Two views on Cook County

There’s a great point-counter-point on Cook County and the NTIA/RUS funding in Politics in Minnesota. Cook County is working on an application for ARRA funding. They are asking for $30 million. Politics in Minnesota’s Sarah Janecek ran an editorial that pointed out that while $30 million isn’t a big chunk of the money available; it comes to roughly $5,000 per resident. Jim Boyd, Cook County resident and former Star Tribune reporter, posted a comment laying out the reasons that Cook County deserves the money – the most pressing argument to me being potential for diversifying economic development. It’s a great read!

The one point I’d add is that I think the stimulus funding is supposed to go to areas where it didn’t make economic sense for businesses to provide service. (Or at least to areas where the market hasn’t proven desirable yet.) I think by definition those areas are going to be expensive to reach and sparely populated. Business is happy to serve Minneapolis.

Rural Businesses and the Internet

Thanks to John Shepard for the heads up on a recent report by Jack Geller and the EDA Center at the University of Minnesota, Crookston (Rural Businesses and the Internet: The Integration Continues). The research report looks at adoption and utilization of Internet technologies among businesses throughout rural Minnesota. They surveyed 689 rural businesses across the state and across all industry sectors.

Here are some of the highlights. Most business in Minnesota (69 percent) have fewer than 10 employees and report gross sales of less than $1 million (65 percent). Almost 90 percent now operate online. Most use broadband; only 4.3 percent report using dialup. But of those who didn’t have broadband half reported that it wasn’t available. Most businesses (70 percent) are happy with their broadband speed and cost. The median cost was $50 per month; an impressively low was $20 per month, while some larger businesses reported paying well over $1000 per month.

The chart below outlines what rural businesses are doing online:

rural_bus_bb_chart

I think these reports are extremely valuable. We can guess all we want about what rural businesses need. We can find case studies to fit whatever point we want to prove – but a nice broad survey is helpful.

NTIA’s hit on the public interest

Thanks to Christopher Mitchell for sending me his recent article on his take on NTIA’s interpretation of the Legislature’s mandate for doling out ARRA broadband funding. Here it is:

Minneapolis, MN—(July 28, 2009). The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is now accepting applications for its broadband stimulus program, has crafted rules that benefit private companies at the expense of the public interest, undermining the clear intent of Congress.

“The main reason a broadband stimulus program was needed in the first place was because the existing telecommunications providers massively underinvested in broadband networks,” according to Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR). Mitchell adds, “Now NTIA has written the rules to reward those same companies while at the same time declining to assist communities that would be better off with a publicly owned network.”

When Congress passed the stimulus bill, it chose language that put public sector and non-profit organizations at the head of the line for funds. The NTIA, part of the Obama Administration’s Department of Commerce, was directed to accept applications from private, for-profit companies only if it found that company to be in the public interest. Prioritizing groups that are directly accountable to their communities was seen as a way of ensuring public money was used to directly benefit communities.

NTIA, which released its final regulations on July 2, 2009, decided to give private companies equal standing with public and non-profit entities. It justified the decision by arguing that the U.S. House’s intention was to open applications to as many entities as possible.

This reasoning did not satisfy Mitchell: “Congress emphatically rejected the approach that NTIA took. Congress considered it and pulled it out, only to have NTIA put it back in.”

Mitchell is an expert on community-owned networks and has previously argued that the Lafayette, Louisiana, community-owned network offers the fastest speeds at the most affordable prices in America. He points to hundreds of cities already building their own broadband networks and notes that thousands of cities and towns in the past had to build their own electrical networks or risk being left behind.

A full discussion of how NTIA disregarded Congress’ intent and privileges existing, private companies is available here:
http://www.muninetworks.org/content/how-ntia-dismantled-public-interest-provisions-broadband-stimulus-package

Jackson spends more on fiber

Thanks to John Shepard for the heads up on an article in a recent Jackson County Post (Council spends more on fiber). As you may recall the Jackson City Council allocated $1 per person in the city to pursue a fiber network this spring. Well the Council just authorized another $2.50 per resident to the effort, bringing the grand total to about $13,500.

They need the extra money to write their application for the ARRA broadband funds. The extra money is required because the application is more rigorous than predicted. The extra money passed with a 4-to-1 vote and the community is still hopeful and confident in their chances for federal funding for the network. They are working with the cities of Lakefield, Heron Lake, Okabena and Windom.

Broadband Policy Seminar in Mankato

I want to thank Ronda Allis from Region 9 Development Commission for her notes on the Blandin Broadband Policy Seminar in Mankato in July. (I pointed to John Shepard’s notes from the same session a week or so ago – but it’s great to get a couple of perspectives.)

Here are the slides:

Here are the notes:

July 16, 2009 – Blandin Broadband meeting held at Region Nine Development Commission office, Nichols Office building

Approximately 20 people were in attendance to discuss various broadband issues that they would like to bring forward to the State Broadband Task Force.

Bill Coleman began the session by presenting a brief power point presentation that detailed where we are currently in Minnesota in the area of broadband development. He then led the group in a discussion about where we would like to be in the future. He presented 5 questions for discussion:
1. What goal for bandwidth?
2. What applications are important to you now and into the future?
3. Should the goal have tiers, depending on location, user types and applications?
4. Should mobile broadband be part of this discussion?
5. Broadband – essential utility or market service?

The group spent the majority of their time discussing questions 2 and 5.

Below is a summary of their responses.

1. Goal for broadband width?

Task force needs to address this; the current federal requirements are inadequate.

2. Applications that are important now? Future?

• On-line learning
• Homebound students
• Home-schooled students
• Netbooks are way of the future
• On-line testing
• Interactive science projects
• On-line job applications
• E-book capabilities

Need to make sure we build out to accommodate future growth; how much bandwidth is enough right now? Will it be adequate in five year? Ten years?

Discussed symmetrical vs. asymmetrical bandwidth. Consensus was that upload speed and download speed should be the same.

5. Essential Utility or Market Service?

Most viewed as an essential utility, similar to electric, water, and sewer. The role of government should be to assist in serving those areas that are currently unserved or underserved. Private providers do not want to spend the dollars needed to provide service in these areas. Cities currently manage utilities, this would not be any different.

Connect Minnesota map tools help with ARRA applications

The Minneapolis Star Tribune noted the other day that Minnesota cities are having trouble accessing the information they need to complete applications for broadband stimulus funding. (I noted it last week too.) Well I think there’s some good news for Minnesota.

There’s a recent FAQ on BroadbandUSA.gov on the ARRA requirements. Here’s what they say about mapping (on page 7 of the PDF):

2. How can an applicant determine which areas are unserved or underserved?
The exact methodology is up to the applicant, but the result should be to demonstrate that the proposed funded service area is eligible based on the appropriate definition. Applicants should aim to utilize state broadband mapping data if such data exists. Otherwise, a customer or market survey, statistical sampling, or other valid methodology will be necessary. Census block maps can be found at http://www.census.gov/geo/www/maps/descriptwindows/census_blockmaps.htm.

So what I see is that the Connect Minnesota maps should suffice. More good news on Friday from Connect Minnesota

Connect Minnesota will release a new suite of publicly available data tools to enhance Minnesota’s statewide broadband inventory map and provide GIS assistance for broadband stimulus applicants. Using ArcGIS technology in partnership with ESRI, Connect Minnesota has developed an interactive mapping feature for applicants to determine the number of households without broadband availability by Census Block. Additionally, a new map depicts rural and remote areas in relation to non-rural areas. These geographic data are required criteria for broadband infrastructure funds now available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

The new interactive tool will allow the general public to click on any Census Block within those states to obtain the number of households served and unserved by a broadband provider within that Census Block. In addition, Connect Minnesota has posted online the downloadable datasets of broadband availability information by Census Block.

The map of rural and remote areas illustrates which geographic areas in Minnesota are considered rural, remote, and non-rural, according to definitions in the federal broadband stimulus rules released on July 1.

Such granular broadband availability and associated geographic information is required to complete the applications for broadband infrastructure grants and loans through the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS.) The data tools will provide state leaders, community advocates, and providers in Minnesota with public access to this information, offering applicants a comprehensive, Census Block-level dataset of broadband availability and a better understanding of areas eligible for broadband stimulus funding.

Currently, approximately $7 billion in stimulus funds have been designated to help expand broadband access to unserved and underserved communities across the United States. These funds are available through the NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and the RUS’s Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP).

Blandin Broadband Conference – needs a name

Blandin FoundationThis is a subtle save-the-data announcement and a not so subtle request for assistance. The Fall Blandin Broadband Conference will be held November 18-19, 2009 in Duluth. We’re excited about it.

The Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force will have just submitted their recommendations. The first round of the ARRA proposals will have been submitted – but probably not decided. We may be looking at a new round of ARRA applications. Such a whirl of activity sets up a bit of an Alice in the Looking Glass feel, but we’re hoping to promote, support and urge the continued movement forward.

So that’s a sneak preview. We have more to tell – but we can’t go too far until we have a name – that’s where we’re looking for your help. We’d appreciate a minute of your time to take our “name our conference survey”. It’s exactly one question. You can vote on one of our options or if you’re so inspired send us one of your own.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=okOLX2gi_2fBjjPwkCpbKeaw_3d_3d

Got any other conference ideas we should consider, post ’em as a comment here. Thanks!