Speed Matters looking for folks to test speeds for new report

We got a fun and easy request from the Communication Workers of America — the Speed Matters folks. Last year, they published a state-by-state report on Internet connection speed based on regular folks visiting the Speed Maters web site to test and report their Internet speed and location.

Well, they have asked us to help publicize research for their next edition of the report. So, if you have a minute please check out your speed on their site to help them compile data.


The timing for the test could not have been better for me. We moved back to St Paul late last week – tomorrow my new phone number and upgraded DSL connection are supposed to kick in – so I was pleased to get a chance to test out the speeds today to compare with the results tomorrow.

Here are my stats today:
Download 1310 kbps (MN average 1385)
Upload 854 kbps (MN average 219)

I’ll let you know how the test goes tomorrow.

Monticello works on Fiber Loop

Thanks a million for Lynne Dahl-Fleming for sending the latest on the Monticello situation. I want to give Monticello three cheers for driving ahead with their plan. It is great to see a community that is so focused on getting fiber that they refuse to be distracted or detained by adversity. Also, the article includes some nice, real numbers for communities who are interested in fiber themselves.

Monticello Times Newspaper – June 26, 2008

FiberNet Update

The fiber optics committee asked council to consider moving forward on the FiberNet project by constructing a subset of the larger project, called the Fiber Loop, which would include connecting important commercial, industrial and civic facilities in the Monticello area.

The service provided would include high-speed data only.

The estimated cost to construct and operate the system is estimated at $1.74 million, with projected revenue being sufficient to cover capital and operation expenses.

The project is fully separate form the legal challenge currently being presented by TDS Telecom.

In other FiberNet news, the council awarded Schulender Construction, Inc., the bid for the fiber optics head-end building site’s grading and utility improvements in the amount of $133,874.

The improvements include grading the site to allow for construction of the head-end building and garage as well as the proposed outside storage area where the antennae/satellite dishes will be located and a 6-foot black vinyl coated chain link fence surrounding the site.

Council also approved the bid for the construction of the fiber optics head-end building to KC Companies, Inc., in the amount of $555,000 for the base bid and $14,500 for the alternate bid; well below the engineer’s estimate for the bids.

Construction of the head-end building is planned for mid-August with final completion set for the end of November of this year.

The building will be located south of the city’s newest water tower, which is off of School Boulevard, near River City Extreme. Council determined the location of the building at a meeting earlier this spring.

Internet for Everyone

Internet for Everyone is an organization that promotes:

  1. Access – Every home and business in America must have access to a high-speed, world class communications infrastructure.
  2. Choice – Every consumer must enjoy real competition in lawful online content as well as among high-speed Internet providers to achieve lower prices and higher speeds.
  3. Openness – Every Internet user should have the right to freedom of speech and commerce online in an open market without gatekeepers or discrimination.
  4. Innovation – The Internet should continue to create good jobs, foster entrepreneurship, spread new ideas and serve as a leading engine of economic growth.

The founding members of the organization include a lot of Internet-based businesses such as Google, Skype, eBay and BitTorrent. I recognize a lot of the names from the Net Neutrality camp too.

I think it’s a noble cause but I’m always cynical about organizations like this. The marketing is obviously great – they’ve been all over the usual broadband focused news sources. (And I don’t mean to disparage marketing here – I think marketing has been the key to success for ConnectKentucky-type initiatives.) But at this point I’ve got to ask – where’s the beef? Will they plan to lobby for policy change, pour money into supporting broadband, or is this just to raise awareness?

There are some powerful folks involved; folks who are innovative and motivated. So, I am hopeful that they will be successful and anxious to see what the strategic plan is.

They ask visitors to sign up to join the coalition. Then they will send emails letting you know what you can do to help. The other visible activity seems to be proposed local broadband meetings.

Geoff Daily & Christopher Mitchell on municipal networks

I’m back in St Paul and finally had the time to watch Geoff Daily’s vidcast with Christopher Mitchell on municipal networks. It was a great exchange between two people who know their stuff.

The topics they touched on included:

Fiber is better than wireless. Wireless is cheaper and a hekuva lot better than nothing but it’s not as fast or as reliable.

Municipal networks should improve community-wide take rate as opposed to competing unfairly with incumbents. I couldn’t agree with that more. A national chain coffee shop moved into our local, independent coffee shop. Everyone thought that would be a disaster – but really it just turned that corner into a coffee Mecca.

A Municipal network is expensive but I think Christopher did a good job pointing out that nearly everything a city does is expensive. It’s just a matter of making it a priority. What’s funny is that I just had this conversation (expense versus priority) with my 9 year old. The quick take – $90 isn’t that much money over a month especially if you consider that’s only 60 euros, but we’re still not getting cable TV.

The success and failures of municipal networks have becomes like email legends. “My brother knows a guy who lives in a city who had to sell their church because the network caused them to go broke.” “My friend’s cousin lives in a city that now paves the street with gold since the municipal network came in.”

Christopher brought up a report from the FTTH Council that said that after 4 years the average take rate for municipal networks was 54 percent. That is amazing.

Blandin in the News

The Blandin Foundation seems to be hot on the presses lately – in a good way. Here are the two stories I’ve seen this week.

Bill Coleman was kind enough to send me a link to the recent Baller Herbst report, Capturing the Promise of broadband for North Carolina and America.

The report takes a look at the following questions:

  1. What is broadband?
  2. What are the benefits of broadband? – I like the focus on economic development. Right now I think the economic development and the environmental impacts are the biggest sellers. That’s not to say that I think they are the greatest benefits – just the ones that most people need most right now.
  3. How do the US and leading Asian and European nations compare in broadband development and adoption? – The news isn’t good.
  4. Where is broadband deployment heading the in the foreseeable future in Asia, Europe, and the US? – Again, the news isn’t good. Not surprisingly, they focus the pitfalls presented by incumbents in the US. I say not surprisingly because many of the incumbents seem to be doing everything they can not to offer broadband at speeds that would help us compete internationally. Policy in the US is very market driven; that doesn’t seem to be the case in areas with ultra high speed connectivity.
  5. Where does North Carolina stand in broadband deployment and global competiveness?

So that’s the report. It’s a good one. Here’s the mention of Blandin on page 27:

Despite these improvements, disabled individuals are about half as likely to use the Internet as the general public, especially in rural areas.106 While organizations such as the Blandin Foundation have stepped forward with small grants to support development of additional broadband applications,107much more needs to be done.

Here’s the footnote:
Geoff Daily, “Blandin Foundation Grant Empowers Development of Broadband Application for the Disabled,” App-Rising (September 5, 2007), http://tinyurl.com/2y6uqe.

The second mention

I happened to get an email newsletter from Marc Osten of Summit Collaboration with a video of Jim Hoolihan (Blandin CEO) talking about how Blandin has been deployment technology tools to work more effectively.

Jim talks about how the hardest part of a technology change is culture.

It’s funny that seems like one of the hardest things with deploying communitywide broadband too. People need to change how they do things – and often that change has a quick and easy return on investment – but it still requires a change.

Blandin boosts a rural voice

I’m on my way home and am reminded how easy it is for me to work anywhere – so long as I can get online. We flew from Dublin to Chicago on Friday. I have been working at my sister’s; but am not working in a hotel while I watch a sick kid. Tomorrow we go home to St Paul.

I know that’s a little off topic – but it always amazes me. My phone is in a sort of limbo. The Irish phone doesn’t work. I only have my pay-as-you-go temporary cell phone, which I had to give to my husband with the healthy kids. But so long as I can get online – I can work. And as long as I can get online people can reach me.

As was the case with the email I got last night from my Aunt letting me know that Blandin Foundation has awarded MinnPost with a three-year grant totaling $225,000. And I was able to email Bernadine Joselyn at Blandin for more info. It’s the next best thing to being there!

More about the Grant

On to my real topic – I was thrilled to learn about the award. MinnPost is a nonprofit online news source. They have a number of seasoned journalists writing real news stories. They also invited editorials and comments from citizens. It’s a fairly new initiative – but it’s going great guns.

It’s a great fit for Blandin. As Bernadine wrote to me, “the connection to our mission is about what we call “rural voice”: one of our strategic goals is to “help rural people be their own voice.” Our goal is to ensure that rural perspectives are well represented in policy discourse that affects rural people and places.”

The money will be used to reach out to rural voices – if you are a rural voice, I hope you’ll consider getting involved. They are looking for a number of experienced journalists based in Greater Minnesota to join our group of more than 50 freelancers and they are looking for new contributors from around the state to write occasional opinion pieces for our Community Voices section.

It will be fun to watch how this progresses.

Home and Community Options, Inc.

Light Speed Grant Recipient

Peter Walsh, Project Coordinator

Project Update

June 24, 2008





As I came out of our Technology Committee meeting last week I was struck by the excitement and personal investment of the committee members in our discussion of our goals for the year and the progress we have made.  Every year in late fall we undertake a strategic planning exercise in which we review our technology related strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  The committee members talk to their colleagues about technology issues; seeking needs, frustrations, concerns and good ideas.  We start by having a general open discussion about our technology use and move to developing an open ended, no holds barred “wish we could…..” list.  Then we group the topics into clusters of similar or related headings and eliminate the obvious wild, impossible and impractical ideas.  We break into groups; our total committee is about 20 folk so we will have four groups of five to discuss the topics and to rank the top three in each cluster – identifying the pros and cons of their top choices.  The groups report back and we have a general open debate of speaking for or against topics on the list.  And, finally we rank our personal choices using a nominal group process.  The method of ranking varies from year to year but I personally like the one where we are each given ten stickers which we can place next to the topic of our choice – with no limit as to how many stickers you can put on any one topic.  The top ten are then organized, some fit together, and others stand alone.  Then we identify the resources needed, indicators of success, responsible parties, and approvals needed and so forth.  The entire process generally takes about four hours.


As we were reviewing our progress on this year’s goals and we realized the gains we have made there was a general excitement in the room.  Our discussion became more detailed when we reviewed our eFile program goals. This project is also part of our Blandin Light Speed grant and we have far exceeded our initial objectives.  The eFile participants were excitedly reflecting on the tremendous gains they have made this year.  We had hoped to have eFile implemented in three programs by the end of the year and we already have six programs using it.  There was a general agreement that the support of the Blandin grant enabled us to work on several pieces of the puzzle at once creating a synergy in that solutions in one piece turned out to benefit other pieces.  As we added a second and third test site and new staff began to grapple with some of the limitations of the beta program we began to discover solutions at a faster pace.  We reached a state of having attained the “critical mass” of minds working on the same problems.  All of a sudden the solutions were coming faster and faster.  The methodology was standardized and everything began to fit together.  New insights were gained as staff were trained, began using the program and saw additional ways that it could be used within their program.  Another interesting outcome is that staff from the individual programs began to meet for what they called “Show and Tell” sessions.  These were opportunities to show off new tools and techniques and to ask questions of each other.  These sessions really stimulated the problem solving and facilitated program standardization. The eFile coordinator reported an impressive list of functionality that is now being handled electronically in a standardized uniform manner: Client Calendaring, Client Programming, Program Documentation, Medication Administration, Client Progress Notes, Staff Scheduling, Staff Notes, Cleaning Lists, and even Menus. The task list for starting eFile in a new program has even been delineated; this is a check list that notes the steps that the program needs to complete to demonstrate that it is ready and qualified to implement the eFile program.  This check list came about as the first couple of implementation attempts did not work out because the program staff were not sufficiently trained and the program was dealing with other administrative issues at the time. 

The entire eFile Program development and implementation is a tremendous example of problem solving from the bottom up.  Those who have the need and use the system are the ones who created the solution, are vested in its success and excited to share it with others.  Management does not have a problem trying to convince other programs to try eFile because staff sell the idea to each other.  Now there is the problem of programs that don’t have eFile getting impatient because the have to wait their turn.  It will be very interesting to see where we what we have accomplished at the end of the year.

light speed communityThe Blandin Foundation is supporting four standout broadband programs through the Light Speed program. The program’s purpose is to stimulate the deployment of bandwidth intensive applications that connect local institutions to area resident’s home. This post comes from a Light Speed community leader.