Updates from the FCC – Spectrum & Tech Council

Thanks to Ann Higgins for a heads up on the FCC and their plans (re-plans) for spectrum. Goal Two of the National Broadband Plan is…

The United States should lead the world in mobile innovation, with the fastest and most extensive wireless networks of any nation.

I think we have our jobs cut out for ourselves if that’s our plan. The FCC came out with a follow up report this week that I think provides some good news/bad news in terms of this goal. The good news is that we’re using more and more mobile in the US. The report found that…

  • 42% of consumers are estimated to own a smartphone, up from 16% three years ago
  • PC aircard users consume 1.4 gigabytes (GB) per month — 56 times the amount of data used by a regular cell phone

More people are accessing mobile broadband; and folks online are using it more and more. So when it comes to adoption we’re there. Greater adoption will lead to greater innovation. The bad news is that the spectrum originally specified by the FCC in the National Broadband Plan has already been determined to be too little. As the FCC press release on the new report states…

In his opening remarks today, FCC Chairman Genachowski stated, “The explosive growth in mobile communications is outpacing our ability to keep up. If we don’t act to update our spectrum policies for the 21st century, we’re going to run into a wall – a spectrum crunch – that will stifle American innovation and economic growth and cost us the opportunity to lead the world in mobile communications.”

The expectation is that we’ll have a deficit of 300 megahertz within 5 years. And the report indicates that historically it take 6-13 years to make new spectrum available. So much of the funding for broadband projects and initiatives mentioned in the National Broadband Plan comes from the sale of spectrum; I wonder how that will fit in.

On a not necessarily related topic, the FCC also annoucned the formation of their Technological Advisory Council. There are almost 40 members on the Council; it includes representatives from telecommunications companies, software companies, service providers and broadcasters. We’ll see how they can take on the spectrum issue.

Open meeting laws an issue for Lake County?

I love getting a glimpse of the internal workings of the stimulus funded projects. I think other communities and broadband projects can learn a lot by watching the funded projects – and I feel as if one of the tradeoffs for receiving funding is sharing the process with the public (the tax-paying public). But then at heart, I’m a librarian.

Lake County is apparently struggling with some of the possibly mandated transparency involved with public meetings and public funds. The Lake County Board of Commissioners has created a Fiber Optics Committee this week. The Lake County News-Chronicle reports…

The committee will not have purchasing power and will likely hold meetings closed to the public. Gary Fields of National Public Broadband, the county’s partner in the enterprise, expressed competitive concerns about open meetings discussing the $70 million project.

The New-Chronicle details the ups and downs of the issue – but they included one fact I found interesting…

Board members can face penalties of $300 per Open Meeting Law violation and be removed from office after a third violation. Any member of the public may seek legal action under the law. Board members may also be liable for court costs and attorney fees of up to $13,000.

I’m hoping that we do get to learn from Lake County’s process. Reading the rest of the article, gives an impression of the changes that are already taking place in the community – long before the fiber is laid and lit.

Minnesota Broadband Advisory Task Force Meeting Oct 2010 – full notes

Today the Minnesota Broadband Advisory Task Force met at TIES. They really hit the ground running. They focused on what kind of report they would create for 2011 – the benchmark report for tracking broadband access and adoption.

They outcomes were an outline for the future report and a first draft of sorts. The Task Force went through the homework they created after the last meeting to fill in parts of the new report outline.

The Board Chair Joanne Johnson was kind enough to allow me to share the homework/preliminary draft (and education map) of the report. It will help the notes I took after lunch make more sense.

Here are the notes from the meeting… Continue reading

Recovery money that helps MN

Colleen Landkamer, state director of USDA Rural Development in Minnesota, just published a nice story on MinnPost highlighting the difference that USDA funding has made to some Minnesota towns. One of my favorite stories, the Adrian e-Pharmacy was specifically highlighted, but the following projects were mentioned as well…

• $330 million to help over 2,600 individuals and families buy a home or refinance existing home loans;

• $195 million to deliver high-speed broadband Internet services to 164,000 rural homes, 11,500 businesses and 685 essential community facilities;

• $85 million to improve or replace 26 water and wastewater treatment systems;

• $36 million to provide loan guarantees that allowed nine businesses to create or save about 750 jobs;

• $31 million to build or repair 33 essential community facilities such as hospitals, community centers and libraries;

• $1 million in Rural Business Enterprise Grants to assist small rural businesses with gap financing.

Not all of these touch broadband – but it doesn’t take a be stretch to think of ways that they could or that broadband could help with some of the not-so-broadband projects. It’s also interesting to see the emphasis put on broadband by tallying the amounts received in each segment.

Virtuwell – remote diagnosis from Health Partners

Today Health Partners unveils a remote diagnosis service, called Virtuwell, that’s available to Minnesotans. It’s an interactive web site that walks you through a series of questions – from general to specific. The couple of test ailments I tried took 5-10 minutes to get through the questions. Then apparently if you want to submit your responses to a nurse – they will get back to you within 30 minutes with a diagnosis. It costs $40 – but apparently comes with a money back guarantee.

Those of us who attended the Blandin Broadband conference earlier this month might recognize this scenario – Robert Stephens painted a similar picture. As he said, it’s an obvious extension of the Minute Clinic – a great Minnesota innovation.

As I said, I tried out the interactive tool (although I did not send my made up responses to a nurse). The questions are straight forward and include pictures, which is nice. So if you think you have the Chicken Pox, you can see what they look like to cross check your own suspicious marks. I like the tools as a busy mom – but the Minneapolis St Paul Business Journal found that corporations like it too…

In announcing the Virtuwell launch, HealthPartners quoted executives at major employers saying they, too, liked the service because it will help workers conveniently handle routine health issues.

“When an employee has a minor medical condition, they want to get better quickly with little inconvenience, the least down time and at the lowest cost,” said Kathy Prondzinski, corporate benefits design director at Andersen Corp.

Next MN Broadband Advisory Task Force meeting Oct 27

The next Task Force meeting is planned for Wednesday (October 27) from 9:00 to 3:00. It will be at TIES at 1667 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul, MN 55108 (Larpenter and Snelling).They haven’t posted an agenda yet – I’ll post that when I can, but I wanted to get the word out early enough for anyone who thought they might attend. If I had one wish, it would be that it included a quick tour of TIES. I’ve been there before – but I think it’s a great place. TIES does a lot of training for educators and they are involved with a lot of Internet2 programs and projects.

Who’s using health apps? You might be surprised.

Pew Internet & American Life just released a Mobile Heath 2010 Report. They found that 85 percent of American adults use a cell phone. Of those users, 17 percent have used their phone to look up health info; 9 percent have health care apps on their phones.

Here’s a fast fact I found surprising…

African American cell phone owners are more likely than other groups to use such apps: 15% do so, compared with 7% of white and 11% of Latino cell phone users.

Latino cell phone users are significantly more likely than other groups to use their cell phone to look for health information: 25% do so, compared with 15% of non-Hispanic whites, for example.

Not surprising, but another fast fact…

Urban cell phone owners are more likely than those who live in suburban or rural areas to have a mobile health app on their phone.

Pew also found that folks who had mobile access to the Internet were more likely to look up info and more likely to engage online with activities such as posting comments of reviews.

Those of us who attended the Blandin conference last week heard about at least one health care app from Robert Stephens (Geek Squad Founder). He talked about how we used his iPhone, GSP and a handful of apps to lose 40 pounds. He also talked about how handhelds and iPads are going to change the online landscape and how to interact online – Pew’s report seems back up his prediction.