Free Wi-Fi in Minneapolis

Here’s the latest news from Government Technology

Now as part of that ongoing effort to bridge the digital divide, the city announced 117 “Wireless Minneapolis” hot spots for residents and visitors to access the Internet for no charge.

Just in time for my return to Minnesota. Great news! You can get a list of wi-fi locations from the City of Minneapolis web site.

Rural-rural divide

Telecompetitor recently ran an interesting article that started talking about the Universal Service Fund and ended by describing a rural-rural digital divide…

Within the context of broadband, there are two rural Americas. Generally speaking, rural Americans served by small rural local telephone companies and/or co-ops tend to have very good access to broadband services (whether they actually subscribe to it is a different story). Rural Americans served by large tier one and tier two carriers like Qwest and Verizon may not be so lucky. As Gardner points out, “About two thirds of all housing units without broadband are located in the service territory of larger [companies like] Windstream, Frontier, CenturyLink, Qwest, and AT&T.”

(The comments to the article are particularly interesting to read.)

I’m tempted to just leave my post here because there are so many sides to the story but, if you had asked me about a rural-rural divide before I read the article, I would have thought about the folks who live in a town and the folks who live in the outskirts – beyond the reach of most providers.

What I don’t know is whether local service providers reach those folks better than bigger guys or are those folks in the outskirts are not counted in the local provider’s service area – where as the bigger providers may be painting their coverage areas with a wider paint brush. Also I feel like it’s dangerous to talk about “most local providers” because each provider is different, each town is different, each market is different.

Tekne application deadline expanded

While I haven’t talked to the Tekne folks, I always feel like an extended deadline is a good sign and I would love to see a strong broadband presence…

The Minnesota Tekne Awards honor companies, innovations and individuals that positively impact Minnesota’s technology-based economy. The Tekne Awards began in 2000, and are presented by the Minnesota High Tech Association, in partnership with the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota, LifeScience Alley and Enterprise Minnesota.

Applying for a Tekne can bring extensive visibility to an organization and provides great opportunities to celebrate and promote products and leaders within an organization. Apply here.

Nominate a partner organization, vendor, client or individual in the high tech industry by clicking here.

June update on MIRC

You know the saying be careful what you wish for? We are still enthusiastic and thrilled that we were awarded ARRA funding for our BTOP project – but it has been a whirlwind. We have been seeped in MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) project since our launch in May. We thought we’d post monthly or so updates on the Blandin on Broadband blog just to keep everyone up on how it’s going.

Last week I was in Chicago with some of the Blandin Team at NTIA’s workshop for Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) grantees. We heard from some heavy-hitting and inspiring speakers such as Department of Commerce Senior Advisor Rick Wade, NTIA Assistant Secretary Larry Strickling, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and US Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra.

Taking full advantage of the learning opportunities BTOP presents is a particular priority of NTIA. Strickling signaled NTIA’s interest and intent to move beyond measuring outputs to understanding the outcomes – the “So What” — of these investments. He said, “Shame on us,” if we squander the opportunity to learn from these investments, and to share what we’re learning. NTIA is working on processes to collect best practices and share them.

While talking about his passion for broadband, Quinn quoted the Old Testament: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Having known President Obama for a long time through their mutual association in Illinois politics, Quinn took pains to assert that the President has a big vision of the power of broadband. He can see the future and understands how important broadband is to that future. He doesn’t believe in a ­­two-tiered system, he wants us to help him defeat the digital divide for the benefit of all Americans.

Back at home the whole MIRC team has been busy laying the groundwork for broadband adoption across the state. Our community coaches and champions, Bill Coleman and Karl Samp, have met with the 11 demonstration communities and even held Steering Committees meetings in most towns. All of the partners (demonstration communities, Regional Development Centers and service providers) have etched their master plan and goals in stone – or at least in a document we presented to the NTIA in Chicago.

We’re still getting a handle on all of the moving pieces and how each organization best fits in. We’re created an intranet of sorts using Ning, which has worked very well for us. We use it to post updates, questions and opportunities. For example the University of Minnesota Extension is looking for a Program Director to coordinate their MIRC activities.

We’ve started weekly webinars where we learn about specific service provider partners or talk about broadband trends or tools. We’ve really just started and we’re hoping to post any meetings that might be of interested to a broader audience that only MIRC partners. Also we’re working on a directory of technical assistance providers who serve rural Minnesota and help boost deployment or adoption of broadband. (In fact we’re collecting info on TA providers, if you are or know someone we should include, please let us know.)

It’s been great to see the communities share their progress with each other – especially shairng tips and suggestions. It’s easy to that right now we’re still moving parts – eventually the sum of the parts will be greater than total.

Interactive Index to the National Broadband Plan

Remember when the Interent was new? Well I don’t remember when it was really new but I go back to about 1994 (when I was 12). Back then I used to do a lot of demonstrations of the Internet and talking about why you should care about it. I found the sure fire way to get people to care was to start by asking what else they cared about and then make a connection.

Reports indicate at least 95 percent of the US cares about the Internet or broadband now – but I think the tougher sale is why should we care about broadband policy. Well the Benton Foundation has come up with a tool to help both make the case to those who might care yet – and help those of us who already care to keep up on what’s happening with the National Broadband Plan.

The tool works like an electronic index to the National Broadband Plan, highlighting topics of potential interest and providing the broadband context and progress for those topics. For example, there is a section on Children and Families. In that section Benton has listed the 21 recommendations that impact the state of Children and Families. Each recommendation includes a concise and reader-friendly abstract of the recommendation and registered users have the ability to post comments. The comments feature should open the door to dialog among experts, practitioners and the public, which I think makes the tool more interesting for those of us predisposed to care about broadband policy.

Broadband Webinars for Municipalities & Communities

Broadband Properties is offering a “complete broadband strategy webinar series” over the summer. They are free and appear to all run on Wednesdays at1 pm CDT. I thought that would be of interest to folks…

Here are the topics:

12 Steps to Move Broadband
From Ideas to Execution
Wednesday, July 7, 2 pm EDT

7 Ways to Make the Needs Assessment
Pay Dividends
Wednesday, July 21

Finding the Right Business Model for Community Broadband
Wednesday, August 4

Show Me the Money: Financing in Rough Economic Times
Wednesday, August 18

You Can Never Have Too Many Partners
in Broadband
Wednesday, September 1

When Broadband Becomes Political:
10-Point Survival Guide
Wednesday, September 22

Pew on State’s Role in Broadband

The new Pew Report (Brining America Up to Speed: States’ Role in Expanding Broadband) is outlines what is, was, has happened and what could or maybe should happen with broadband in states – especially in context of what is happening on a federal level with the National Broadband Plan and the ARRA broadband funding.

It looks at the good (California and North Carolina are both cited for early and effective programs), the bad (Montana ranks dead last in State Internet speed) and the ugly (the direct cost of closing this gap is $23.5 billion, according to the Federal Communications Commission).

It recognizes and details some of the wonky and borderline incongruous federal versus state regulations. It tells some sad stories of when broadband wasn’t available – especially the story of a woman in an emergency room with not enough bandwidth to send her scans to a specialist in time for treatment. It tells some stories of success. It talks about ways that broadband can save money in the long run; and ways that states can make a difference (through policy especially in terms of rights-of-way) without spending money. For those of us seeped in broadband there aren’t a lot of surprises, but it’s a great document for policymakers and community leaders to get up to speed.

Minnesota gets a couple of nods. First we’re grouped with some other high flyers…

Early, well-established planning efforts have made a difference in states such as California, Minnesota and North Carolina, where coordination among a variety of stakeholders has helped facilitate statewide approaches to expanding access to and the use of broadband.

Then the Task Force is mentioned specifically…

Minnesota, for instance, created the Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force, representing urban and rural parts of the state. The group’s final report, released in November 2009, recommended broadband access for all Minnesota homes and businesses by 2015, tax incentives for individuals, businesses and organizations to increase digital literacy and financial assistance for low-income people to pay for services.159 The legislature moved quickly to accept some of the recommendations, and in April 2010, Governor Pawlenty signed into law a bill that sets state broadband goals for deployment and speed, including universal access by 2015, with a minimum download speed of 10 to 20 megabits per second and an upload speed of at least 5 to 10 megabits per second.

We also get a nod in terms of alternative regulation

And Minnesota, Ohio and Vermont are among the states offering providers more flexible “alternative” regulation arrangements in exchange for broadband deployment commitments.128 Also called incentive regulations, these arrangements typically allow regulated providers to earn larger profits or relax the hurdles providers must clear when proposing rate increases, provided they meet performance targets.

and recognizing the needs of individuals with disabilities…

Minnesota also is taking steps to expand broadband adoption among individuals with disabilities and is working to guarantee that disabled persons are provided with access and use of state equipment and sites.

Now I feel a little like the woman who says – now why would I want to join a club that would invite the likes of me but I also feel like it’s important to appreciate the recognition for the good start – and use this report to move forward.

The Task Force did a terrific job and was I pleased to see the Governor sign the Broadband Bill with little dispute – but we’re at a crossroads and I’m not sure I see State Government moving us forward.

The best advice in the report comes from Jane Smith Patterson, executive director of North Carolina’s e-NC Authority…

“If you don’t have a group that is looking at [broadband] and keeping their eye on their target, your state will lose out in terms of its ability to have what I consider the technology of knowledge and information and light,” suggested Patterson. “It is desperately important that states have this capacity and capability.”

The Minnesota Task Force urged for the creation of such a group in Minnesota. The Minnesota Broadband Bill leaves the door open for a group- but does not mandate it. To move forward I think the State needs to get moving and create that group. Again according to Patterson, only 15 percent of states have a broadband group or authority – I suspect that those are the top states.

Why do we need a group? As the report repeatedly points out – the situation is different everywhere. Broadband adoption and deployment involves technology, terrain, regulation, population and so many other unique characteristics. There won’t be a cookie cutter answer than can be used in every state. So one will have to be created for each state. Also if you don’t have a local champion reminding folks about broadband, it gets lost. A simple example is the right-of-way issue and transportation. The dig once policy of laying down fiber with any new roads is great – but fiber is not necessarily on the minds of the transportation folks. The broadband folks have to be there to remind them.

Why do we need it at the State level? We have lots of good folks doing good work in Minnesota. Blandin Foundation has been supporting and promoting broadband in rural areas for year. The Knight Foundation has been involved in St Paul. Several local governments have become leaders in the field – such as Monticello, who may not have wanted that crown but has paved the way for municipal networks. But a State supported or sanctioned group would have an impact on policymakers that the others cannot and would send a message to people in and out of Minnesota that we were serious.

You can see other local reaction to the report in MPR’s Ground Level and a recent article in MinnPost.