dodge coYesterday I attended a broadband meetings hosted by Senator Schmit in Pine Island. It was a conversation about how local communities might take advantage of the current round of Border to Border broadband grants. Presenters included Bernadine Joselyn from Blandin Foundation, Danna MacKenzie from Office of Broadband Development, Monty Morrow from NU-Telecom, Bill Eckles from Bevcomm and Stephanie Nuttall from Winona County. Both of the providers and Winona County have received past grants so it was a pretty practical discussion about what has worked in the past, while Danna and Senator Schmit spoke about the priorities for this year.

I suspect that the Office of Broadband Development will get a lot of applications this year. Danna brought a number of new maps with her. I’ll just include one (to the right) from Dodge County. The unserved area is pink. The new definition for unserved (no access to 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up) and underserved (no access to 100/20) has opened up a lot of areas to qualify for the grants. I’ll include the full notes and videos below but I think the best piece of advice I heard was for community and providers to talk about potential projects and choose one plan for each areas. DO as much work as possible – paint a picture of success – have a definite plan. And I heard at this meet as I’ve heard at every other I’ve attended that the Office of Broadband Development is very helpful. They may be your first call for help or and the last call for loose strings.

The application is out now. The deadline is October 2. Good luck!

(There’s also a bonus video on the upcoming education broadband grants – more will b released on those grants in the next.) Read More…

I may not be in town, if I am I will attend and take notes. This is a great place to get good ideas, get inspired and meet some fantastic people…

Every year our CTEP AmeriCorps members choose community action projects that make a contribution to bridging the digital divide. Please join us on Friday, August 5, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Saint Paul Neighborhood Network, where our members will share their accomplishments and struggles in creating community change through their projects. Feel free to swing by earlier for informal networking starting at 9 a.m; bagels and coffee will be served.

The Saint Paul Neighborhood Network’s AmeriCorps program, the Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) bridges the “digital divide” for immigrant communities, low-income residents and persons with disabilities in the Twin Cities. AmeriCorps members help youth and adults use technology to access social, civic, educational and economic opportunities.

PLEASE Register Here

Here is a glimpse of this year’s civic engagement projects:

  • Technological Inclusion for Hard of Hearing and Deaf Communities
    This project focused on providing technology skills education to older adults in the Hard of Hearing and Deaf community through one-on-one computer coaching sessions and iPad classes. Community Partner: Ebenezer Park and Tower Apartments
  • Stop! Animate!
    A three week stop-motion animation camp for the youth at CLUES. The participants worked together in small groups to create short animated films completely from scratch.Community Partners: Communidades Latinos Unidas en Servicio (CLUES), SPNN, Independent Film Project
  • Building an Online Instructional Resource for Low-Educated Learners
    This research project, and the resulting intervention, supported CTEP members so they can better serve low-educated English Language Learners and boost digital literacy outcomes for partnering community based organizations. We developed an online environment to be flexible and adaptable for instructors as well provide relevant accessible learning resources to students. Community Partner: Jen Vanek
  • Adult ELL iPad Camera Class
    A class for Adult ELL students focused on introducing basic photography concepts with an iPad. Community Partner: Hmong American Partnership
  • Twin Cities Techettes
    A two-week summer camp that challenges participants to solve real-life STEM problems, develop technology skills that are necessary for life beyond high school, and explore STEM opportunities. Community Partners: Arlington Hills Community Library and Maplewood Library
  • Connecting Parents to Schools
    Connecting Parents to Schools aims to teach parents with low technology literacy how to use these school websites and applications so they can be more involved in their children’s educations. Community Partners: Wayzata School District and Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners
  • Engaging with Technology at the RMDH School
    Our Civic Engagement team has been working for the past year to find ways of engaging the Ronald McDonald House School in daily technology use in their classroom. Through lesson planning using iPads and interactive SmartBoard activities, we hope to give the kids a chance to express their creativity through the use of technology. Community Partner: Ronald McDonald House of the Twin Cities
  • Adding Participatory Action Research to St. Paul Public Schools
    Our civic engagement project advances the presence of Participatory Action Research, a model media literacy curriculum that engages youth in both quantitative and creative exercises to explore local topics of social justice and community history, in the Saint Paul Public Schools.
  • Digital Storytelling Initiative
    The Digital Storytelling Initiative is a two-week media skills boot camp that allows students to tell their stories through media. Community Partners: Saint Paul Public Libraries.

I’ve written about this before. I’m not sure that there’s any new news here but I know many readers are interested in the state broadband grants and I know the information the Office of Broadband Development will be helpful…

Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Development Grant

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), Office of Broadband Development, will be soliciting proposals from qualified organizations for Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Development Grants. The grant application period opened on July 22, 2016. The application deadline is 4:00 p.m., Monday, October 3, 2016.

Application Process

The 2016 Broadband Grant Application is now available for download. Please note that in downloading the Microsoft Word version of the Grant Application, some people have encountered some text box and pagination issues. If you observe such errors, you can download a PDF version of the Grant Application. If you use the PDF version of the application, convert the PDF to Word or contact deed.broadband@state.mn.us and we will email a copy of the Word version.

If you have any other questions, you can email the Broadband office at deed.broadband@state.mn.us or look through the Broadband Grant Program FAQs. The FAQs will be updated throughout the grant application process as new questions come in.

The website for Broadband Grant information is located at mn.gov/deed/programs-services/broadband/grant-program.

Notice of Grant Criteria and Scoring Posting

DEED is required by law to post the specific criteria and any quantitative weighting scheme or scoring system that will be used to evaluate or rank applications and award grants for this competitive grant program.

Download the Grant Criteria and Scoring Document.

Contact Information

For questions, call 651-259-7610; or email deed.broadband@state.mn.us

This notice does not commit the State of Minnesota or DEED to entering into a grant contract with any organization.

franken mtgTuesday I had the unique pleasure or trekking from Owatonna to Stewartville to Winona with Senator Franken’s staff as they held listening sessions on infrastructure with local communities. I learned a lot. I have notes and videos from each of the sessions that I’ll include below. But I wanted to started with some of the broad, shared or new ideas I heard today.

The towns we visited are pretty well served with broadband. People mentioned being happy with Jaguar and Hiawatha. Several people had fiber to the home (FTTH). One  mentioned that his old house was easier to sell with FTTH and he made sure the new one had it before he moved.

The areas outside the towns were not as well served and folks noted lack of competition and lack of government funding. There never seems to be enough. Broadband and cell coverage are intertwined as far as most people are concerned. And lots of rural Minnesota still lacks adequate cell coverage.

Broadband was not the first infrastructure issue mentioned in any session. People mentioned clay sewers, outdated wastewater systems, poor roads, deadly highways, housing, housing, housing. All of these problems cost money. Millions of dollars – like broadband. As someone pointed out a big difference is that with more infrastructure, government funding goes to a government entity. Broadband is the still primarily the bailiwick of the private sector.

Everyone recognized the need for broadband. It’s not a luxury anymore is support economic development, education and quality of life. BUT as I said earlier, it’s not the first thing on anyone’s wish list (or must have list).

I don’t follow other infrastructure issues like I do for broadband so I left in my notes. I found it interesting to hear the similarities and differences and tried to find ways that solutions with other modes of infrastructure might fit into broadband. One solution fit – income-adjusted housing.

Often when people talk about affordability and broadband they focus on subsidies or other strategies for low income households. That’s important but I think it’s also important to find ways to make broadband more affordable to lower middle income households. (Lisa Peterson de la Cueva wrote a great letter on that topic.) Perhaps there’s a way to incorporate income-adjusted pricing – at least from providers that receive government subsidies.

Read on for more complete notes. (To be fair, the notes are not complete. I focused on broadband and just noted other topics that struck me.) Read More…

Mostly I pay attention to what’s happening with broadband in rural areas – rural Minnesota specifically. But a week ago someone sent me an interesting article on a primarily urban issue: broadband and landlords in apartments and other multiple unit dwellings (MUDs).

Here’s the issue…

Steep Internet bill and no choice? If you live in an apartment building, the landlord might be profiting from your plight.

Exclusive broadband agreements between apartment building owners and broadband providers are common, leaving renters with no choice but to pay inflated costs for sub-par service — and rewarding landlords for keeping it that way.

The existence of these exclusive arrangements is surprising for a simple reason: they were outlawed eight years ago.

The landlord chooses one provider – based on financial rewards bestowed by that provider. Even though it is illegal, the article points out that a landlord can make it pretty easy or difficult for a new provider to come into their building by simply not opening the door to them or not allowing marketing materials into the building.

It’s interesting to think about the urban issue – and it’s interesting to see if there are any parallels with rural areas. (Or in the case of towns – think about the implications of this happening in your community.)

The article offers some advice for apartment seekers – some of these suggestions would also make sense for someone looking to relocate their home or business to a rural area…

1. Check before you sign

Before you sign a lease, manually check what Internet providers are available. Start with a broad zip code search using the BroadbandNow provider comparison tool, then follow up by calling each provider to check if they can access your specific building.

2. Ask your neighbors

Introduce yourself to your potential neighbors, and ask what options they have.

3. Tell landlords how you feel

If you don’t move into a building because of a lack of broadband choice, inform the owner so they’re aware that choice matters to renters.

4. Participate in local government

Be active in your local government, and ask your representatives to support pro-competition broadband initiatives like dark fiber.

5. File a complaint

A critical mass of public complaints can have an impact. You can file with both the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and FTC (Federal Trade Commission):

If I were to modify this list for a rural area, I might say:

  1. Check before you sign. Just last week I heard about someone who bought a home in a rural area only to learn that Internet access was not adequate for their needs.
  2. Ask neighbors. Again last week I heard wrote about a provider that decided to escalate upgrades to meet the need of a local business.
  3. Tell landlords how you feel. Here’s a might modify that to the local Economic Development Authority, Chamber of Commerce or elected officials. Perhaps they can help. And even if they can’t it will be helpful for them to know that they are losing potential with limited broadband.
  4. Participate in local government. Ask if there’s a broadband effort and if so consider joining or again at least let them know your story.
  5. File a complaint. The irony is that while government does what they can to promote competition in urban areas they seem to do almost do the opposite in rural areas because they often will fund only one provider in any given area. I understand  wanting to maximize their investment but sometimes that choice leaves government putting up some of the same roadblocks in rural America as the landlords build in urban areas. That makes it difficult to file a complaint.

Earlier this month, Wisconsin announced a new program intended to streamline broadband deployment for providers by eliminating and/or drastically reducing barriers created from local government. Here’s what the press release from Scott Walker said…

Governor Scott Walker joined community leaders and state officials at Vernon Communications Cooperative today to announce the official launch of Wisconsin’s Broadband Forward! Community Certification Program. The program coordinates and streamlines administrative procedures for the deployment of next generation broadband technologies by providing a new “Broadband Forward! Community” designation for units of local government who wish to participate.

“Improving the speed and efficiency of broadband throughout Wisconsin is crucial to the continued economic success of our communities,” Governor Walker said. “The Broadband Forward! Community certification allows communities to distinguish themselves by eliminating obstacles to infrastructure investment.”

“Broadband Forward! Community certification is a welcome mat for more broadband investment. A streamlined permitting process and reasonable fee structure is a win-win for everyone involved,” explained Bill Esbeck, Executive Director of the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association.

Wisconsin communities choosing to be designated as a “Broadband Forward! Community” must comply with certain procedures for reviewing applications and permits related to broadband infrastructure projects with the goal of streamlining the process for approving local broadband investment. Municipalities interested in applying are encouraged to visit the Public Service Commission’s website here for more information.

This will be helpful for the providers. I remember Google releasing a checklist of what they find attractive in a potential community – money and tax credits weren’t on the list. Ease of work was. Sounds like Wisconsin has borrowed from that mentality.

My only question is – where is the checklist or certification program for the providers? (There are some good resources – like the Benton Foundation Guide to Partnerships – but it’s not really a tool to measure providers.) People tease me because I often compare attracting a provider to attracting a prom date. And here’s just one similarity, it seems like there are more articles on how to get a prom date than how to choose one. Same with providers. It would be nice to balance the Wisconsin Forward certification for communities with a certification for providers.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 25, 2016

Comcast and HUD: Internet Essentials expanded

News from the Office of Broadband Development newsletter…

Last week, Comcast and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced the expansion of Internet Essentials to all public housing and HUD assisted residents living in Comcast’s service area.

With this change, the program will no longer be limited to households with students in grades K-12 that qualify for free and reduced school lunch. It is expanded to include seniors, veterans and adults without children. Approximately 65 percent of HUD assisted households do not have school age children and will be newly eligible for this program. Internet Essentials provides a 10Mbps download broadband connection, including a wireless router, for $9.95 per month plus taxes.

You can contact them for more info – on this or the Border to Border grants:

Contact info for the MN Office of Broadband Development

Contact us at: http://mn.gov/deed/programs-services/broadband/contact/index.jsp

Minnesota Office of Broadband Development

Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development

332 Minnesota Street
Suite E-200
St. Paul, MN 55101

Phone: 651-259-7610

Email: deed.broadband@state.mn.us

Website: www.mn.gov/deed/broadband

Posted by: Ann Treacy | July 23, 2016

Updated Minnesota Broadband Maps Now Available

News from the Office of Broadband Development… (remember – the applications for broadband funding are now being accepted)

Many mapping and data tools reside on the Office of Broadband Development’s Maps & Data webpage, including the newly updated interactive map and individual county maps that among other things, help determine if areas of a proposed broadband development project might be grant eligible under the criteria of the 2016 Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program.

The interactive maps show the currently unserved and underserved areas of the state. After entering a location, you can access the maps by clicking on “Maps/Data” at the top of the page and then “Access” on the drop down menu, and then the first option which is the 2016 grant eligibility overlay. Individual county maps are also available. Scroll down to “County Maps” and click on “2016 State Infrastructure Grant – Unserved and Underserved Areas.”

If you have any questions regarding these tools, please send an email to deed.broadband@state.mn.us .

Last week. Chris Mitchell featured ALP Utilities on the MuniNetwork Podcast. ALP Utilities is a city-owned municipal utility. They provide broadband and electricity. They have been providing broadband (or Internet) for 20 years. It’s an interesting talk about how and why they got involved with broadband when the incumbent providers showed no interest in doing so. Here’s the description from the site…

When the cable and telephone companies refused to offer dial-up Internet service 20 years ago in Alexandria, Minnesota, the municipal utility stepped up and made it available. For years, most everyone in the region used it to get online. Now, the utility has focused its telecommunications attention on making fiber-optic telecommunications services available to local businesses.

Alexandria’s ALP Utilities General Manager Al Crowser joins us this week to explain what they have done and why. Like us, Al is a strong believer that local governments can be the best provider of essential services to local businesses and residents.

In the show, we talk some history and also about the difference between local customer service and that from a larger, more distant company. He discusses how they have paid for the network and where net income goes. And finally, we talk about their undergrounding project.

Read the transcript from this show here.

I think the discussion on own versus lease as a municipality is particularly interesting.

I wanted to share an invitation to the following meetings. Broadband is one of the infrastructure topics that will be discussed. I am planning to attend the meetings and will take notes. The meetings are open to the public if you want to attend.

Senator Franken Staff would like to invite you to participate in a rural infrastructure roundtable in Owatonna on July 26, 2016 at 9:00 AM.  Your knowledge and insight would be greatly appreciated.  Please consider attending this event and/or forward to appropriate staff or organizations.

Our main goal is to listen and better understand greater Minnesota’s needs and challenges around infrastructure.  Rural Minnesota communities face unique challenges that the Metro area doesn’t. Transportation, housing, water infrastructure and broadband are all vital to keeping rural Minnesota healthy, and we’d like to hear more about the specific needs in your community. This is part of a listening tour to sit down with local leaders across Rural Minnesota and hear about their needs.  This event will be held with staff members of Senator Franken. We appreciate the help and support of [meeting partners].

We are inviting other representatives from local cities, counties, economic development agencies and businesses to participate in the roundtable and offer the general public to attend and offer a time to ask questions at end.  If you are unable to attend in person, feel free to send an email message with your input. [Or post a comment below and I will make sure they see it.]

Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to seeing you on July 26th.

Here are the meetings happening that day:

July 26, 2016 at 9:00-10:30 AM
Owatonna Public Utilities
208 South Walnut Avenue
Owatonna, MN

July 26, 2016 at 1:00-2:30 PM
Stewartville Civic Center
120 City Center
Stewartville, MN 55976
Corner of Hwy 30 and 63

July 26 2016 at 4:00-5:15 PM
Winona County Board Chambers
177 Main Street
Winona, MN 55987

Last night I attended a town hall meeting in Sunrise Minnesota – in Chisago County. Held in an old building with no air-conditioning, about 35 people attended out of a population of 1200 on the absolute hottest day of the year. I took the best notes and recorded what I could but there was a lot of back and forth – and again so hot.

To set the stage, Sunrise township is partially served by CenturyLink (CL) and partially served by Frontier. CenturyLink is using some of their CAF 2 funding to build fiber to the node to reach Stepp Manufacturing. They will be able to provide faster DSL to 50 homes after the upgrade. Construction will start in October and be done within 180 days. This wasn’t part of their original plan but Stepp Manufacturing knew to reach their economic developer (Nancy Hoffman) to get what they needed in terms of better broadband. Nancy noted to me that the County’s work with Blandin has helpful both because it gave and elevated her knowledge of broadband. Step knew who to contact and Nancy knew what to do.

But that leaves much of the township unserved.

CL plans to do another upgrade using CAF 2 funding in 2017 with fiber to the node. If they go that route they will use their own (and CAF 2) funding to do that. BUT fiber to the node means 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up service. (It is faster is you are very close to the node; even slower if you are more than 7000 feet from the node.) CL was unable to say how many homes that plan would upgrade.

Sunrise is considering a partnership with CL to encourage them to build FTTH instead of to the node. That means serious symmetrical broadband to each home (up to a Gig). The partnership would mean $1.5 million investment from CL (that includes CAF 2 funding), $1 million from the township and a request for $1.3 million from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD) Border to Border grant program.

The questions are:

  • Should the town invest $1 million for broadband (Gig) or be satisfied with 10/1 access?
  • Should the town invest $1 million for some of the homes to get access (not all) – added in this discussion was a number of ways to recoup costs only from homes with upgraded service? There was a back-of-the-envelope calculation given saying it would cost about $115/year to pay back the loan.
  • Should the town bond for money that will go to a private company – and is CL the company they want?
  • Can the 35 attendees speak for the whole town? Should the town board say yes for the whole town without broader reaction from residents?
  • Can we do this in time for the OBD grant application deadline?

It was interesting. The board seemed pretty determined not to act at the onset of the meeting – mostly in deference to wanting input from more residents. Attendees spoke up for wanting faster broadband and being willing to make the investment. Folks were passionate. In the end, the board decided to send out letters to all residents asking folks in CL service areas to complete a survey gaging their interest in moving forward with a partnership and inviting folks to attend a special meeting to discuss further.

I’m including my full notes below because I think it’s valuable (especially to communities that might have similar meetings) to see the questions, answer and assumptions that people have. I think you have get the tenor of the meeting in the video – although it doesn’t cover the whole meeting. (It does get easier to hear the video once the fan was shut off  just a few minutes into the discussion.) Read More…

Looks like a few Blandin Broadband Communities have banded together to create some social media collateral to help promote the Upper Minnesota Valley Region. Communities include Big Stone Chippewa Lac qui Parle Swift and Yellow Medicine Counties – and really it goes back as far as UMVRDC joining the BBC precursor, the MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) initiative. They have worked together on some branding, a new logo and the following video.

They’ve also created a Facebook Page and an Instagram account to showcase the beauty of their region. Working together is a great way to harness their existing individual connections to create a viral opportunity. Also is seems like if someone has a connection to one part of Western Minnesota, they are ripe for appreciating the rest of the region.

Jacki Anderson from the UMVRDC talks a little bit about the initiative…

It’s been fantastic to pull the economic development and chamber professionals around something so positive for the region! This work is part of long-term effort to reverse negative rural narratives and stereotypes by sharing stories and imagery representing our region. Technology is driver in making all of this happen, we are able to expand our reach when we band together. The regional branding is meant to complement and not compete with local identities and marketing so it really just enhances local work by adding new tools in the toolboxes and putting our region “on the map” in a positive way.

The Broadband Task Force met today to talk about cyber security. It was an interesting conversation – especially if you have a technology business or o any sort of technology contracting/consulting. The focus shifted a bit on finding legislation to encourage better cyber security to making recommendations that might support better security and privacy especially for government agencies, business and nonprofits.

10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.  Introductions, Approval of Minutes, Public Comments

Notes approved

10:15 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Update from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD)

New team members (David) will be doing support. Old team member (Ryan) is leaving for a new job and we are looking for a replacement. We want someone with planning, data and GIS

The NEW grant applications are open today. Read More…

Recently Senator Franken talked about his ideas for improving health in rural areas. One of the three bills he’s pushing to improve health involves technology…

One would provide more ways to get to health-care services, including increasing payments to those who provide transportation. Also, increased broadband high-speed Internet funding would come to rural areas to connect rural residents to city doctors.

Duluth New Tribune reports…

Rural areas should not be left behind in medical care, Franken said.

“I don’t think it should be part of living in beautiful rural Minnesota that you have worse health-care quality,” he said.

One key is to encourage broadband expansion in rural areas, Franken said. Telemedicine can use video and other technology for a doctor or other professional to see a patient across the state.

“We live in a profoundly different time with broadband than we did 10 years ago,” Franken said. “We have to build on our ability to do telemedicine.”

The need to use technology is illustrated by figures from the Minnesota Rural Health Association. It reports that for every doctor in the Twin Cities, there are 300 people. In greater Minnesota cities, that figure is close to 700. But in deep rural Minnesota, there is one doctor for every 2,000 residents.

“We can’t do this fast enough, as far as I’m concerned,” Franken said of expanding broadband.

The move could help mental health services, he said, which are critically needed in rural Minnesota.

Facebook just published a report on the digital divide…

The world took yet another small step towards becoming fully connected in 2015. An estimated 3.2 billion people are now online, up from 3 billion in 2014, according to a new report published by Facebook. But this means that a further 4.1 billion people, over half of the world’s population, are without any internet connection at all.

Theyfacebook found 4 reasons people are not online:

  1. Availability
  2. Affordability
  3. Relevance
  4. Readiness

Last year the Daily Yonder reported the reasons they found that people are not online (at home):

  • No need
  • Too expensive
  • Can use elsewhere
  • Not available
  • Inadequate computer
  • Other

You can see a lot of overlap but there are some interesting things to be learned by looking at the global perspective.

First – a key issue for relevancy in the Facebook study is language. The internet has come a long way – but it doesn’t cover every language and some languages obviously get more coverage than others. Something to consider when you work with new Americans and digital literacy. Can you lead them to native language resources (and lessons).

Second – the report talks about the undeniable impact of wireless/mobile and the cost. They offer some interesting solutions for pricing and extending connectivity. People are innovative; the solutions may or may not work in Minnesota (or provide speeds we might consider broadband) but they are certainly worth knowing about…

In the Philippines, for example, mobile data is packaged in a way to accommodate the realities of daily life for the poor. By allowing those with near-poverty levels of income an alternative to traditional business models, more people are gaining access at a price they can afford. [Visit the site for details.]

And

The costly alternative of satellite technology is also being replaced with more creative solutions including drones, balloons, low/medium earth orbit satellites and high-throughput geostationary satellites.

Third – the report recognizes that literacy, never mind digital literacy, is a barrier…

The world’s literacy rate, for example, will continue to hold back populations in India, Africa and the Middle East, regardless of their ability to access the internet.

Having kids, I know that you can create websites and apps that don’t require reading skills. Maybe some of that will help. Or maybe going online will act as a motivator for some to improve overall literacy skills. And/or maybe some folks will feel more comfortable seeking support for computer skills and that will lead to broader literacy support. I just think it’s helpful to consider what role digital literacy can play in encouraging and supporting broader literacy programs.

 

 

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