Yesterday the Benton Foundation had a web conference – Setting a High Standard for Broadband Stimulus Funding: Urban and Rural Examples of the “Best in Breed”. I was thrilled to see that three (out of nine) of the experts they featured were Minnesota-based or from Minnesota.
I caught about an hour of the session. I haven’t been able to find an archive posted (yet). The good news is that I caught the folks with Minnesota connections. I thought I’d post my notes for folks who missed the session. You can also track the event archive on Twitter (just search for #bband_best).
Here are my notes. I’ve attributed names where and when I could.
I walked in when Tim Nulty was talking about how they brought fiber to rural Vermont. He mentioned 4 Principles of their template for success:
• Universal service – everyone gets access! And the law of averages makes that feasible
• Open access
• Financially self-sufficient
Next was Gary Evans of Hiawatha Broadband – a hometown hero. He spoke about LUMINET, a great network in Winona, education based but recognized the need to include residents in network if they wanted to succeed. Gary talked about the steady growth of broadband access through HBC and the impact of access on those towns. Gary also talked about his shovel-ready project for stimulus funding – specifically bringing FTTH to more towns.
Next Donny Smith from Jaguar Communications – another hometown hero. They also serve rural areas (formerly Local Link). They serve 10,000 customers and have been profitable every year since they opened. They are private corporation.
Art Brodsky – Pew says there isn’t demand in rural areas. What do you (rural folks) say?
Gary – It’s a myth. HBC is getting good penetration rates despite the fact that we are not the lowest cost option. In Wabasha MN – 60 percent of the population was signed up for service before we put a shovel in the ground. Rural American is hungry for broadband – and hungry for the creativity and vitality that broadband brings.
Tim – Each town had a referendum to join the project – the worst count we got was 73 percent saying we want it. We always got more than 50 percent (or better) pre-sign up rates when we tried it. Vermont Public TV did a program that found a guy who lives in a trailer fixing small engines. He needs the Internet to research engines to fix them. It’s about community survival. People move because they can’t get access: kids can’t do homework, elderly can’t get healthcare…
Donny – How do they use it? Pricing crops, education. When they survey prospective areas they get a 50 percent or better prospective take rate; the actual take rates are always better.
In San Francisco they need broadband to support the digital media industry. Without fiber, that industry gets moved overseas.
Geoff Daily – Will stimulus funding go to rural areas?
There’s an eco-system of small, startup companies that surround big (IT) companies. Collaboration would be easier with broadband. It would also save on fossil fuels. If companies could be
Market Failure – there is market failure and therefore rural areas need it.
Drew Clark – Many of you have done surveys for the RUS. Is the info that’s out there going to help evaluate stimulus need?
We have the experience to help make decisions (especially with wireless).
Tim – Sometimes these maps are used to postpone action. A map of 200K access is not that helpful. In Vermont we had towns that were officially served – but ask people if they are served and they say no. The maps help get the incumbents off the hook. Access to info is good – but not if it distracts from promoting activity.
Gary – I agree. The bigger issue is that DSL & cable are not broadband for tomorrow. Let’s not make the mistake of under-defining broadband.
Jim Baller – In North Carolina we won another battle today. Is this an issue of public versus private?
Tim? – I don’t think so. At the table today we have public, semi-nonprofit, and one private. We are members of the same team. I think it has to do with how things are provided. It has to do with the regulatory and community environment.
Michael (New America Foundation?) – The ARRA wants to bring broadband to community anchors (libraries, schools, hospitals) how would that have an impact on your work?
Gary – It’s the reason HBC started. It’s the reason we are applying for funding. Resources need to be shared.
Bill (from Seattle) – All Seattle anchors are connected. We need the residents connected.
Tim? – What if back in the day we only put phones in the anchors? Wouldn’t be very useful.
Donny – The problem with only focusing on those is that they become single-purpose networks and that’s not always helpful to the communities.
Question – If they’re open does that make a difference?
Not really. It only brings pockets of broadband.
David Chaffee? – What criteria does NTIA and RUS feel should weigh most heavily?
Universal service, Open access, Financially self-sufficient, Future-proof
What is broadband? Future-proof
Mark Ansbury – from One Community. They have worked well with public-private providers in Northern Ohio. He spoke about the success in his communities one the broadband was there. You need to think about sustainability and local ownership. 90 percent of famers can’t live on farming alone – they need healthcare, they need more income. New jobs can come online. Fiber is key to everything – even if you also need wireless. Keys for success:
• Collaboration & strong leadership
• Broadband community support & involvement
• Impactful community apps
• Public interest anchors
• Last mile options and carrier relationships
Geoff Daily – hometown hero (transplanted) for App-Rising. Fiber activist introducing Rural Fiber Alliance, focusing on making a policy impact for promoting fiber. Rural Fiber Alliance promotes fast-track loans for fiber projects to get shovel-ready projects going sooner rather than later.
Kate Williams – librarian from Champaign Urbana. They use community informatics to gauge success for technology/information literacy skills.
OK that’s it – sorry I had to go to a previously scheduled meeting.