LightSpeed Q & A with Bill Coleman

Bill ColemanThanks a million to Bill Coleman for answering a few questions about Blandin Foudnation’s Light Speed program for the blog.

What’s the thinking behind the creation of the LightSpeed program?
In community broadband, it is a mistake to focus only the connectivity provided by a network. Some advocates romanticize instantaneous adoption of advanced technologies throughout the community. In fact, once connectivity is in place, other deployment challenges rise to the top, like specialized equipment, software, and end-user training.

The LightSpeed program provides funding to overcome these challenges and encourages the adoption of new broadband intensive applications, especially in the education and health care areas.

A second reason for the LightSpeed Program is to provide evidence of the value of big bandwidth networks, most notably FTTP networks. Skeptics always ask, “What are you going to do with all of that bandwidth?” LightSpeed grantees will serve as demonstration projects and provide real world answers to those questions.

The Blandin Broadband Strategy Board’s Vision Statement emphasizes both the deployment and the use of ultra high-speed next generation broadband. The LightSpeed Program promotes achievement of the vision by stimulating end-user thinking about what is now possible in their own communities with the local deployment of high-speed networks, especially in partnership with their local telecommunications providers.

What projects were funded through LightSpeed?
Four projects were funded in this grant cycle, two each from education and health care. We have projects in Winona, Staples, Windom and Hutchinson.

Our Winona project is very exciting. Blandin Foundation provided a grant to Home and Community Options, a non-profit organization serving people with disabilities. HCO has a number of residential group home facilities in Winona. As a component of the project, Hiawatha Broadband will expand its existing fiber network to connect HCO’s buildings. HCO will use the grant funds to purchase video conferencing equipment so that residents can be monitored remotely, especially at night. HCO will also utilize the network for staff training, more centralized computing and file sharing. HCO’s developing expertise in the use of these technologies will provide an opportunity for entrepreneurial development and help the organization to become more self-sustaining.

Lakewood Hospital in Staples received a grant to facilitate increased use of video to monitor home care and hospice clients in their homes. This will increase staff productivity and enable more regular communications with clients. Lakewood spent almost $50,000 on mileage reimbursement for their home health care staff last year. The system will allow staff to touch base with clients more regularly, observe their health status and advise the client and their caregivers. As broadband services vary throughout the service area, Lakewood will adapt their service delivery to the bandwidth available.

Windom Schools will be taking advantage of WindomNet, the city’s FTTP network. The school district will create a video-ready classroom, create a video production class and provide various forms of video to the home learning opportunities, including video homework hotline services.

Finally, Little Crow Telemedia Network will receive funds to develop the capacity to store and forward video content on-demand. This will allow students and their parents to review course content at their homes. A system like this will multiply the value of their current video offerings that are offered during the day on a fixed schedule.

These projects sound very interesting. How can I stay up with the deployment and implementation news?
Each project manager will regularly contribute on the Blandin on Broadband blog. It should be very interesting to follow both the technical, organizational and end-user challenges over the next year. In addition, I will be monitoring the projects and also contributing on the blog. We want to make sure that we increase our understanding of the hurdles for successful project implementation and pass on what we have learned to others considering similar projects.

Will more funding become available for additional projects?
Blandin Foundation has not committed funds for additional LightSpeed projects at this time.

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