Frustration getting online in rural Minnesota

I’ve been trying to collect stories of broadband success in Minnesota. But sometimes a story of frustration can be just as illuminating. I want to thank my friend Denise for taking the time to share her experience. Denise Cumming spends half her time in Minneapolis, half in Southern Minnesota caring for her mother. Her online job allows her such flexibility – but her lack-luster broadband is getting in her way. In the video, Denise talks about what you can do on a practical basis with differing low bandwidth connections and/or better connections in public spaces. It’s a great glimpse of what folks on the far end of the digital divide experience.

Top Digital Cities Announced. Not one MN contender

Thanks to Ann Higgins for the heads up on the bad news of the day. The Center for Digital Government and Government Technology announced their Top Digital Cities last week.

I don’t see one Minnesota city on any of their four lists. (Lists of winners are divided by population size.)

Apparently there has been a shift how Digital Cities are considered…

Not so long ago, governments could justify spending on e-government if it made lives easier and more convenient, or if it allowed a new service that was previously impossible. Now it’s not so simple, thanks to the struggling economy.

Today, showing that a project delivers “hard-dollar” returns has become more important. Consequently this year’s survey focused on measurable achievements.

The focus also seems to be on websites that are collaborating with others to offer new applications that make it easier to get information and/or services that might otherwise be too costly for individual cities to afford to manage. This touches on some of the applications Kathleen Lonergan spoke about in our conversation last week.

I’d be delighted to hear about Minnesota cities that should have made the list – focusing on new application or other forms of e-government.

Have plan, will deploy in Australia

Thanks to Mike Horwath for the heads up – while we were eating turkey leftovers, the Australian Senate passed a bill that split Telstra’s Australia’s largest ISP separating their retail and wholesale arms.

The Age echoed many other news sources when they said…

THE national broadband network has cleared another key hurdle, after Parliament signed off on major changes designed to help consumers by splitting Telstra’s retail and wholesale arms.

The same article goes on to say that plans are in the works to block the path, while other promising to block the blocks – but a step has been taken. Ars Technica gives a brief summary of the route to deploying the national broadband plan…

The government let go of Telstra in the late 1990s. But, over the coming eight years, Australia’s taxpayers will fork over AUS$43 billion (US$38 billion) to build a “world-class broadband infrastructure.” The project will deliver fiber-to-the-home to 93 percent of all households. We’re talking open access and wholesale only. Every ISP will be able to tap into the system.

I hear people claim that the US can’t commit to ubiquitous broadband because we’re so big with so many areas of low population density. I know that size and population density matter – but I think Australia is showing that where there’s a will, there’s a way. As you may recall, access to broadband was a big issue in the elections this year. The people wanted broadband and now the government is stepping in to make it happen. Unfortunately surveys are showing the opposite in the US. Pew recently reported that more than half of Americans polled say they do not believe that the spread of affordable broadband should be a major government priority. Even Blandin Foundation’s own Rural Pulse survey indicated that…

Fifty three percent of rural residents strongly agreed and 33 percent somewhat agreed that their community has adequate access to technology, with 13 percent disagreeing with that belief.

And numerous surveys have indicated that one of the top reasons people don’t have home broadband is because they don’t see a value. It’s an indicator that we need to convince people of the value of broadband – because as Australia has demonstrated – it can be (or at least is being) done.

College students get real world work online

According to the Duluth News, the College of St Scholastica is putting broadband and student ingenuity to work in a class where students work with busiensses and nonprofits to help them with their online marketing and social media strategies…

Dexterity with websites, Facebook and Twitter helped turn a class at the College of St. Scholastica into an in-house ad agency.

A mix of marketing, advertising, graphic design and computer science students became the BlueStone group last semester when they gained a national client, the nonprofit Taste of the NFL. The class has worked to redesign the anti-hunger charity’s website and drive its social media campaign.

It’s great real world experience made available because broadband allows the students to work with clients remotely and because broadband has helped increase use of social media tools.

Broadband Access Project Open House: Thursday, December 9

For folks in the Cities, or willing to make a drive, I thought the following event might be interesting. As you may recall this is an ARRA-funded project…

Please join Asian Community Technology Center, Hmong American Partnership, Lifetrack Resources & YWCA Saint Paul for an inside look at the University of Minnesota’s Broadband Access Project in Saint Paul

Thursday, December 9, 2010

3:30 p.m. Program
Join Mayor Chris Coleman at Lifetrack Resources

2:00 – 5:00 p.m. Open Houses:
Asian Community Technology Center
417 University Avenue

Hmong American Partnership
1075 Arcade Street

Lifetrack Resources
709 University Avenue West

About the Broadband Access Project’s Computer Labs. The University of Minnesota, in partnership with 12 community organizations, received federal funds to develop and improve computer labs throughout underserved neighborhoods in the Twin Cities. The labs are available and free to any adult with employment and education needs.

Questions? Contact Jocelyn Wiedow (YWCA) at 651-265-0720 or at

MN Broadband Story of Success: Publisher in Lake County

Christopher Swanson, brand new Alderman Ward 2 at Two Harbors City Council, talks about the ARRA-funded project in Lake County. He tells the story of how county-wide fiber will help one local publisher better do her job. It’s just one example of what could/will happen in Lake County in the years to come.

Happy Thanksgiving – time to take a break?

I thought this would be a fun post for today. I’m borrowing Benton’s summary of the article from the Los Angeles Times

Most Americans will be checking their work e-mails over Thanksgiving and other holidays this year, according to a new survey conducted by research firm Harris Interactive. Harris found that 79% of U.S. working adults say they have been sent work-related e-mails over a holiday and 59% say they will be checking their work e-mail this holiday season. Of those 59% e-mail checkers, 55% said they peek in their In Box ox for work messages at least once a day, while 28% admitted to checking e-mails multiple times a day. 15% said they were thankful or relieved to have the distraction of work e-mail during the holidays, the survey said. Others don’t view work messages in their In Box so happily — 41% who get work-related e-mails over a holiday say it frustrates or annoys them. Younger adults, ages 18 to 34, are most likely — 56% — to be irritated by work e-mails on their off-days. Even worse, about 12% of those surveyed said they actually “dread” getting any work e-mails during a holiday.

I’m tempted to chastize anyone reading the message today to drop the smartphone and grab a wishbone – but I’m one of the 15 percent who enjoys the distraction – not because I don’t enjoy my family (I do!) but I’m lucky enough to enjoy my work too. I’m thankful for both.

Have a great Thanksgiving!