Bernadine Joselyn’s presentation at the Humphrey Institute Telecommunications Seminar

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the Telecommunications Seminar hosted by Humphrey Institute earlier this week – but Bernadine Joselyn was kind enough to share the notes from her presentation…

Remarks by Bernadine Joselyn before the Telecommunications Seminar hosted by Humphrey Institute, January 26, 2011

It is an honor to be here.

When Steve [Kelley] called to offer me the opportunity to present today, he made the observation that policy discussions around telecommunications traditionally have been dominated by providers. Community voices are largely absent. …..

As fundamental as it is to our lives, technology is not an issue around which it is easy for people to find and express their collective voice. So Steve asked if I would bring into the discussion a community perspective. What I have to offer is informed by the work I get to do at Blandin Foundation as director for PP&E. I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Steve for his service to the foundation as a member of Blandin’s Broadband Strategy Board.

Our mission at Blandin is to strengthen rural Minnesota communities. We seek to be a voice for rural, and to help rural people be their own voice.

We work in this broadband space because we recognize that broadband is really important to the future of rural places. Communities have just gotta be plugged in to play.

The basis of our approach is the conviction that leadership matters. Leadership is about aligning passion and responsibility. Recognizing that it’s up to us to help ourselves, and that, as we like to say in our Blandin Community Leadership Program, leadership is one of those things that you have to do yourself, but you can’t do alone.

So I want to bring the “community voice” into the room by letting community leaders speak for themselves through three short stories about how people worked together to bring the benefits of broadband to their communities. The people we’ll hear from are among the many leaders and community champions with whom we are privileged to work in implementing the MIRC project – a $4.8 million federal stimulus grant to increase sustained broadband adoption in rural Minnesota.

This is our MIRC partnership….. (see map)

The MIRC project is designed to catalyze the creation of a “culture of use” among the 11 participating communities. As the words imply this is culture change work. It requires lots of community leadership, and lots of collaboration. Facilitating and supporting those invisible but critical capacities in people is what we hope will make this work sustainable over time. Our work is conducted within an economic development framework developed by the Intelligent Community Forum.

This Intelligent Community framework – which we think is a very helpful tool — is built of 5 pillars: broadband development, workforce, digital inclusion, innovation, and marketing and advocacy. The community efforts we are helping to nurture address all of these areas. If you build it they will come,” is simply not true about broadband. Just look at our scary and growing digital divide.
It takes a village to build and use a network.

And so to the stories….

The film was commissioned by BF and filmed by Tom Livingstone, an independent film maker out of Duluth.

Minnesota makes some Top 10 Akamai rankings

Thanks to Ann Higgins for the heads up on the latest Akamai report on broadband speed in the US and beyond. Here are a few facts as highlighted on their press release:

Internet Penetration
In the third quarter of 2010, over 533 million unique IP addresses, from 235 countries/regions, connected to the Akamai network. This represents 6.6% more IP addresses than the second quarter of 2010, and 20% more than the same quarter a year ago.

Global Connection Speeds
Globally, the average connection speed once again increased, both quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year, reaching nearly 2 Mbps. Taiwan’s 24% quarterly growth was the most significant among the top 10 countries/regions, enabling it to achieve an average connection speed of 5 Mbps. In examining the average peak speeds around the world, only four countries/regions had speeds of 30 Mbps or more – South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Romania.

Fastest U.S. States
The overall average connection speed for the U.S. as a whole in the third quarter of 2010 was 5.0 Mbps. Delaware continued to maintain its standing as the state with the fastest average connection speed. The overall average peak connection speed in the U.S. during the third quarter was 20 Mbps. In looking at high broadband adoption in the U.S. during the third quarter, trending was mostly positive. Quarterly increases in high broadband adoption of 10% or more were seen in 23 states and the District of Columbia, with New Mexico topping the list at 60% growth. In reviewing year-over-year changes in U.S. broadband adoption, four states (Alaska, Minnesota, Montana, and Alabama) grew more than 100% year-over-year, with Alaska’s massive 191% growth leading the way.

And here’s some of the Minnesota-specific information that always catches my eye.

The good news is that Minnesota actually made the top 10 list a few places. Akamai does not give an exhaustive list of state rankings, only the highlights, so it’s nice when Minnesota makes the list. Also it means a step closer to the Minnesota broadband goal to be one of the top five states in terms of broadband speed – if you want to look at averaged speed measured. (And since Minnesota stresses ubiquity, I think we can glean that averaged speed is important to us.)

Also St Paul made the list of Average Measured Connection Speed, Top United States Cities by Speed

Challenges of a Community Network – Sibley County

Sibley County’s quest to consider a countywide, county-supported fiber optic network hit a bump in the road. As you may recall they held a meeting earlier this month where they discussed borrowing $63 million and repaying the bonds with revenue from the service. The stakeholders were given until the end of February to make some decisions about moving forward.

I’ve said before that no one follows the state of community broadband networks closer than Chris Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self Reliance. He is a great advocate of municipal/community broadband networks. Chris has recently published letters from Frontier Communications and Mark Erickson, the Winthrop City Administrator that offer a point-counterpoint views of the project.

Frontier Communications currently provides connectivity in the area. They are skeptical of the county’s business plan. Mark Erickson’s letter addresses Frontier’s concerns. You can read the letters in their entirety on the MuniNetworks web site.

I suspect that this issue will be discussed at the TISP meeting in February.

Net Neutrality 2.0?

On Tuesday, Senator Al Franken and (D-Minn) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) introduced a bill, called the Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act of 2011. According to Senator Franken’s web site…

“Net neutrality is one of the most important issues facing our country today,” said Sen. Franken. “The recent FCC ruling on net neutrality does not do nearly enough to protect consumers, and this bill is designed to maintain a free and open Internet. This isn’t just about speech, it’s also about entrepreneurship and innovation, and it’s about our economy.”

According to the text of the bill draft, the goal is…

To preserve the free and open nature of the Internet, expand the benefits of broadband, and promote universally available and affordable broadband service.

The bill isn’t long, but here are some of the highlights (I’ve modified to ease readability) …

(12) The United States needs clear Federal policy that preserves the historically free and open nature of the Internet, expands the benefits of broadband, and promotes universally available and affordable broadband service that does not chill in novation or speech within the content, applications, and services available online.

(13) The Federal policy to ensure that the Internet remains free and open must apply equally to all broadband Internet access services, regardless of whether those services use wire, radio, or some combination of those means to reach the end user.

Here are some of the proposed dos

‘(2) Broadband Internet access service providers shall not require end users to purchase voice grade telephone service, commercial mobile radio voice services, or multichannel-video programming distribution services or other specialized services as a condition on the purchase of any broadband Internet access service.

(3) All charges, practices, classifications, and regulations for and in connection with broadband Internet access service shall be just and reasonable.

And some of the proposed don’ts

(1) block, interfere with, or degrade an end user’s ability to access, use, send, post, receive, or offer lawful content (including fair use), applications, or services of the user’s choice;

(2) block, interfere with, or degrade an end user’s ability to connect and use the end user’s choice of legal devices that do not harm the network;

(3) prevent or interfere with competition among network, applications, service or content providers;

(4) engage in discrimination against any lawful Internet content, application, service, or service provider with respect to network management practices, network performance characteristics, or commercial terms and conditions;

(5) give preference to affiliated content, applications, or services with respect to network management practices, network performance characteristics, or commercial terms and conditions;

(6) charge a content, application, or service provider for access to the broadband Internet access service providers’ end users based on differing levels of quality of service or prioritized delivery of Internet protocol packets;

(7) prioritize among or between content, applications, and services, or among or between different types of content, applications, and services unless the end user requests to have such prioritization;

(8) install or utilize network features, functions, or capabilities that prevent or interfere with compliance with the requirements of this section; or

9) refuse to interconnect on just and reasonable terms and conditions.

And the network management

(4) LIMITATION.—A network management practice may not be considered to be a reasonable network management if the broadband Internet access service provider charges content, applications, or other online service providers for differing levels of quality of service or prioritized delivery of Internet Protocol packets.

Finally MISC

There’s a clause about making practices known and a section on exemptions.

There’s also a clause stipulating that anyone qualifying for USF will have to provide stand-alone internet services.

There are some teeth, which means anyone found guilty of not adhering to the law can be found liable for damages.

There is an effort to study the impact of the proposed law one year after enactment.

MN Broadband Story of Success in Process: Remote Classes in Windom

I just got off the phone with Greg Warner from the WECC (Windom Education and Collaborative Center) about an exciting project that involves ultra high-speed broadband, a diverse population and great classes at the University of Minnesota. Before I get into the details I wanted to mention that it’s a story in process. They are hoping to start class on Tuesday but are missing one piece of equipment a Polycom HDX 8000. It’s on order; they thought they’d receive it two weeks ago. They really need in Monday. Just thought I’d mention it in case someone had a loaner for them. Also – the classes have room for a couple more students. I wanted to offer those heads up, just in case. Now on with the story.

Windom has become an increasingly ethnically diverse community with many folks coming to work at the meat packing plants. Seeing the change in the air, WECC and Intercultural Communities Uniting (ICU) sought ways to welcome new residents. Talking to  new residents, they learned that folks were interested in using their language skills in entrepreneurial efforts. With funding from Blue Cross, Blue Shield – Healthy Together program, they began offering Interpreter training , training on how to become a good interpreter. They had 48 people go to the series of classes. It was very successful.

The University of Minnesota has been working with the legislature to create a registry of qualified interpreters. Great for quality assurance, a potential barrier for interpreters. To qualify for the registry, students are required to have college credits in the field. Windom is a long way away from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus where the classes are held. The cost of the classes and time to attend would have been a great barrier to many of the people in Windom. But Windom has great broadband and an innovative spirit.

So they have been working with the U of M to allow students in Windom to access their interpreting classes online through the University of MN College of Continuing Education, Translation and Interpreting Program. The local Windom students will attend the classes at the BARC (Business Arts & Recreation Center) where they have the fast broadband connection and telepresence equipment. It will be the next best thing to being there. To add to the appeal, the classes are offered at half price and the community will be offering scholarships. The class starts on Tuesday, assuming the necessary equipment arrives in time.

So far 13 students have signed up for the class; two spaces remain open if you are interested. While I called them Windom students, the truth is they come from various parts the region. They are primarily native speakers of a language other than English. They speak a range of languages: Spanish, Hmong, Laos and several African languages. They will be taking a series of three 3-credit classes through the program. Then they will qualify for the registry. Also they may go on to specialize in medical or court interpreting. Many go on to become consultants.

It’s a great economic benefit to the students – but equally valuable opportunity for the community where interpreters are often required. The legislature is looking at mandating that anyone who spends government money on an interpreter choose from the registry. Without this opportunity to take classes online, most folks would need to look towards the Twin Cities to get a register interpreter. This will save travel time and provide a boost to the local economy and continue the effort to be welcoming in the community.

This is a pilot program for Windom and for the University of Minnesota. It may open the door for similar programs in the future where they may offer training in rural areas. It sounds as if there have been some growing pains with a student body selected from the region and some U of M rules (tougher to get signatures from students who aren’t on campus) – but working through them should benefit both parties – and certainly will make a difference to the 13 (or more) students and their families.

An added bonus – once the equipment is installed at the BARC, it will open the door to more programs – educational, recreations, business and more. Local business people can attend classes all over the world. Students can tour areas across the world and visit with students like themselves in all settings.

Who should subsidize rural access?

According to AT&T it shouldn’t be them anymore. Steve Alexander details the situation with long distance subsidies and the questionable future of ongoing subsidies in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The Cliff Notes version is that AT&T and other companies pay a fee each time one of their customers makes a long distance call to someone in Minnesota. It goes to provide subsidies to companies who offered telephone service to rural areas, because rural areas are (or were) more expensive to serve.

That is still happening but the world outside these transactions has changed. Wireless providers and Internet phone services (for example Skype) do not pay the same fee. So I can understand AT&T’s perspective. The rural companies are concerned, however because they have built businesses based on consideration of these access fees. I can understand their perspective as well.

Added into the issues, I think is that neither AT&T nor the local rural telephone companies are planning for pure voice telephone service anymore. Both are in the telecommunications industry and that can mean, voice, data and video. For years the access fee has been “Macgyvered” to work – but the strain is showing. But this isn’t the only time and place that something like this has come up. The latest Net Neutrality iterations left that same Macgyvered door open by barring wireline-based broadband providers from “unreasonable discrimination” against Web traffic, but not imposing that same rule on mobile broadband providers.

So while I’m sure that AT&T would like to get this solved sooner rather than later, I think we need to take the time to look at the larger picture. If only there were a plan – such as a National Broadband Plan! And indeed the National Broadband Plan that came out last March does recognize that right now one of the issues with telecommunications policy is that not all providers are classified equally and we are still making decisions based on policies that were written before the advent of the Internet – and so there are loopholes and misfits that are not going push the US into a leadership position in terms of telecommunications.

The last line of the Star Tribune caught by eye; it’s a quote from Lee Selwyn, president of Economics and Technology, a telecom policy consulting firm in Boston…

“Rural telephone companies should get a subsidy if they can demonstrate they require it, but they shouldn’t automatically be entitled to it.”

I might change “telephone companies” to communities – but I think if the goal is to be a world leaders (and that is the stated goal of the Minnesota Broadband Bill and at least implied in the National Broadband Plan) the solution does involve looking at what it will take to deploy and maintain service (voice, data, video) to the far corners of the state and country. (I stress maintain here.) Then we need to develop policies that help reach that goal whether through telephone lines, wireless, cable, fiber…

Smart Grid in Chattanooga

To make a long story short, I’ve been thinking about Smart Grid because I’ve been working with MNREM (a MIRC partner) on how renewable energy businesses can use broadband. So a recent article in Wired caught my eye. Here’s the quick look from the article…

Chattanooga, Tennessee, utility EPB hit two milestones in the last two weeks of 2010: It completed the final touches on one of the fastest internet pipelines in the world, and it activated the first automated switches on its electricity network. The combination constitutes the backbone for a Department of Energy–funded smart grid network that’s expected to save the utility and area businesses tens of millions of dollars annually.

Smart Grid got a lot of attention in the National Broadband Plan – but a lot of folks ask me what Smart Grid is. Wikipedia has a definition (which I have to say has been called out as not impartial)…

A smart grid delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers using two-way digital communications to control appliances at consumers’ homes; this saves energy, reduces costs and increases reliability and transparency.

EPB will provide usage information to businesses to help them make smart decisions about use – for example maybe they will be running some appliances only in off hours. But the network – with the automated switches – will also be able to do some self-repair or monitoring.

In fact, Wired reports…

Power outages cost businesses in EPB’s 600-square-mile territory about $100 million a year — a number that’s expected to decline 40 percent within the next 18 months due to the installation of automated switches. In addition, the utility’s planned projects will save $3 million a year through automated meter reading and allow it to roll out demand-response services.

I think that the possibilities should be motivating more of us to look at Chattanooga’s plans.