artists, inventors, experimentors, teachers, learners (Makers!) of all ages. It opened last Fall. They have classes available and open space with cool tools for folks who want to use them.  Imagine a place in your community where makers can meet and collaborate.

Carla Lydon on East Central Regional Library: The library offers a range of services that make the library building a place to learn and use technology such as popular digital petting zoos, where patrons can get a chance to use various tablets. They also provide a range of remote services that make everyone in the community more creative – no matter where they are locates.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 9, 2015

GovTech Call for Entries 2015 Digital Cities Survey

I hope lots of Minnesota cities apply – I would love to see Minnesota dominate the awards!!

The Center for Digital Government and the Digital Communities program have launched the 15th annual Digital Cities Survey!

  • ALL U.S. cities are invited to participate – there are no population limits (includes consolidated city and county governments).
  • You identify the Top 10 IT-related initiatives of which the city is most proud.  You provide the links and a brief description, we’ll do the rest.

The survey is available online at: http://www.govtech/cdg/digitalcities2015  Deadline: Thursday, July 30, 2015. Awards are based on four population classifications. Top-ten ranked cities will be honored at an awards reception held during the National League of Cities annual convention Nov. 4-7 in Nashville, on govtech.com, in articles and in best practices publications. The Center thanks survey underwriters Dell Software and Laserfiche for their support of cities across the nation. If you have any questions, or if the city responded in the last few years and a copy of the response is needed, please contact Janet Grenslitt, Director of Surveys and Awards, jgrenslitt@centerdigitalgov.com.

I wanted to pass this on. Some really interesting projects have emerged from this program. might be a way to get some smart youth involved with local broadband…

The Center for Small Towns (CST) assists Minnesota’s small towns with locally identified issues. If your community is seeking any type of assistance CST is currently accepting fall project proposals! The Center prioritizes the voices of small town residents and leaders and develops projects in partnership with communities, faculty, staff, and students. We want to hear from you.

CST reviews proposals three times per year. The deadline for fall project proposals is July 24; the deadline for spring project proposals is October 16. Submitting a project idea brief is the first step in the project development process. If you have questions or need assistance, contact Kerri Barnstuble at (320)589-6467 or kbarnstu@morris.umn.edu.

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