Broadband in the Marshall Schools

In the third part of her series on broadband in Southwest Minnesota, Deb Gau at the Marshall Independent focuses on broadband in the schools. It starts with a nice quote on the benefit of broadband in education – especially for rural schools…

“What it’s starting to create for us is a way to bridge the gap we’ve always had between rural schools and schools in the Twin Cities,” said Josh Sumption, information technology manager at the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative. By coming together online, students and teachers can get access to resources a single school district wouldn’t be able to afford.

She also includes some great examples of how broadband is used in the school today…

Member schools use the network for a wide variety of purposes. For example, some schools including Marshall High School now offer online classes – about 156 students in the region participated in online classes this year, Sumption said. An American Sign Language teacher based out of Beaver Creek can reach students across southwest Minnesota through interactive video. At Pipestone Area Schools, there are interactive whiteboards in every classroom thanks to a special technology levy passed by voters in 2006.

And with new applications popping up daily, the possibilities are endless. She mentions the SmartBoard, which if you haven’t seen is like a chalkboard-iPhone hybrid. I often hear people say – what would we do with 100 Mbps? The schools have the answers. According to the article, the schools are currently at 68 Mbps – and maxing out during school hours. I think it’s great – but I also think it’s a sign that the workforce of tomorrow is used to some great gadgets and serious bandwidth. I think it would be wise for those of us on the work-world would try to raise to those standards rather than home the young workers skills are compatible with older technologies.

MIRC update and great connections from TISP

Earlier this week, we presented an update on the MIRC project for TISP Forum. (As you may recall we spoke optimistically about the plan for TISP last October when we were still at “applicant” status.) This time around “we” included me, Bill Coleman and several MIRC partners: Dick Senese and Joyce Hoelting from Extension, Casey Sorenson from PCs for People, Gary Langer from Minnesota Learning Commons, and Jeannie Spaulding from Kandiyohi County.

We’ve posted our slides below – but as is often the case, we seemed to learn as much as the attendees, both during and after the session. I was so pleased with everyone’s generosity in sharing their stories and expertise.

I’ll try to share some of their stories below too.

Notes from After the Session

After the Forum, a group of us headed for a post presentation pint and conversation to further explore opportunities for collaboration with MIRC communities. Steven Renderos of Main Street Project joined us. We originally met during our late March “MIRC Intro Tour,” and Steven was gracious enough to meet us to talk again.

Main Street Project describes itself as a “grassroots cultural organizing, media justice and economic development initiative working to help rural and urban communities face today’s realities with hope.” The project “provides creative and practical tools to give people of all ages, cultures, economic and immigration status the opportunity to more fully participate in all aspects of community life.”

Steven said that Main Street Project’s tools to work with communities, in both Spanish and English, include:

  • digital story telling
  • media justice
  • using social media tools to organize
  • internet education – policy and practice

Check out Main Street Project’s website for more information.

We also met with Nghi Huynh from Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium (MMMC). Nhgi works with AHANA communities. (AHANA was a new term for me; Nghi explained that is stands for Afro-American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American.)

Nghi’s MMMC colleague, Al McFarlane (also Editor-in-Chief of the Afro-American journal Insight News), talked about his interest in helping immigrant communities claim a “respect” for their culture as bringing value and an enhanced quality of life to their adopted communities. Al, who grew up in Worthington, said he wants to connect with Afro-Americans living in rural places. “We want to create a public mind,” he said, “that celebrates our culture.” In addition to editing the journal, Al also hosts a weekly radio show at KFAI, an independent community radio station that offices at Cedar-Riverside.

We learned that one MMMC partner, the Asian Community Technology Center, offers media literacy training and on-line resources for the AHANA community. Nhgi said that if invited, MMMC would welcome opportunities to bring their work to MIRC communities. MMMC is also the public awareness and outreach partner for the University of Minnesota ‘s BTOP grant in support of sustained broadband adoption in 11 public computer centers in disadvantaged neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul. They will be translating and adapting into AHANA languages online curriculum on digital literacy and other internet use topics.

So you can see why we left more energized after talking with folks. It’s been so great to see the opportunities that have arisen even at the early stages. We’ll try to keep you updated as the project progresses.

Broadband the newest beat for Insight News

When we started Blandin on Broadband a few years ago I spent a lot of time beating the bushes for anything related to broadband. I was lucky if I could find a dozen or so legitimately broadband-focused stories a month. Well, that has certainly changed. Now there are single days when I could report on a dozen broadband stories. I’ve noted this to myself often – but today I saw evidence that it’s not just that I’m looking for broadband in all the right places.

This week Insight News introduced their latest hire…

Ivan B. Phifer this week joins McFarlane Media as a technology reporter supporting efforts to expand broadband awareness and utilization in communities of color. Phifer’s work will appear in newspapers serving African and African American, Latino, Asian and American Indian communities.

The newspapers are members of Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium, which, in partnership with University of Minnesota’s innovative Urban Research and Outreach Engagement Center (UROC), and the U’s Office for Business and Community Economic Development, have created a network of community public computer centers (PCC) that provide jobs, training and access to high speed internet technology.

I happened upon the article while looking at Bernadine Joselyn’s notes from the TISP meeting earlier this week. (Those notes will appear on this blog later today.) I think it’s exciting that they’ve hired someone to focus on broadband. I look forward to reading future stories. Heck, maybe we can even share notes.

Broadband options around Marshall

For the second in her Broadband series, Deb Rau from the Marshall Independent focused on broadband options available in the area. Cable (first in the form of Prairiewave, now Knology) has been a big players in towns such as Tracy.

I love the look back in her article…

“Before that [cable], there was dial-up. It was 56 kilobits per second, if you could get it,” said David Spencer, finance director for the city of Tracy, and a local resident. Getting a telecommunications hookup in town was “very big, not just for the Internet, but for telephones and cable television too.”

Remember when you had to convince an Internet service provider to bring dialup to your area? I was one of the people you called if you wanted MRNet to come to your town. I remember getting the calls and I remember visiting areas where the Internet was a long distance phone call. It wasn’t that long ago.

The article recognizes the expense of bringing infrastructure to rural areas where the population density is lower, which means fewer customers per mile, which in turn means you have to cover more miles. But that being said, local providers in the area have talked about customer base tripling in the last 5 years.

Cable isn’t the only option, wireless is mentioned too…

Some groups have opted to pursue alternatives to cable-based Internet in southwest Minnesota, however. About four years ago, the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative invested in a system of microwave wireless towers to provide high-speed Internet to a total of 31 school districts in the region. Minnesota Valley Television also uses a wireless network to bring Internet service to rural areas.

The MVTV wireless network was another good option for Tracy.

MVTV received ARRA funding so their area is about to expand. They weren’t the only providers in Southwest Minnesota to receive funding. The Southwest Minnesota Broadband Group has received moved to deploy fiber – but maybe I’m getting ahead of the Marshall series on broadband.

Broadband at the Ground Level

Yesterday Dave Peters at Minnesota Public Radio posted a great article on broadband in Minnesota. It’s a nice overview of what’s going on in the state – starting with the statewide broadband bill and going down to talking about what a couple of specific communities are doing to boost broadband in their areas.

Dave writes about rural issues so I wasn’t surprised but I was impressed to see his assessment of leadership (at the Ground Level)…

So how one community addresses this question is likely to differ, and need to differ, from how the next one does. I can’t think of another public policy issue or social trend — from energy to food networks to housing to demographic change — in which the leadership in specific communities will make as much difference in the quality-of-life outcome.

It’s going to be illuminating to see how local leadership emerges and what kind of information sharing gets fostered. It’s a great opportunity to see, as the Bush Foundation likes to call it, “courageous leadership.”

It’s a perspective that can often get lost but rural is a series of different communities. There are some shared characteristics – but each is different and each will address their questions differently. In some ways that’s what makes the broadband situation in the US different that in other countries. As Dave points out we don’t have a statewide strategy. The National strategy is being developed but the plan at that level seems to be stocking the magazine of weapons – not creating the game plan for each community. So it’s an opportunity for local communities to shine.

New Connect Minnesota Maps Webinar

The Connect Minnesota folks gave a quick and easy tutorial to their new maps last Friday via webinar. I took some notes – but I want to start by mentioning that the interactive maps are pretty easy to use. I used to run into issues with my own broadband when accessing the older maps – but that’s wasn’t a problem. (According to my most recent speed test I have 3.5 Mbps down and 184 Kbps up – however I am located in Ireland so I have that disadvantage.) So here are my quick notes…

They have new static maps to download.

You can see layers of types of service ( you can flag one or many):

  • Cable
  • Mobile
  • Fiber
  • DSL
  • Fixed wireless
  • Unserved

There is a function that allows you to zoom in quickly and easily with a specific address. It will then tell you the coverage in that area and providers, including contact information.

A little bit info on unserved layers. It is based on information from providers. You could see a lot of areas in NE Minnesota that aren’t served. Now you can dig down into census tract info. This would be (would have been) helpful for the ARRA grant applications.

Also they will be tracking adoption info such as computer ownership. There is an analysis function that will allow folks to overlay their own datasets. (Well maybe not their own – but they mentioned datasets.)

In Tennessee this has been helpful in talking with providers because they have been able to talk about many households are in a given area, which has helped to make a business case to go into an area. It was pretty cool to see how the visuals could really help decision makers. Like Google Maps, you really get a feel for the characteristics and layout of a community – so a provider might be able to see that within areas with lower population density, there may be pockets of density. (Not such great news if you are really removed from neighbors.)

They are also adding RSS feeds that might help track activities in Minnesota. They used the Governor’s Office as an example – but I think adding an RSS feed from Cook County Broadband or Southwest Minnesota Buyers Group might be better examples.

Anyone with a broadband project underway or a local story to share can send Connect Minnesota the details to be added to the RSS Feed via the maps@connectmn.org email address. You will need to provide any pertinent information including the name, address, and a url or website (if one is available.) Our mapping team will then plot the  coordinates so that it appears on the map at that location.

Additionally, that same email address can be used to submit comments and feedback about the maps. If an error is found, they encourage users to notify them and they will work to make the correction.

There were no questions.

You can get more details from the Connected Nation press release. I did happen upon a Star Tribune article mentioning the new maps – the readers of that article had plenty of questions. Some were on target; some completely off the mark. But they are always interesting to read.

Marshall celebrates broadband success

This week the Marshall Independent started a series of “stories that looks at where Marshall and the area stands when it comes to broadband Internet service, where it could go in the future, and what that future holds for businesses and residents alike.”

Yesterday’s story starts with a definition of where they are today…

A survey of local Internet services shows seven different Internet providers in Marshall, several offering download speeds greater than one Megabit per second (Mbps). A recently-enacted Minnesota law calls for broadband download speeds of 10 Mbps by 2015.

… and looks at the concerted effort it took to get there…

The first steps toward better Internet service in the Marshall area were taken more than 10 years ago, said DeCramer and Marshall Community Services Director Harry Weilage. It took a lot of community education and teamwork to build network infrastructure when the Internet was just starting to gain prominence, they said.

And the efforts have paid off; the area around Marshall (think Windom) is one of the best wired areas in the state. It’s interesting to hear the historical perspective. They didn’t get fiber because they were lucky, they got it because they planned. No accident there. It will be fun to read the rest of the series.

What that did strike me was the impact of the Minnesota Broadband Bill on communities that are currently well poised to be broadband powerhouses – as seen in the first quote from the article. In the spirit of planning ahead – maybe focusing on the 10 Mbps in 2015 isn’t the right goal for them. I think that goal is better reserved for folks who have nothing now. The folks who are doing well should reach higher.

Over the weekend Mike Horwath from ipHouse sent me an article that puts our speed goals in perspective – the title says it all “US happy with 4Mbps baseline; Europe demands 30Mbps for all”. Maybe Marshall needs to follow the European standard – or shoot for the US premium plan of 100 million U.S. homes have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 Mbps and actual upload speeds of at least 50 Mbps by 2020. In some ways I do see Marshall doing just that. Southwest Minnesota received an ARRA grant to boost broadband and I know Marshall is slated for DOCSIS 3.0.

Maybe it’s a good time to take a page from Marshall’s history and go for it!