We started the day with a look at federal policy. I am going to post my scattered notes in deference to getting information out there – please feel free to send questions to us during the conference at #mnbroadband. You can track the conversation here: http://mnbroadbandtalk.com/

Moderated by Bill Hoffman, Connect Minnesota

Diane Wells, Office of Broadband Development

Connect America Fund started 3 years ago. It transformed the high cost program into CAF – a recognition that broadband has gone from luxury to necessity. 83% of Americans without broadband were in Price Cap territories (big providers). So they tried to find a way to incent those providers to upgrade service. In Phase I they offered a set price per home to provide service. In Phase II they went more granular. The Price Cap Carriers can agree to funding and serve all areas – OR those areas will be put up for a competitive bid.

The FCC has also been working on Rural Experiment Funding. They are starting to think about faster broadband speeds. They will be giving money based on price models. You can learn more here: http://www.fcc.gov/document/rural-broadband-experiments-draw-interest-nearly-200-applicants We’re hoping to have more info on the applications by the end of 2014.

Lindsay Shanahan, Connected Nation

We have Connect American Fund, E-Rate, Rural Experiments and ConnectED. We’re also hearing about mergers, Net Neutrality and FirstNet.

On E-Rate:

On Monday the FCC proposed a permanent $1.5 billion (62%) increase in funding for E-Rate. They will vote on it on Dec 11. Funding could go to a range of things such as wireless networks in the school.

Tom Jensen – USDA Rural Development

USDA is a federal bank that will loan money to providers. We focus on Rate of Return providers (the smaller guys – mostly family-owned or coops). To get a loan they require business plans that look back 5 years and look 5 years forward. Re-classifying broadband would help with the loan process.

Questions from the audience:

Q: Lifeline – does that include a data plan? They are trying to transition to broadband for low income. E-Rate is looking too.

Q: Price Cap is getting first chance to serve BUT we haven’t had good experience with them. It seems like a non-answer. So why give them another chance?

The FCC is going with incumbent and in its acceptance they have to commit to providing service but timeframe and speeds are still in question.

Q: Any chance for forgiving USDA loans?

Not much chance – out default rate is very low. We want to keep your tax money safe. Through ARRA we worked with grants – but those are no more.

We do have Distance Learning Telemedicine grants through USDA.

Q: Sometimes E-Rate is a frustration because it’s unreliable. It’s hard to budget with that unreliability. We have heard this before. Be sure to file a complaint.

Q: Why is funding still in silos and not for a broad community effort? No real answer.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 19, 2014

Welcome to the 2014 Broadband Conference from Bernadine Joselyn

Bernadine did a nice job motivating attendees at the Border to Border Broadband conference. Reminding us that we all do better when we all do better and community leadership organizing hope. It set a tone to inspire folks to think forward…


Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 19, 2014

Check out livestream of Border to Border Broadband conference

So you can’t make it to Brainerd for Border to Border Broadband: No Community Left Behind… You don’t have to miss out. Livestream it!

We are excited to announce that the conference will be livestreamed, courtesy of Connect Minnesota. In addition to being livestreamed, the event will also be recorded and posted online for future viewing.

Livestream at: https://new.livestream.com/connectednation/events/3595914 
You can also follow the conversation via Social Media, #mnbroadband. Check out the conference Social Media Wall at http://www.mnbroadbandtalk.com/.

Visit the conference webpage for more information, including the conference program and link to the Social Media Wall.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 19, 2014

Border to Border Broadband Film Fest

At the conference we just enjoyed a broadband film fest. Some are local videos, some are just favorites. The collection was curated by Becky LaPlant…

The Border to Border Broadband conference has begun! Folks are enjoying a reception and talking about the pre-conference session. There was something for everyone – starting with a discussion on “what is broadband” and ending diagrams of various iterations of fiber networks, comparison between fixed wireless and DSL and a super quick primer on satellite.

As Bill Coleman pointed out, “Broadband knowledge is a mile wide and a mile deep. Community doesn’t need to know everything; they just need to find some good partners.” And the room was full of good community leaders and good potential partners.

The discussion wasn’t only technical. We observed that broadband in rural areas is always about economics. How do you make broadband affordable? Get value from the connections. One difficulty is that the value isn’t always realized by the provider – often it’s the community that benefits. (For example by providing social services online.) But that’s just another good reason to look for public private partnerships!

A few good resources were mentioned:
Google Fiber City Checklist
FTTH Community Toolkit

Bernadine Joselyn did a great graphical representation of the session:

bjs bb map

And Pat Sims brought us some pretty detailed tech diagrams:

Here’s the official description:
Bill Coleman and guest experts will illustrate the tech and policy choices facing communities. Without getting too bogged down in tech terms and jargon, this presentation will help
community leaders to better understand their current situations, prospective choices and the impact of those decisions on the future economic vitality of the community or region.

And the Speakers:
Tim Johnson, MVTV Wireless
Andy Sackreiter, AT&T Radio Access Network
Pat Sims, FTTH Network Architect

I attended an interesting webinar sponsored by the NTIA yesterday – Accelerating Impact with Technology: Building Skills, Confidence, and Community. They highlighted broadband adoption programs. Here is the official description:

Whether your focus is economic self-sufficiency, community change, health, or education, the Internet is changing the way you achieve your goals. As more information and services move online, people who are “digitally isolated” grow more excluded from opportunity and less connected to their communities. Although most American households are now online, a large minority – about 30 percent, including many whose members are poorer, less educated, and older – are not. Since 2010, investments in community-based Internet education and training, including $450 million from a federal grant program (the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, or BTOP) and $210 million in matching funds, have demonstrated the power of the Internet to change lives, improving educational outcomes, job readiness, social isolation, and health care. As a result of these investments, there is substantial new capacity available to bring families and communities online – including comprehensive models and resources for program planning, implementation, and evaluation.

This session will describe ways to leverage this untapped intellectual and social capital. We will present exciting results from BTOP and related initiatives, including those in Chicago (the Chicago Community Trust), Kansas City (the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation) and rural Minnesota (the C.K. Blandin Foundation), where philanthropy is playing a transformative role.

Technology access is powerful and disruptive. It can break down generational and social divides, empower immigrants, and open a world of possibilities for new users. Local foundations, working in partnership with government and the private sector, have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build on this new capacity to accelerate the impact of their work.

All three speakers did a good job highlighting the role of broadband in lifting up all corners of a community – and the impact that lifting up all corners has on the community. I’ve been on the road a lot this week so it’s easy for me to think of a driving analogy. One really great way to improve your time from St Paul to Brainerd is to miss the red lights. Same with lifting a community – one really good way is to make sure no one is at a standstill. Once you do that it’s just a matter of steady improvement to change the course.

I’m pleased to share the PPTs from two of the speakers.

Bernadine Joselyn really spoke about the opportunity for Foundations to rise to the occasion to support broadband expansion (adoption and deployment) because broadband is a tool that helps communities accomplish so much of what foundations stand for – access to democracy, community participation, economic vitality and sustained autonomy among residents. It would be great to spread that word to more foundations.

Dan O’Neil from Smart Chicago was also kind enough to share his PPT via Slideshare. Smart Chicago does a fantastic job taking advantage of open technology and access to information to create amazing civic apps!

Over the weekend a letter to the Winona Daily News caught my eye. It came from mayor of Alexandria Sara Carlson is the and mayor of Owatonna Tom Kuntz. The main tenet of the letter was a reminder to Minnesota House Republicans to remember rural Minnesota…

When writing out thank-you cards following the election, Minnesota House Republicans had better include Greater Minnesota on their list.

There is no doubt that the Republicans owe their majority to rural Minnesota. Of the 11 seats they picked up last week, 10 are from outside the metro area. In fact, the majority of the House Republicans — who now hold a 72-62 majority — hail from Greater Minnesota districts.

One of the specific things they mentioned that rural areas needed was broadband…

Certainly, there are many issues that lend well to finding common ground, and House Republicans have an extraordinary opportunity to be the voice for Greater Minnesota during the next two years. There are several needs that are unique to Greater Minnesota, and we expect House Republicans to take the lead on these issues.

For example, the economic development needs of Greater Minnesota differ from those of the metro area. Minneapolis, St. Paul and most of the surrounding suburbs have reliable access to fast, high-quality broadband, while rural parts of the state lag far behind. The Legislature began to address this issue last session by devoting $20 million to funding broadband infrastructure. This is a good start, but more resources are needed, in both the underserved and unserved parts of the state, to bring our businesses and communities up to speed.

News from the Office of Broadband Development…

Forty applications for the Border to Border Broadband Development grant program were received and the challenge process was initiated on November 5th. Because of the detail that must be reviewed to determine whether and what to challenge, the OBD has received multiple requests for an extension of the challenge deadline. The OBD will extend the challenge deadline to 4:00 p.m. on Friday, November 21, 2014.  Any challenges must be submitted to the Office of Broadband Development, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, 1st National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite E200, St. Paul, MN 55101. As a reminder, a list of the applications filed and instructions on how to file a challenge, if necessary, are available at http://mn.gov/deed/programs-services/broadband/grant-program/index.jsp under the “Application Process” tab. This list was updated November 13, 2014. The OBD, as noted on the table, does have pdf maps for many of the projects that were not included in the challenge document. If a potential challenger is interested in reviewing those maps to prepare a challenge, please contact us at deed.broadband@state.mn.us or at 651/259-7610 to request those maps.

This morning I was pleased to join the Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) BBC group to hear about our the local broadband adoption programs went through the BBC (Blandin Broadband Communities) program. Spoiler alert – they went really well. And there’s plenty of good video to share so I’ll keep my notes brief.

They started by creating a Steering Committee comprised of a wide range of stakeholders. They talked about what was important– and the word sustainable came up with everyone and every project. They applied for funds, got them and did some brainstorming led by Bill Coleman. The ideas that came up at the meeting really were the germs of projects that fermented down the road. Below are notes and videos of those programs:

Technology Assessments with Local Businesses

They found ways to make emarketing opportunities sustainable.

Social Media Breakfasts

Social media breakfasts get 20-45 people each month – regardless of weather. We feature local speakers. It’s been great to get people in touch with each other. We try to keep it interactive. We’re building relationships with local businesses. We are all learning more about social media tools and we’re learning that it takes a lot of effort

Social Media & Online Marketing at Community Ed

Art Unlimited has been providing the training to more than 100 businesses. Their goal is to bring deeper level of understanding to attendees. And to help the business deploy recommendations from the Tech Assessments and become active members in the Social Media Breakfasts.

IT Professional Network

They wanted networking and education opportunities. Attendees find that the networking has been great. Smaller business is able to take advantage of expertise in larger businesses. And tech industry includes a lot of moving tech targets – so continual meeting makes sense! Also a great way for new comers to meet other IT folks in the area. The diversity of attendees has been helpful too.

Google Places

Interns visited with local businesses and helped them get on Google Places. They visited 122 businesses; many already had claimed their Google Places but they were able to help 15 businesses.

Community Portal

They creates a community portal to promote local businesses and attract tourists: http://minnesotasnature.com/ They have had 36 blog posts. Launched in February: 13,000+ visitors. They are using Google Pay per Click ads to boost traffic.

I’m in Grand Rapids today – it was a perfect day for a drive as Tom Crann spent almost 30 minutes talking about Net Neutrality and I got to listen. Guests included Chris Mitchell from Institute for Local Self Reliance and Chester Wisniewski from Sophos Inc. The conversation was spurred by President Obama’s recent request that the FCC classify broadband as a telecom services rather than an information service.

I think the segment did a good job of making the connection between the designations and Net Neutrality for folks who don’t eat and sleep this stuff. Chris is based in Minnesota so it was nice to have a number of very local examples used – such as giving props to Dakota County, which has done a good job investing in building broadband.

You can hear the full conversation on the MPR website.

Also on the MPR website, Ground Level, posted some fun numbers on the applications for the Border to Border Broadband Fund

Cities, counties, cooperatives and telecommunication companies big and small are seeking more than $44 million in state money to build better broadband networks around rural Minnesota.

That’s more than twice the amount approved by the Legislature this year, so by mid-December, state officials expect to determine which of 40 projects will receive money.

All the money must go to projects that will provide high-speed Internet access to areas that have no or poor service, and lawmakers required that organizations seeking the money arrange for at least a 50 percent match of local money as well. The program’s goal is to get service to areas that don’t seem lucrative enough for private providers.

Great to see broadband getting prime time play!

Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 12, 2014

Minneapolis Fix IT Tech Event: Nov 22

fix it tech eventI’m sharing the following to promote the event in the Twin Cities but also to plant some seeds in other areas. The idea spurred from a community-wide survey done by the City of Minneapolis, under Otto Doll. I cannot say enough nice things about Otto; he is someone who gets technology but more importantly gets the power that technology brings to a community when everyone has access and therefore every voice can be heard!

Fix-IT Tech Event

A free community technology education event providing computer hardware repair, education and tech support.  Fix-It Tech event goals:

  • Community education: offering hands-on technical experience that helps residents get their items fixed; provides a place to get tech questions answered and get tips on how to maintain and protect personal devices;
  • IT workforce development: IT students gain experience in tech support alongside IT professionals and connect with residents concerning their technology needs;
  • Raising awareness of technology programs: the event provides a venue to promote free digital literacy training resources, low cost computer and internet options, local IT education programs, and IT careers.

Share the Fix-It Tech flyer and contact Elise Ebhardt with questions or to volunteer.

IT is developing the Fix-It Tech events with community partners in response to the Minneapolis Community Technology survey results and our experiences working with residents on their technology needs. The 2014 survey results show that residents overall are not very comfortable troubleshooting computer problems, installing software or backing up files, or protecting themselves online.

Fix-It Tech Events Scheduled through March 2015

According to the University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota today filed complaints against the four largest wireless service providers in the United States because of their infringement of several University patents.

The complaints, filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, assert that Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile are using patented technology developed by a University professor that improves the speed and reliability of 4G LTE service without a license. The University seeks a fair royalty from the companies for their unlicensed use of the technology and asks for a jury trial. …

The complaint includes five patents that cover wireless communications innovations developed by U of M Professor Georgios Giannakis, Ph.D., and his co-inventors. Giannakis’ work improves network reliability and speed. These innovations are important aspects of the 4G LTE service that all four companies use and promote to their millions of customers nationwide.

I’m sure the U of M and the wireless providers will work that out – although it certainly looks like for formidable heavyweights in the ring. But the article did make me wonder what in the heck else they’re doing at the U – especially in Dr. Giannakis’ department, Signal Processing in Networking and Communications.

Here are some of their current projects

  • Sparsity for Dimensionality Reduction (funded by NSF/CISE/CCF Program)
  • Sparsity-Aware RF Cartography for Cognitive Networks (funded by NSF/EECS/IHCS)
  • Cognitive Radio Sensing (funded by QNRF Program)
  • Theoretical Foundations for Wireless Communication Networks (funded by NSF/CISE/CCF Program)
  • Cross-layer design in wireless communication systems with channel uncertainty (funded by ARC Program)
  • A Stochastic Framework for Robust Wireless Networking (funded by NSF/EECS/IHCS)
  • Distributed Estimation Using Sensor Networks (funded by European Commission/CORDIS-Marie Curie)

And past projects, which includes a few more details…

Part of making broadband more affordable is making the technology better and cheaper, so while I won’t be combing through these projects anytime soon, I’m glad there are people who will.

Wow! Vox has posted a nice article detailing what this means

To understand the debate, we have to go back to 1996, the year Congress last overhauled telecommunications law. In that year, Congress established two legal categories:

  • Telecommunications services are services such as a traditional phone line that are considered common carriers. The law imposes a wide variety of legal obligations on telecommunications services and gives the FCC broad discretion to regulate them.
  • Information services are services that allow people to store, process, and publish information online — like old-school AOL, or modern services like YouTube or Facebook. These services are exempt from most FCC regulations.

Since 1996, there’s been a fight over how to classify broadband services offered by incumbents such as Comcast and Verizon. Many open internet activists have argued that the law requires them to be treated as telecommunications services. But in a 2005 case, the Supreme Court ruled that the FCC could classify them as information services if they wanted to. That’s what the FCC has done ever since.

That decision came back to haunt the agency earlier this year. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled that because the FCC had previously classified broadband as a low-regulation “information service,” it could not impose strong network neutrality regulations on them.

The FCC could officially change its mind and declare broadband a telecommunications service. That would give the agency the power to enact strong network neutrality regulations. And that’s what Obama is asking them to do. So even though the question of classification status sounds incredibly dull and obscure, it’s really a huge deal.

The Huffington Post points  out that not everyone will agree…

Obama’s plan won’t be popular with telecom companies, but it has wide support from the U.S. public, which submitted to the FCC almost 4 million comments overwhelmingly in favor of net neutrality this summer. Whether FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will adopt Obama’s plan remains in question.

This weekend I attended the Twin Cities Media Alliance Forum – we talked about the power of storytelling to raise under-heard voices. Attendance was diverse – lots of colors, several native languages, plenty of religions, ages ran the gamut, lots of viewpoints – although most of them urban. Today I wanted to share what I learned through a rural-focused lens, including lessons to help amplify the rural stories and advice for reaching the under-heard (minority) voices in a rural community.

Social media is a powerful tool for sharing stories

“Social media is a powerful tool for sharing stories,” noted Nekima Levy-Pounds, a lawyer, advocate for racial & social justice and a pretty amazing speaker. The conference happened the day after “Pointergate” – where Minneapolis Mayor was accused of flashing gang signs by a local news station and social media went wild questioning the accusation. Pointergate was a clear example of how the general public used social media to tell their story and get at least as much attention as the original network news story. It was the ultimate in crowdsourcing!

And this idea of crowdsourcing to tell a story, or respond to a story, is pretty new. OK Thomas Paine had the pamphlet – but that required a printing press, which means money, and pamphleteers. Even today to paper a neighborhood with pamphlets or campaign literature can be too costly for most people and requires effort that makes an immediate response (like sending a Tweet) very difficult. And those pamphlets represent a voice, maybe even a team of voices, they aren’t voices of individuals.

Social media is available to anyone with a computer (device or smartphone), Internet connectivity and the skills to use them. Access and adoption are important. Rural areas lag behind urban areas in access and adoption. It makes it more difficult to crowdsource a rural area. Or more importantly, because rural communities are not all the same, if your community is lagging with technology, your voice is hushed. You can’t respond to accusations made in traditional media; you can’t get your stories to policymakers.

Increasing access and adoption raises the voice of your community. That’s an investment worth making!

No one can tell your story for you

“Someone else telling your story may be true but it’s incomplete when it isn’t your voice!” noted Nancy Musinguzi, a photojournalist who takes pictures of difficult subject with an infusion of humor. Musinguzi is a young woman who is working to tell her stories and makes a good point. It speaks again I think to the role that technology can play in giving voice – to those who use it. And again research shows that folks disproportionately on the far end of the digital divide include rural and elderly residents. And here’s the thing – with photos and videos telling your story couldn’t be easier – when you have access to the skills and the technology. (I applaud the intergenerational projects (such as Lake County) that pair seniors with youth to develop the skills.

Can you imagine a more powerful story that the voice of experience framed and amplified by tech skills of youth?

The story is more than the quote

Much as I love Twitter, a story is more than 140 characters. Good journalist take the time to get the story behind the quote. However that is getting increasingly difficult to do because of money. Few reporters have the luxury of time/money to do the legwork required to tell the whole story. Part of telling the story is painting a picture of what a community looks like on a good day – a regular day. In the context of the conference one example is, tell me about the life of the recent immigrant before something happens so that I can have a better understanding of what it means when something does. For a rural community, this is an opportunity through the local media, chamber or other community entity to start to tell the stories of the local residents. Because you don’t need a printing press – you need an online presence to represent life in your community, to attract residents (especially youth) and businesses to help people appreciate your story.

Make it easy for journalists and others to know your story – tell it online. You focus on the lens.

The loudest voice can’t be the only voice

We also talked about the loudest voice. For better or for worse, the loudest voice does get the attention. Sometimes that voice is just loud, sometimes it’s best connected, sometimes, I think especially in rural areas, it’s the voice you’ve know forever, sometimes for generations. Just like good journalism takes legwork, so does good community building. And some legwork needs to be spent looking for the under-heard voices. It may be the elderly, the youth, the new immigrants. The first voice you find may or may not be the best representative for their “constituency.” I think of this because what I often hear with digital inclusion programs is – we can’t fill the seats. Bernadine Joselyn is famous for saying – go slow to go fast. I think it makes sense to go slow to make the deep connections. Storytelling is a good first step – everyone has a story. Use that as entry to a new community that strengthens your own community.

The bet community story is the one that amplifies all voices just as the best community policy is the one that listens to all voices.

CCG Consulting does a nice job highlighting little known obvious facts and framing in a way that make you pay attention. Like the cost of broadband per Megabit – based on use. The chart below comes from a recent post; it shows retail price of various telecom products when compared per megabit of bandwidth used:


They do a good job pointing out that there’s potential for a serious profit margin on some of these products – based on this margin and lack of competition…

The above table also tells the story well for about the profitability of Internet service. The last two numbers show that the cost of residential Internet, on a per megabit of usage is 100 times more expensive than the cost of the Internet backbone (or the price that carriers pay for the raw Internet usage). This is why Comcast and other large cable companies are not upset to be transitioning to becoming mostly ISPs, because residential data is where the profits are.

There is one simple reason that some of these products are so expensive and the profits are so out of line with costs – and that is the lack of competition that we have in the US market where the vast majority of telecom products are sold by oligopoly providers. That lack of competition let’s these companies keep the profits on test messaging, cellular phone service and residential Internet service much higher than is reasonable. It has been shown in the US that in those handful of places where there is competition that prices end up significantly lower.

I think being a rural area exacerbates the situation! First – according to a provider discussion that happened at one of the MN Broadband Task Force meetings this backbone costs varies *greatly* depending on location

Then providers got down to brass tacks and budgets. Access (Gig) to the backbone in Minneapolis costs a provider 50 cents a month. In Red Wing it’s more like a dollar. In Thief River Falls, it’s $10,000-$20,000 a month. Clearly when wholesale costs vary so much, retail is a different game in remote areas.

Second the lack of competition is also exacerbated in rural areas. Greater overhead, fewer potential customers and increased distance between customers. Make a tough business case.

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