MIRC October Update

This week the NTIA announced their final ARRA broadband awards; Minnesota was part of a winning multistate effort to provide online educational opportunities to adults. Connect Minnesota also was awarded funding to extend their mapping in the state for another three years.

We’re excited for the state and it makes us even prouder of our ARRA-funded MIRC project. We feel like the old timers with five months under our belt. Our 11 demonstration communities spent the summer working on their strategies to improve broadband adoption locally. They have unveiled RFPs locally asking folks to submit projects for their consideration. The RDCs have been helping to spread the word beyond the demonstration community borders.

Our project partners have been honing their offerings to meet the needs of the communities. Some folks, such as the University of Minnesota Extension, have hired staff members to manage the program. Other programs, such as PCs for People, have been busy putting computers in the communities and picking up discarded computers to refurbish. We’re in a groove and we’re happy to share our story.

I was pleased to co-present with Bill Coleman and LaDonna Boyd about the Intelligent Community Forum at the annual development conference at DEED. The Intelligent Community Forum provides the underpinnings for our Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities project. You can learn more from our presentation below.

The idea is for communities to build upon a base of solid broadband infrastructure, to pursue the creation, attraction and support of knowledge workers; spur innovation; and address digital inclusion. Communities create their marketing/advocacy story based on these assets.

We’re going to look further into the Intelligent Community Forum with Robert Bell and others October 13-14 at the 2010 Blandin Broadband Conference: Cultivating the Culture of Use.

We will hear from experts, researchers, students and folks in the field who are creating programs to help boost broadband use in their communities. We will also have time and space for attendees to ask questions and tell their stories, and follow up on the work of the Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Broadband Taskforce to answer the question, “Where are we now – one year later?”

The conference is open to everyone. We’re hoping to get a great variety of voices to help paint that picture of where we are – and maybe to start talking about where we will be next year.

Construction to start in Carver County

Here’s the latest news on Carver County’s ARRA-funded broadband project according to the Herald Journal

CARVER COUNTY, MN – Work on the $7.2 million Carver County fiber optic ring could begin as early as spring 2011, Carver County officials told the Mayer City Council Monday. The county received a $6 million federal grant to help bring broadband service to the 55 percent of county residents who are currently not served or who are under-served by broadband. The construction period is expected to take about two years.

Broadband views from economic developers

Craig Settles recently published a survey of economic developers and their views on broadband, broadband use, broadband access and broadband policy. It’s interesting. Some results I would have expected and some I didn’t.

Not surprising:

  • More than 90% of those surveyed found government-recommended goals of 4 Mbps for rural areas inadequate for impacting economic development outcomes.
  • More than 55% believe speeds of 100 Mbps or more are needed, but within three years, not 10 as some Federal agencies (and National Broadband Policy) support.
  • 6% of those surveyed had access to dialup only (that number is showing up consistently!)
  • Most folks found economic development gains (community, business, personal) benefits with broadband.
  • 62% who believe communities will need between 100 Mbps and 1 gigabit access by 2013 to achieve personal economic development goals.


  • 58% of respondents from all areas believe Universal Service Fund reform should enable communities to determine where funds go that are targeted to broadband.
  • 47% felt that a business model where a private provider owned and managed the networks would most likely ensure the area get adequate broadband.
  • 61% believe broadband can help encourage individual entrepreneurship among underserved individuals but only 19% stipulated that it would require support programs.

The report ends with respondent answers to the following question:

How can you and your professional peers help communities get broadband services that improve local economic development?

Craig Settles is going to be following up the raw numbers (with some commentary) with further analysis in the next few days. I’ll keep my eyes open for more.

Final ARRA Broadband announcement

On Monday, Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)  announced 56 investments totaling $190 million to support state efforts to compete in the digital economy.

Connect Minnesota was awarded $2,761,171. According to the Connect Minnesota site

The additional Recovery Act funding will allow mapping efforts under the SBDD program to continue for three additional years, while the program also focuses on projects that relate to broadband planning activities, such as the identification of barriers to the adoption of broadband service and information technology services.

The Washington Post reports that Minnesota is involved with one funded project…

California, Louisiana, Minnesota, New York, Oregon and Texas: Portland State University. This $3.3 million grant will fund digital literacy and other training tailored to adult learners. The project intends to train approximately 23,000 people, focusing on economically vulnerable populations, to prepare them for careers in the digital economy.

You can find the whole project description on the NTIA ARRA portal.

I’ve updated my list of MN ARRA awards to include these new awards.

Broadband questions for candidates

With an eye towards helping broadband resurface in the election, I am trolling the Internet for good broadband questions to ask candidates. I had a few people respond via Twitter and LinkedIn. I might try Facebook. I thought I’d see if the blog readers might have some suggestions. My hope is to share these questions with Debate Minnesota and with Minnesota communities through the Blandin Hot Broadband Topics series.

I’ll post the questions I received so far. If you have questions to add – please add them in the comments below or send them my way (atreacy@treacyinfo.com).  I think the Governor’s race looms greatest this year – but I’d like to see questions for candidates at any level. I’m hoping to pull the Hot Sites article together on Friday.

  1. As a candidate or public official, how important do you think world-class broadband services are for community and economic development? (from Bill Coleman)
  2. If the private sector fails to provide these services, what do you believe the role of the public sector should be to ensure that these services are available? (from Bill Coleman)
  3. What would you do to ensure every Minnesotan has the skills to participate in a broadband economy? (from Mike Wassenaar)
  4. The MN Broadband Taskforce has concentrated on speed as an outcome, and acknowledges that including all Minnesotans in the digital economy is necessary. And yet there are no goals for digital inclusion in the report. What goals for digital inclusion would you aspire to? How would you define digital inclusion? (from Mike Wassenaar)

Technology & Education in NYT Magazine

Bernadine Joselyn flagged last week’s New York Times Magazine for me – Learning by Playing was the theme. It’s all about how technology has, can have, maybe should have an impact on learning. It’s great reading for anyone interested in technology or education. They don’t mention broadband by name – and not all technologies require broadband – but broadband certainly opens a lot more doors.

I’m tempted to go on and on about what I thought about the various articles – but I suspect for most readers, I’ll be preaching to the choir. So I will say – if you’re interested in technology or education – check it out! The article paints a compelling case for using games and the Internet in education. It engages students and gives them 21st century skills. And I’m not just talking about fast texting fingers – but ability to work within, design, build and fix a system.

Here are some of my other quick highlights:

  • With games it’s OK to fail. Failure urges you to try again. In education failure is disastrous. Mark Zuckerberg (the Facebook Founder who recently gave $100 million to schools in Newark) talked on Oprah about how Facebook is based on lots of failures and a few wild successes. We need that enthusiasm for progress. I often hear people say – keep the bar low and celebrate victory. I loved the idea of make it hard and try until you get to the next level. That leads to progress.
  • Where a book provides knowledge, Gee says, a good game can provide a learner with knowledge and also experience solving problems using that knowledge.” School books have tried to do this for as long as I can remember with Chapter Questions – just imagine if those self-tests were interactive quizzes. And that’s a weak example of drawing kids in.
  • Looking for an excuse to get your kid a phone? Dial-a-Class is an article that will give you a couple academic examples of mobile use.
  • There’s a pen that records class at you take notes. I could use that at the Broadband Task Force meetings! Here’s a description…
  • The pens perform an interesting trick: when Dervishaj and her classmates write in their notebooks, the pen records audio of whatever is going on around it and links the audio to the handwritten words. If her written notes are inadequate, she can tap the pen on a sentence or word, and the pen plays what the teacher was saying at that precise point.…
    If students have trouble remembering how to tackle that type of problem, these little videos — “pencasts” — are online 24 hours a day. All the students I spoke to said they watch them.
  • One father wrote about home schooling his son
  • The accelerating pace of technology means his eventual adult career does not exist yet. Of course it won’t be taught in school. But technological smartness can be.

Random observations – but that’s because technology and education is such a big topic. For a number of years I think we’ve been looking at how today’s technology can help us teach yesterday’s classes. It’s great to also see how today’s classroom is being altered to meet the needs, advantages and challenges of today (and hopefully tomorrow’s) technology.

NESC and Blandin Foundation received $200,000 for broadband

We have fun news to announce about another award we have received with the Northeast Service Cooperative. (I’ll post the full press release below.) We are excited to partner with NESC on this grant. We are committed to working hard together to maximize the benefits of these federal investments for the NE MN communities we serve. NESC’s experience in regional planning and in building collaborative partnerships makes them uniquely qualified to oversee this project.

Also I want to quick congratulate the other Minnesota award recipient – the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe ¬received an award of $47,380. We look forward to hearing more about their grant.

Here is our official announcement…


MOUNTAIN IRON – The Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC) and Blandin Foundation will receive $200,000 in federal funding for regional broadband development planning in northeastern Minnesota.

Also partnering with this initiative are Fond Du Lac Reservation, Bois Forte Reservation and Grand Portage Reservation, with project coordination and support by Compass Consulting Inc., NorthSpan, Nordvold Consulting and Cronin Communications.

“High-speed broadband connectivity is important to our region and critical to economic development initiatives especially in the underserved or unserved communities,” said Lyle MacVey, IT director at NESC.

The United States Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that NESC and Blandin Foundation received a Technical Assistance Grant through its Broadband Initiative Program. The NESC and Blandin Foundation applied in June for funding, which was available to round one awardees of stimulus funding.

Funding will enable design, engineering and implementation of a broadband technology plan that will meet the current and future needs of the region. It will specifically address how the region can use broadband infrastructure as a strategy to facilitate expansion of market opportunities for small business and local entrepreneurship, and to support broadband utilization through a region-wide approach.

“A key Blandin Foundation initiative is to make sure Minnesota’s rural communities have access to broadband technology needed for improved quality of life and economic competitiveness,” said Jim Hoolihan, president and CEO of Blandin Foundation. “Competitive rural economies demand connected rural communities. That’s why, with partners like the Northeast Service Cooperative, the Blandin Foundation has tapped national grants to help rural Minnesota make the most of the Internet.”

Planning will address needs in portions of eight counties in northeastern Minnesota including Pine, Carlton, St. Louis, Itasca, Lake, Cook, Koochiching and Aitkin that are considered underserved and unserved.

The project design will focus on implementing a market study to determine business, economic, and broadband needs, developing an engineering design for a regional broadband network, and creating a pro forma financial analysis of a proposed future loan. The project will result in the development of broadband engineering models for connecting the majority of communities and expanding the future of market opportunities for small business. Private sector experts in engineering, project management, and finance will lead each phase.

The region is poised to design and implement this type of plan with the recent successful awards of a $43.5 million grant/loan to the NESC for 915 mile fiber optic middle mile project and the Blandin Foundation’s award of a $4.5 million grant, that will enable the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities coalition to bring a network of resources to support rural individuals and communities.