Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 22, 2015

Martin County BBC Broadband Project Udpates

KarlSamp2Thanks to Karl Samp for the update on BBC community Martin County…

Martin County:   Continues to be a star BBC – They met Tuesday to discuss the following…

Three of the four funded projects were there to give reports on status.

  • App. Camp – Big success 10 8th graders from different county school districts created apps/games about public places, things to do and see in Martin County using MIT Inventor software. Lots of local coverage including KEYC TV out of Mankato.  Have enough money left to do a mini App camp with 4th and 5th graders during school year using Scratch software.  Students that partook must perform 5 hours of service – 2 of which was at the County Fair staffing a booth about their/BBC project, Other 3 hours will be assisting with Comm. Ed. Tech Classes (See below).  Hope to get additional funds to continue project reaching more kids in smaller districts in County.
  • Comm. Ed. (CER) technology Classes – 1st offering will start this month- 26th.  Specialty classes scheduled with Senior, group homes, and Chamber.) Also, will have a series (9) of coffee classes around the county – 1 hr. 10-11 a.m.  Oct. – March – Folks preregister and give topics they want to learn about – they are thinking a lot will be for those who are thinking about (or recently have) purchasing mobile devices and how to get the most out of them.  Flyer developed and all will get a flash drive. All locations have table tents promoting the event at their location as well.
  • Unified Community Calendar of Events – in place, being populated, and big marketing campaign starting on availability and for orgs., how to use it. Going well, great response to the idea so far. Will help all orgs. Avoid duplicating dates for events, and provide one place for residents and visitors to find out about events.
  • Community WiFi – Lead was on vacation and no one else had info on where it was at. In addition to public WiFi at sites around county, they will have WiFi on Activities buses and public transit buses.
  • Feasibility Study Grant – Scott and Bryan are developing the RFP, using the templates I got from Bill to share. One thing that is happening there that may affect when they get this out, is that Frontier has designated about $27M of CAF for build out in Martin County serving about 2700 residences/businesses. Jeff. M. from Frontier was on vacation so we didn’t get an update on their status, and not sure how much they will share and  how soon before they start. Also, just since the BBC started, and the providers showed up en masse at the Vision meeting and they have found where fiber is running now, and several businesses that weren’t connected, are now being served.  Sounds like an Infrastructure Sub Committee will be formed to work alongside Scott and Bryan through the process. Jean Burkhart, formerly of NW Area Foundation is a resident and active in the group. Also a former Cty. Comm. so she has been a great addition. She made this suggestion and volunteered. I think she wants BB at her Fox Lake home J.

PCs for People – Scheduled for Oct. 8th, 6-8 p.m. at Elementary School cafeteria in Fairmont. They sent out 250 letters to county social services and only had 4 replies, but they just went out last week. They will work with schools if response is light. Have local repair shop in place. Also, as a repair shop in Welcome that a couple ran but they moved to ND to set up shop there. They are now back, and retired living above storefront. Bridget, from Welcome TV felt they might have a strong interest in doing a local PCs for P affiliate program with students. They will explore.  HS Football team will participate in event and carry out computers to vehicles for folks.

With all of the above funded in early round, they only have about 12 or 13,left if they are being held to Feasibility Grant counting against their $75K. They also have addressed almost all of their priority projects identified in Visioning.

Possible projects so far include the two mentioned above (App Camp expansion and PCs for P affiliate. Also more $ for classes may be sought).

Library may get involved.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 21, 2015

Minnesota Office of Broadband receives 41 applications for funding

The Office of Broadband Development has about $10.5 million dollars in broadband funds to grant to broadband expansion projects Minnesota communities. The applications for projects were due on September 15, 2015. The Office will accept challenges to those projects until October 9. Here’s more info on the challenge from their website

Existing broadband providers can review the project areas and determine whether they believe an area’s eligibility for the grant program should be challenged because they already provide wireline broadband service within any of the project areas. A provider can either challenge that an applicant’s proposed project includes areas that are already served at 10Mbps down and 5 Mbps upload and is therefore served and ineligible for grant funding; or that a proposed project includes areas that are already served at 25Mbps down and 3Mbps upload and should be re-classified as underserved if the applicant has described the area as unserved.

You can see a list of who has applied and proposed project area on their website too. It’s tough to glean much high level information but here are some quick notes:

  • CenturyLink proposed 9 projects
  • Midcontinent proposed 3 projects
  • New Ulm Telecom proposed 3 projects
  • Ottertail Telcom proposed 2 projects
  • Palmer Wireless proposed 3 projects
  • West Central Telephone proposed 2 projects
  • Some projects are going for Fiber to the Home, while others focus on “at least 10Mbps down/5Mbps upload” yet others don’t specify speeds (in this chart).
  • Some projects proposed as few as 21 new connected locations, others proposed 33,221 new locations and others focus on backhaul.

In some of the community conversations I’ve attended people have expressed frustration at not being able to submit proposals – perhaps because they simply are not far enough down the road to answer many questions. Folks in that boat, should consider submitting as expression of interest, it will help make the case next legislative season that there is a need for more funding. Here’s the notice from the Office of Broadband website

Expressions of Interest: If you weren’t able to apply in the 2015 grant round, let us know of your interest by filling out the Expression of Interest in Support of Minnesota Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program form. We have data on the number of unserved households but YOU can help us document the demand for broadband in unserved and underserved areas to support continuation of the broadband infrastructure grant

grouppicOver the weekend I attended the Hack2.o in Willmar. It was hosted by WorkUp (a coworking space in the area), Kandiyohi EDC, Ridgewater College, Minnwest College and the Blandin Foundation. Many of the attendees had a connection to the local college, some were tech-interested residents and a few of us came from out of town – the Twin Cities and Iowa.

While there are similarities, each hack I attend has its own personality – especially in a rural area. The gist remains the same – to gather folks who are interested in developing technology to solution specific problems. Often there’s a civic slant and that was the case in Willmar. People came with ideas on how technology could solve local issues and four teams formed to solve the following:

  • How can I receive, save and store encrypted email in a way that keeps the contents private to the email provider?
  • How can we reduce “false” fire alarms by helping citizens tell fire departments that they are going to build a campfire?
  • How can we better manage and monitor our local, free bike share program?
  • How can we keep lakes clean by helping people identify, report and remove zebra mussels and other invasive species?

I’ll include the PowerPoints and videos from the event below and just share some high level notes. First, the event was really fun. It’s so nice to see a roomful of people who are willing (happy even!) to give up a weekend to work on projects to make their communities better. Technology is inspiring greater civic participation! Some people are passionate about an idea. Some people want to code. Some people want to practice what they are learning. (I used to be the librarian for the National Service-Learning Library so I love that doing to learn aspect.) I think the draw of techies is obvious.

The draw for non-techies is less obvious but in the land of the coders, someone who can manage a project, create a flowchart, write, present or cheerlead becomes pretty valuable. If in your real world you work (or want to work) with tech folks, I think it would be a valuable exercise in how techies collaborate. There is a lot of brainstorming, a lot of talking things through, a lot of charts. This weekend, there weren’t a lot of egos. There was a lot of listening and a lot of mutual learning. If a hack event comes to your town and you’re interested but feel you aren’t that technical – come and see what you have to offer.

On a community level, I think the draw has obvious and less obvious benefits. First, I think all of these projects will continue. So Willmar has four new tools in their arsenal. Second, a handful of us came to town. A larger handful went out, bought drinks, had a good time and would come back. Connections were made. I know I’ll stay in touch with a few – even if only via LinkedIn or Twitter but the human network is there. More importantly the local tech community got a chance to build a rapport. They have learned together and I suspect will continue to do so.

Often when we talk about digital inclusion or digital training we think about the elementary level, such as showing seniors how to use email or an iPad. But it’s important to seed the training at the graduate level too, such as learning to use Python for digital recognition. For a community the investment is having the space, hosting the event, getting people to the door. Willmar has a great space – it was nice to see it get used and I think an event like this draws in more people.

Read More…

Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 21, 2015

Redwood County Broadband Project Updates and Plans

KarlSamp2Thanks to Karl Samp for the update on BBC community Redwood County…

Redwood County– Continues to meet (there have usually been 5 or 6 at most meetings) regularly. They had two projects ($23,400) in the early round so they have quite a few lined up for the next time.

They met on Monday afternoon to talk about the following–

Second Round potential projects as follows:

  • Redwood Area Hospital – they are embarking on a pretty aggressive telemedicine project in partnership with John Goodman that involves lots of partners- long term care, group homes, Asst. Living, home health and the hospital, working primarily with the HCMC Physicians group. Primary areas to include: Cardio Care, Mental Health, and Ortho. They hope to be the regional center for SW MN to access specialty care via telemedicine. They just signed with an evaluation firm to do a pretty extensive evaluation component.  Probably coming in around $15K.
  • GIS online for Redwood County. They’ve been working on this since they first heard about grant opportunities, and have two primary options. I think they are going with the more expensive one up-front, with better quality and expansion capacity, and lower on-going costs. They’ve been in contact with several other county GIS folks, including Big Stone, which was funded during MIRC. Probably around $14-$15K grant request.
  • Laptop Lab for Lamberton Schools- will include Comm. Ed. component. – $3-5K request.
  • Broadband Marketing initiative – to help drive demand for improved infrastructure in the county.  RADC lead – $2-3K request.
  • iPad for Assisted Living – purchase two iPads for use in local Asst. Living facility – probably $1000 request.
  • Public Library – Just got involved in the group which is good – looking to upgrade computers in the library – 16 if they go with desktop units but will explore laptops and possibly some iPads though City IT guy concerned about the mobile devises walking out. Told Terry Smith (Librarian) to check with others who have done this (i.e. Jackson). Looks like $6-10 K depending how they go and what match they can get from City.
  • Tech Fair – One was held on the 17th of this week. Sarah K. had written about possible sponsorship, but not until Aug. Told her to consider applying for up  to $1000 for next year.
  • WiFi project – looks like New Ulm Telephone may be doing most of what they wanted for free so this one may not come in

PCs for People – Still trying to schedule, but looking like early Oct. Lamberton Schools sent letter to F & R Lunch families, and got 30 requests so event will probably be there. Leonard R. from Lamberton checking with other school districts for interest. They are exploring a collection as well, as the County has many in storage.

Early Grant Round status:

  • Training Lab in the County:  Room has been cleared and cleaned. Computer stations in place and waiting for computers and monitors. They are exploring options for projector/Smart Board or TV. They will call SW MN RDC about getting in the Smart TV network funded in the early round through SW MN Broadband application. There initial goal was to be open for business on 12/31. Paul Parsons is hoping for a 12/1 date however.
  • Community Ed. – A series (10-12) of community ed. Lunch and Learn classes will start in January, using the new training lab above.  They are also offering some special offerings specific to populations (seniors, disability, business, etc.)

I love to see that broadband is becoming a hot topic among many policymakers…

(ST. PAUL, MN) – State Senator Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) will be hosting a town hall discussion with state and local officials, business leaders, broadband providers, and members of the community to discuss the current state of broadband and what might be in the future for Sherburne County.   The town hall discussion will be on Monday, September 28 at 7:00pm at the Big Lake City Hall Council Chambers, 160 Lake Street North, Big Lake, MN 55309.   Light refreshments will be provided.

Constituents wishing to find out more information or contact Senator Kiffmeyer can do so by calling (651) 296-5655, by emailing her at, or by sending mail to her Senate office at 123 State Office Building Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN, 55155.

Representative Thissen visited two communities yesterday to talk about broadband Pine City and Aitkin. (I wrote about Pine City earlier.)

There were quite a few people in Aitkin including economic developers, several local business people, providers, community leaders and residents. And people were pretty passionate in part because we heard from business people who have run into problems – wasted hours – not being able to access the broadband they need and no solution is in sight.

And with some of the national providers there’s not much sympathy for lack of access.

The area applied for the Border to Border grant funds last year but didn’t get it. That clearly deflated people and what everyone recognize was that the state just needs to invest a lot more money into broadband. People were curious and worried about the CAF arrangements because they are worried that the providers who accepted CAF funding will build to the minimum and that is not what the community wants or needs.

The costs to everyone are an issue. The cooperative did a feasibility study that determined it woudl cost $65 million to get FFTH in their service area.

Read More…

Representative Thissen visited two communities yesterday to talk about broadband Pine City and Aitkin. (I’ll post the Aitkin notes later.)  Pine City has been working on broadband for several years. They have had bad luck getting larger incumbents to provide the service they want – as discussed in the video below.

People are obviously frustrated with their service. And folks are concerned about the equity of access in the state. One attendee asked about the speed goals – and what became apparent was that the number didn’t matter to him – what he really wanted to know was if the goal was sufficient for doing what he wanted to do AND was the plan to have everyone in the state have pretty much the same speed. The quick answer was no on equity. Faster speeds are available in the Twin Cities and in some rural areas.

And people are aware of the limitations on the community without better broadband..

Read on for more notes… Read More…

GCN reports

Montgomery County, Md., is using its Thingstitute to see how actionable, granular data can  help farmers improve their businesses.

The agriculture data initiative is the second project for the county’s Thingstitute, an Internet of Things technology test bed for start-ups, established companies and research institutions alike. Its first major project, the Safe Community Alert Network, created a sensor system that could provide situational awareness to residents of public housing.

They describe the projects they are researching for agriculture…

The agriculture testbed plans to provide county farmers with technology to measure farm-specific data, like ground temperatures and hyper-local weather conditions, which could ultimately help them improve the efficiency of pesticides and implement more precise nutrient management practices. Additionally, the project will explore ways to help farmers more quickly and efficiently collect the compliance data they need to meet federal and state reporting requirements.

While the project is still in planning phases, four farms have already volunteered to install sensors this coming winter and early spring. The farms vary in operations, experience levels and use of technology  — the operations include traditional pumpkin and squash farming, a persimmon orchard, a company that recycles unused shipping containers into greenhouses and a dairy that uses robotic milking technology.

It demonstrates that in the age of the Internet of Things, striving for broadband access to areas with lower population/population density makes sense. Broadband – not just for people any more!

An addition to Thursday’s broadband meeting lineup

SAINT PAUL, MN – On Thursday, September 17th at 9:00 a.m. House DFL Leader Paul Thissen will hold a roundtable meeting at the Pine County Courthouse in the County Board Room to hear from local officials and community leaders about the importance of expanding broadband service in Pine City and throughout Greater Minnesota.


WHO: House DFL Leader Paul Thissen, State Rep. Mike Sundin, economic development representatives, and area broadband experts and advocates


WHAT:           Roundtable discussion on expanding broadband service in the Pine County area and other communities in Greater Minnesota


WHEN:           Thursday, September 17th from 9:00 am – 10:00 am


WHERE:         Pine County Courthouse, County Board Room

This is Lifeline Awareness week! You can celebrate by sharing this information with someone who may need it. Also it’s an opportunity to remember affordability in the broadband expansion discussion. I’ve seen a lot of policy discussions where everyone unanimously agrees that afforability is essentnial – but the conversation fizzles when it comes to numbers. Seeing that the discount for lifeline is $10 amonth puts some frame around the issue.

MINNESOTA PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION CALLS ATTENTION TO LIFELINE AWARENESS WEEK Assistance with landline or wireless telephone charges is available  to help low-income customers stay connected

ST. PAUL, Minn. – “In today’s society everyone should have access to an affordable, basic level of telephone service in order to meet essential and emergency needs,” states the Chair of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, Beverly Jones Heydinger.

Access to local emergency services and community resources is vital to low-income and elderly residents. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) wants Minnesota residents to “stay connected” and is reaching out to those who need phone service but can’t afford it. During “Lifeline Awareness Week,” September 14-20, the PUC will promote the Lifeline Program, which offers discounts to help residents have access to basic local telephone service.

Under the federal Lifeline program, telephone customers who participate in or are eligible for certain assistance programs are able to receive a basic telephone service discount. This discount is in the form of a credit for $9.25 per month on traditional phone plans or at least 250 free minutes per month on participating wireless plans. Although AT&T, Verizon and Sprint do not offer Lifeline, it is available from many other wireless providers.

To apply for benefits contact your local landline or wireless telephone company or the PUC. The PUC can be reached at (651) 296-0406, (800) 657-3782,, or visit the website at

Posted by: Ann Treacy | September 13, 2015

Annandale to get better broadband through Mid-Continent

Annandale has been looking to improve broadband for a while. About a year ago, Annandale posted a RFP for a fiber partner. They have been very active and vocal about pursuing a municipal network out of frustration with lack of providers interested.

Earlier this year they were in a precarious position when the legislature went from looking for special funding for Annandale to that funding being zeroed out. There was some discussion on the politics of their special designation of funds and the cut of those funds. Regardless the city’s broadband did not improve.

It turns out that Mid-Continent is going to be improving broadband in the area. WatchDog reports

Then, virtually out of cyberspace, Mid-Continent Communications unveiled plans to install a broadband cable network in the city of 3,300, advertising, some of the fastest speeds in the country by 2017.

“Is it our ultimate network that we wanted? No. Is it very, very close? I would say, yeah. Is it going to do what our residents and businesses need here for the near future? Yes, so it was a pretty easy decision,” Gunnarson said.

“We’ll take the risks and we’ll take the opportunities, as well,” said Tom Simmons, Mid-Continent Communications senior vice president of public policy. “We think we can bring this service to them in a cost-effective manner.”

It reminds me of the conversation with  the FCC at the Task Force last week when they noted that fiber is the ultimate goal. It’s what everyone really wants but when no one is willing to step up with a fiber plan, when no one can make a business case, it makes sense to look at the next best offer. It seems like being a squeaky wheel may have helped expedite the process in Annandale. Sounds like construction will begin soon…

Mid-Continent will start design work over the winter with construction set to begin in spring. The high-speed system should come online later in 2016, risk-free to local and state taxpayers.

House DFL Leader Paul Thissen has planned two more conversations about broadband in September. Last month the DFL Caucus held similar conversation is Willmar and Morris. From what I observed at the earlier meetings, the legislators are there is listen. It’s a good time to bring your story if you want to have an impact on what happens with broadband (and broadband funding) next year during session.

Here are the details on the meetings…

  • On Thursday, September 17th at 11:15 a.m. House DFL Leader Paul Thissen will hold a roundtable meeting at the Aitkin City Hall to hear from local officials and community leaders about the importance of expanding broadband service in Aitkin and throughout Greater Minnesota.
    WHO: House DFL Leader Paul Thissen, economic development representatives, and area broadband experts and advocates
    WHAT: Roundtable discussion on expanding broadband service in the Aitkin County area and other communities in Greater Minnesota
    WHEN: Thursday, September 17th from 11:15 am – 12:30 pm
    WHERE: Aitkin City Hall, Conference Room
  • On Tuesday, September 29th at 1:00 at the Long Lake Conservation Center, the Aitkin County Board of Commissioners will be holding a Committee of the Whole meeting with area broadband providers invited. The purpose of the meeting will be to have an open dialogue with the providers looking for specific actions we can make together to eventually bring Aitkin County up to the broadband speeds specified by the State of Minnesota.
    WHO: Aitkin County Board of Commissioners, providers invited.

WHAT: Committee of the Whole meeting of the Commissioners for open discussion on how to increase broadband speed and availability in Aitkin County.
WHEN: Tuesday, September 29th at 1:00 pm
WHERE: Long Lake Conservation Center in the North Star Lodge, Palisade, MN

It’s always fun to post an update like this from Hometown Focus

With nearly 1,000 miles of fiber optic cable laid over the past four years across eight northeastern Minnesotacounties, the Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC) Northeast Middle Mile Fiber Project is the largest broadband network of its kind in the region.

Good reason to celebrate.

A celebration to mark completion of the $43.5 million fiber optic network is at 1 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 30, at NESC headquarters in Mountain Iron.

Here’s the archive video:

The PowerPoints:

And the original descirption:

In the 1930’s, the federal government chose to ensure that everyone should be able to have a telephone.  The Universal Service Fund (USF) was a tool that emerged to make that happen.  Now the USF is being used increasingly to fund broadband networks and users.  Learn how communities and regions can collaboratively use this funding resource for network deployment and driving adoption.  Learn from top federal and state officials and an expert broadband practitioner about the legal uses of the funds and new creative strategies to leverage these dollars for greater community benefit.

Webinar speakers:

  • Joe Freddoso, Co-Founder and COO of Mighty River LLC, a telecommunications consulting firm.
  • Jonathan Chambers, Chief of Policy and Strategy, FCC
  • Mary Mehsikomer, Technology Integration Development and Outreach Facilitator, TIES
  • Jennifer Nelson, MN State Librarian

Cosponsored by the Office of Broadband Development

Today the Task Force met. They heard from the FCC about CAF and E-Rates. I thought the most compelling part of the discussion was the way the rules have changed to open a door to allow a school or library to become an even stronger anchor tenant in rural areas in terms of offsetting costs of building and supporting fiber networks. Also the folks from the FCC were pretty clear that fiber is the gold standard but that when (as in some rural areas) no one will look at deploying fiber that the FCC will look at other options.

There was also an interesting discussion on speeds – from the perspective of how/why should the Task Force update the State Speed Goals. Most folks seemed to feel that it was essential to define a numerical goal – because what gets measured gets done. But there was a push to also include non-numeric goals as well – such as becoming a world class leader. While the current goal is 10/5 MB, there was discussion about changing it to the FCC definition, which is 25/3 MB. That is clearly a decrease in the upload goal. Some folks thought that it made sense to go with a recognized standard or even to leave out the numbers and just go with “using the FCC definition” then when it changed so would the state goals. The discussion appears to be an ongoing topic.

I have posted full notes below. Immediately after the meeting the folks from the FCC presented at a webinar for the Blandin Foundation. That webinar was recorded and will be posted very soon. Once posted I will include the link here – it is more complete that my notes below.

Read More…

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