Governor endorses Connected Nation for Minnesota broadband maps

Win, lose or draw, the first round NTIA/RUS broadband stimulus fund applications are in. Word is getting out about who applied and who didn’t including who applied for funds to do Minnesota mapping.

Mike O’Connor wrote a post on Wednesday about Minnesota Departments of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and Commerce recommending to the Governor that the State work with Connected Nation to pursue a grant to conduct a broadband map for the State of Minnesota with data that will be used to create a national broadband map. Connected Nation are the folks doing the current mapping for the State. This money would extend/expand on that work. Twelve other states and one territory are working with Connected Nation on their applications.

The Story

Here’s the quick take on the deal, partially gleaned from Mike’s post, Brent Legg at Connected Nation and Diane Wells at the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

The NTIA will provide “approximately $240 million in grants to assist states or their designees to develop state-specific data on the deployment levels and adoption rates of broadband services.” The NTIA seemed to be looking for a “single eligible entity in a State that has been designated by the State to receive a grant.” So state approval was important.

The folks at the State heard from two possible mappers – Connected Nation and the University of Minnesota. At this point I suspect local readers are saying – hey why didn’t they go with the U? All things being equal I buy local, especially if I have federal dollars to spend.

When CN approached the State they had a track record, a complete plan in place and the required 20 percent match. According to the letter of recommendation from the State, they have been “very satisfied” with CN’s work to meet the terms of the 2008 contract and the price paid. The funding from NTIA will allow the State to ask more questions, which will help get better maps. (Although the State wasn’t necessarily thrilled with all of the details as set out by the NTIA.) There will be a Steering committee to work with CN. The State and CN have a memorandum of understanding in place concerning the question of verifying availability and speeds

The University had a good idea but the plan was not complete. They were unable to specify staff members dedicated to the project. Their 20 percent match was less assured than CN’s. Without existing relationships with the providers, it seems optimistic to think that the U could meet the short deadlines required by the NTIA.

The Controversy

The old controversy is CN. People have extreme feelings about Connected Nation and have for a while. Steve Borsch outlines his concerns in a recent article; CN’s Brian Mefford has addressed concerns in a recent rebuttal of a Wall Street journal article, which I think is the basis of Steve B’s article – only Steve’s article is still online for free.

The new controversy is about how a mapper was selected in Minnesota. Should the State have consulted with the TF board? Did they consult with members offline? Does consulting with some members count? (CN is slated to speak at the next Task Force meeting. They were scheduled to speak earlier but as I recall they were asked to postpone while the TF was on the road.)

I’ve tried to present the facts. I’ll offer my own two cents and open this up to comments if others have an opinion.

Difference between rural and urban social media use

Do rural users of social media have fewer social media friends? And do those friends live closer than the friends of urban social media users? And who’s the biggest users, men or women?

I just read an interesting article in the Daily Yonder (The New Party Line is Crackling) about how people in rural areas use social media and these things came up. Apparently there was a study of 3000 rural and urban MySpace users (MySpace was bigger than Facebook at the time they started the study) and the researchers found that rural folks had fewer MySpace friends, they lived nearer to those friends and women were more likely users than men. The report came out in 2008.

I was wondering if the same would be true today and/or true in and around MN. I don’t have time to pore over 3000 MySPace or Facebook pages but I thought I’d create a survey and see if folks wouldn’t mind taking it: http://tinyurl.com/m9ydn7

It’s 16 questions – but they are quick, especially if you either don’t use social media or you happen to have your profiles open. (I’ll report on results after Labor Day – so please feel free to get others to take the survey.)

Thanks!

Next best thing to being a BTOP Reviewer

I’m not a BTOP reviewer – but I know someone who is. Mike O’Connor is going to be a review and he’s letting us be a fly on the wall by maintain a blog on a BTOP review process. I’m very excited.

Reading about the excitement not enough for you? I just got another call to be a BTOP or BIP reviewer from someone – so I think it’s not too late. I heard they were looking especially for folks to review the public computer centers.

SouthWest Minnesota Broadband Group Update

I wanted to provide a quick update on the progress of SouthWest Minnesota Broadband Group (SWMBG) and our Blandin Robust Network project. SWMBG is a group of eight communities looking to expand the reach of fiber-to-the-premise technology in portions of Jackson, Cottonwood and Nobles County. We have spent the last month gathering information from our communities, doing engineering and operational planning and last week we submitted a Stimulus loan application to RUS and NTIA. There has been strong support from the communities involved and we will be spending the next month completing the marketing survey for the area and completing our final feasibility document. Special thanks to Dan Olsen at Windomnet and Mitch Jasper at Jackson for their continued support. Also Round Lake and Lakefield have been very instrumental in the project. We at U-reka Broadband Ventures are proud of the determination of this group as we put the project together. We believe that multiple communities working together can eliminate some of the scalability concerns of rural networks. In this case Windomnet will provide backbone services to the project eliminating the start-up costs to the project. This project has truly been a partnership of cities, counties, education and private sector to bring real broadband to the area.

2200 applications requesting $28 billion for broadband

The word is out and the NTIA and RUS received 2,200 applications requesting $28 billion. There isn’t a ton of info yet on the applications. Here’s what I could glean from the press release:

The applications break down as follows:

Infrastructure

  • More than 260 applications were filed solely with NTIA’s BTOP requesting over $5.4 billion in grants to fund broadband infrastructure projects in unserved and underserved areas.
    • More than 400 applications were filed solely with RUS’s BIP requesting nearly $5 billion in grants and loans for broadband infrastructure projects in rural areas.
  • More than 830 applications were filed with both NTIA’s BTOP and RUS’s BIP, requesting nearly $12.8 billion in infrastructure funding.

Sustainable Broadband Adoption

  • More than 320 applications were filed with NTIA requesting nearly $2.5 billion in grants from BTOP for projects that promote sustainable demand for broadband services, including projects to provide broadband education, awareness, training, access, equipment or support, particularly among vulnerable population groups where broadband technology has traditionally been underutilized. (The Recovery Act directs NTIA to make at least $250 million available for programs that encourage sustainable adoption of broadband services, of which up to $150 million is allocated in this first round of grants.)

Public Computer Centers

  • More than 360 applications were filed with NTIA requesting more than $1.9 billion in grants from BTOP for public computer center projects, which will expand access to broadband service and enhance broadband capacity at public libraries, community colleges, and other institutions that provide the benefits of broadband to the general public or specific vulnerable populations. (The Recovery Act directs NTIA to make at least $200 million available for expanding public computer center capacity, of which up to $50 million is allocated in this first round of grants.)

More info – such as specific info on applicants – is due in the next few weeks.

Nonprofits and nonprofit clients need broadband

Why should nonprofits care about broadband? Fellow Minnesotan (and friend) Sheldon Mains just wrote a nice article (Save the Internet, Save the World). He spells out the reasons nonprofits should care about broadband and Net Neutrality – especially if they care about their clients and community.

Sheldon has included a list of everyday tasks that require the Internet and increasingly require broadband. There was a time where broadband just made us all faster – but I recall talking to Jack Geller in March 2007 when a new report on rural Internet access had come out and he noted that this was the first year that people with broadband didn’t just do the same tasks faster – they did different things online that dialup users.

I hear from people who seem to think that broadband still just makes you faster. (Usually those people have broadband.) I think Sheldon’s best example is checking on status of anything with US Immigration and Naturalization Service; he says, “I challenge anyone to try to get through the INS process in one hour, the time limit many public libraries put on Internet use.” Right there is a reason to encourage broadband and encourage home access – I can tell you from experience that you don’t want to call the INS. (I’m a huge advocate for libraries and I love that they have access but they can’t keep up with the demand!)

When you use dialup (or even satellite or mobile broadband) you time out, you can’t view things, your response is too slow to be interactive, you would have a hard time publishing anything.

Developers used to create web sites based on an assumption that visitors have 56K connection. They don’t anymore. So while I could fill out a job application using dialup a few years ago – those applications have changed. It’s not that dialup users have gotten impatient – they really can’t access things!

So back to Sheldon – he’s done a great job speaking to nonprofit staff about broadband and Net Neutrality. If you have a friend who doesn’t get it – send him to Sheldon. (Good news for Net Neutrality supporters – Julius Genachowski, the FCC chairman, has been clear on the FCC’s support of Net Neutrality.)

Clearly this has been on my mind this week. The reason is a Facebook conversation I had with someone who just didn’t see why the government should get involved with broadband in rural areas. Comments on the blog have got me thinking too – thanks!

I think Sheldon had a good answer, “Simply put, in the last 15 years, the Internet has become a necessity for participating in our society — and in most cases, high speed Internet has become a necessity.” And the market is not serving the rural corners – the business case is tough to make – but we need to do it. Just as folks have pointed out we needed to get electricity to the rural corners.