Update (Obit?) on Iron Range FiberNet

The 10 second catch-up: with financial support from Blandin Foundation and Iron Range Resources, a dozen or so communities on the Iron Range have been working on an area-wide FTTH (FiberNet) network for a few years. There have been ups and downs. To move forward each participating community each community has recently been asked to contribute financially to the project. Last week Hibbing, the biggest city in the area decided to discontinue their participation in the project. This week the Joint Powers Authority has told the other communities that the project as developed would not work without Hibbing.

Gary Fields has followed the project for a long time but got more involved this winter as a project consultant. Gary was kind enough to meet me this morning (at his house in my childhood neighborhood) to talk about the project and the lessons learned. I think his insights are very helpful for any community looking into a municipal network. (Actually his insights are good for anyone approaching a local government where lobbyists from existing vendors might have opposing views on a plan or project.) Also while I think there is certainly an air of finality to this decision, I suspect seeds have been planted on the Iron Range that will eventually give birth to better broadband in some permutation.

Special thanks go to my daughter Lily for getting up early to be the camera girl. The good news is that we got a tripod; the bad news is that Gary and I appear to be a little boxed in – but we’re getting better!

Star Tribune and comments on Monticello FiberNet

The Minneapolis Star Tribune today ran a story on the FiberNet situation in Monticello. It gives a nice run down on what’s happened between the city-owned fiber network and TDS’s (local incumbent) subsequent plans to build a network and their lawsuit against the city.

Maybe the most interesting part of the article for those of us who have been following the story for a year now is the comment section – all 40 or so of them. A handful of them thought competition was a good thing, a couple predicted (not hoped) that TDS would come out on top, but most of them are not fans of TDS and/or are not fans of their own ISPs.

Minnesota Medical Records Online

Thanks to Becky LaPlant at the Blandin Foundation for sending me an update on Governor Tim Pawlenty’s announcement on online access to health care records. According to Minnesota Public Radio, he announced that every state employee would have online access to their own so-called personal health portfolio by 2009, and he hopes that everyone in Minnesota could have the same access by 2011.

The goal is to save money for staff, medical staff and the state. Governor Pawlenty said it would cost about $600,000 for the state to create the secure Web site.

I have three questions.

First and not surprisingly given the nature of this blog… Will we also have broadband across the state to make sure that we can access the records from home, the office, the hospital and handheld devices where applicable? We don’t need a ton of bandwidth for shot records – but we might for x-rays of a broken angle.

The second question… Has the State looked at the new Google Health tool? What’s funny is that I just happened to look into it for another blog last night. In short, Google has created a system that sounds an awful lot like and is offering for free. Maybe that’s a place where the State can start looking.

Finally, Governor Pawlenty said that we can look into this because the state employee health plan is doing better than expected. My husband works for the State, so as an interested party I’d like to suggest that we go with Google and dole the $600,000 on reduced co-pays! (Starting with covering braces for kids would be great!)

Monticello awards contract for Fiber Loop project

Thanks a million to Lynne Dahl-Fleming for the following update on the progress in Monticello (despite the lawsuit issued by local ISP). I continue to be so impressed with their drive forward and appreciative of their efforts (spearheaded by Lynne I suspect) to keep us in the loop!

FiberNet Monticello Update
July 29, 2008

On July 28, the City Council approved to accept the bids and award the contract for the Fiber Loop project. This fiber build includes construction of 11.19 miles of fiber optics that is an important subset of the larger FiberNet Monticello project. The Fiber Loop will connect important commercial, industrial and civic facilities thereby allowing commercial and industrial users to have access to high-speed fiber optics for data only services via 100% fiber optics thus contributing toward the achievement of economic development goals. This fiber loop will also connect City Hall, Community Center and Public Works facilities to improve communication/data speeds and reduce Internet access expenses. The service provided at this time would include high-speed data only and no telephone or cable TV.

This projects includes the ability to connect up to 200 businesses that it will pass along the fiber route including the downtown area and most of the industrial park.

Construction is anticipated to commence on August 4, 2008 with a completion date on or before November 29, 2008. However, final completion will depend on the head-end building construction schedule which is proposed to be completed by December 12, 2008.

City Staff and the Fiber Optics Committee recommended moving forward on accomplishing the City’s goals of enhancing economic development and providing choice through development of this Fiber Loop. The project is projected to be financially self-supporting and can be integrated into the FiberNet Monticello system both financially and physically once it is constructed. The presence of this fiber network will assure choice and thus result in optimum ability to provide critical data transfer service to Monticello City businesses at a reasonable cost. Such a setting is important to achieving important economic development goals which include:

– Local business expansion and retention
– Relocation of business to Monticello
– Job creation

Note: FiberNet Monticello broke ground the week of July 14, 2008 for site grading and the start of construction for the head end building. FiberNet will be a public fiber optic network serving Monticello City residents and businesses. The site is located near the new water tower just off Highway 25 south near the movie theatre complex just off School Boulevard.

Four broadband innovations

PC World just ran a 4-part series on Broadband Innovations. Here’s a tiny recap. I love two (maybe two and a half) of the stories.

The Digital Athlete – meet Patrick O’Day, he’s 20 and plays video games in his basement. He’s in training for the Digital Games Tournament, to be held in Beijing to coincide with the Olympics. Qualifying rounds are held online – thanks to the beauty of broadband. Although Patrick is a parking attendant by day, he hopes to be a professional game player. His specialty is first-person shooter games – so I’m sure those skills transfer to other jobs too.

Fiber Optics Reaches the Tipi – meet the Ktunaxa Nation of British Columbia, Canada, their culture is 10,000 years old but was in danger of extinction. They are using broadband technology to preserve and share the Ktunaxa language. There are only 24 fluent speakers but fiber is helping the language spread. The Ktunaxa Nation has North America’s only native-owned open-fiber-to-the-home network, providing speeds of 100 megabits per second to each home.

The Film Editor’s Dream – meet Håkan Karlsson, in Kilafors, Sweden (aka Fiber Optic Valley), 98% of the population has FTTH. Karlsson is a remote film editor; it’s a job that requires broadband speeds of at least 50 megabits per second, making access to high-speed broadband imperative.

The Doctor Isn’t In but Can See You – meet Timothy Moon, he’s in prison and has psychiatric issues. There isn’t a doctor near the prison who could work with him so he meets with a psychiatrist remotely through the Northwest Telehealth Service. Through it he’s able to get services that help with rehabilitation. About 50 of the 620 inmates at Coyote Ridge prison use the network for their health-care needs.

Monticello FiberNet update with Christopher Mitchell

One of the nicest things about being home is getting to actually see folks like Christopher Mitchell from the Institute for Local Self Reliance to talk about how things are going with municipal networks. Both of us have been following the progress in Monticello; he visited Monticello a couple of times in the last week to see firsthand how things are going and was gracious enough to meet with me to discuss what he learned on video. (The super quick version – Monticello passed a referendum last year (74% approval) to build a fiber network. Things were going great – I mean they were really rocking. About 6 weeks ago the incumbent ISP (TDS) dropped a lawsuit into the soup. Many think the lawsuit is unfounded but will give TDS time to build their own flavor of fiber.)

I realize now how busy Christopher was the day we met (Wednesday) when I saw his name all over the news yesterday; so I really appreciate his time. I saw him mentioned on Ars Technica, Third Pipe and MinneaPolitics.

We spoke before either of us coudl have seen an article posted today in the Monticello Times on the lawsuit. The article is very interesting and seems to strongly portray TDS’ perspective on the network.

What really struck me about our conversation was how much Christopher wanted to provide information to other communities on how to avoid or prepare for obstacles in planning for and deployment municipal fiber networks.

The video is not professional quality – but we did get youth involved in the form of my 9 year old daughter/camera person. (And 10 minutes after we finished the jackhammers arrived to tear up our street so it could have been worse!)

Broadband Mapping – what do we know in the US and MN?

map

broadband mapping

Thanks to Bernadine Joselyn for sending me a link from the Baller list to a fun article on DSL Reports (US has no idea how wired for broadband it is). In the article, Karl Bode talks about a recent report from Costquest that found that only 39 states have any semblance of a broadband plan and only 10 states have tried to map current broadband plans/deployment.

The stated purpose for the report (based on a survey) was to fill the gap in literature. They found that there is no national broadband plan or policy and there are no explicit (or really implicit) best practices. I completely agree. I think the closest thing we have to a best practice is Connected Nation. And I don’t know if that is so much best practice as most popular practice – as Bode points out their real “benefits remain dubious.”

Costquest is “a leader in providing information systems, economic analytics, and services that deliver comprehensive solutions to complicated business challenges.” So I expect they may be offering up some best practices soon. And wisely they’ve surveyed the playing field and I appreciate them sharing the info, even if I look at it differently than I would if it came out of a nonprofit or maybe academic organization.

Anyways, I wanted to compare Minnesota’s progress with the rest of the US. I think we’re smack dab in the middle. They don’t give responses to the survey on a state-by-state level but here’s where I place Minnesota:

  1. States with some form of broadband initiative: 39 yeses (no = 11) – Now that we have a broadband task force I think we get a yes here.
  2. Plan to conduct broadband mapping: 17 yeses (already done = 10; no plans = 23) – Again with the task force we’re planning

The survey followed up with a few more specific questions. I think the answer for each is that currently Minnesota doesn’t do it but the door is open for the task force to promote any or all of the following:

  1. States that consider broadband availability a component of ‘universal service’: 5 yeses
  2. States that plan to identify the location of key broadband infrastructure items within the state: 7 yeses
  3. States that plan to use their Broadband Intiatiative to encourage carriers to deploy in high cost / uneconomic areas: 7 yeses
  4. States that have analyzed, or plan to analyze, deployment barriers such as the cost to deploy broadband: 11 yeses (We’re a yes here)
  5. States that plan to conduct mapping of broadband availability at or below the census block level: 15 yeses

PS – for interesting reading, check out the comments to the DSL Reports article. One big tangent is – why should we care about broadband when gas is $4+? Another is – everyone I know can get broadband. There are some good responses such as – I hear Japan and South Korea have 100 Mbps symmetrical fiber to most homes – and the government helped there. Sometimes it’s good to get the regular Joe (OK maybe not regular, but probably not broadband-focused.)