The Blandin Broadband Strategy Board is instrumental in advising the Blandin Broadband Initiative. It’s a mix of broadband providers, community leaders and broadband users. Their perspectives have been valuable in helping Blandin set priorities, fund projects and direct attention in terms of broadband policy. The Strategy Board met a week ago and we thought it would be interesting for readers to get a glimpse at the highlights of that meeting.
First the group heard from Pam Lehmann, Director of the EDA in Lac qui Parle. She was kind enough to share her PowerPoint, which really details their roadmap from starting to think about broadband at the 2007 Blandin Broadband Conference to the recent announcement of their ARRA broadband award.
Pam’s presentation, a list of Minnesota-based ARRA funded projects (posted here on Monday) and a windfall of $600,000 in the MIRC budget spurred a conversation on the impact of the ARRA funding on the broadband landscape. ARRA funding will determine many of the future served and unserved areas. It seems as though there is an opportunity to create tools that would help the unserved communities. Some ideas came up:
- A map or environmental scan that detailed access, penetration and programs at the community level
- A study of the successful broadband models in Minnesota
- A pre-planning community tool for community leaders looking at broadband – something that might help them recognize the models that might be the best fit for them
Blandin already has some tools in place for communities looking to create and deploy a broadband plan – but the ARRA funding and National Broadband Plan have really been game changers. The ARRA funding is expected to be awarded in the next month. Once the funding is complete it may make sense to revisit this issue.
Speaking of the National Broadband Plan – it was good to get some of the views of the Strategy Board – the Universal Service Fund was a hot topic – because it too may be a game changer. The Plan suggests making changes that will help fund broadband deployment in unserved areas, which will make it easier for more competition to enter new areas – but there is little to no funding for ongoing broadband maintenance. The question is how will that have an impact on providers currently serving rural areas.
Finally, the group heard from Jack Geller, getting a sneak preview of a study he has been working on looking at broadband and computer penetration in Rural Minnesota. (The data was collected by the Center for Rural Policy & Development and provided to the MIRC project by an agreement with that organization.) He has been kind enough to allow me to share some advance news…
Jack presented the Technology Adoption Curve: –> First adoption come to the innovators -> then early adopters -> the majority -> finally – the laggards
In many ways – we’re working to get the laggards online.
In rural Minnesota – here are the stats:
Computer in home 74%
Internet in home 70%
Broadband in home 64%
(Interesting note: of folks who didn’t have computers, 55 percent had cell phones – maybe that’s a road to broadband interest.)
Why do folks still use dialup?
Too expensive 61%
Use elsewhere 3.5%
Little use 15.1%
Not available 20.5%
It’s an interesting perspective that may be helpful in encouraging more broadband subscribers (a primary goal of ARRA projects) and a goal noted both in the National Broadband Plan and the Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force Recommendations. Increased subscriber rates help make a business case of commercial providers. Ubiquitous broadband also offers a channel for providing public services (healthcare, education safety-net resources) to people more affordably.
Jack’s statistics are just a sneak preview of the full study, which will be released later this fall in conjuncture with the Blandin Broadband Conference.