A nice history of USF (Universal Service Funds) from MN’s IMPACT 20/20

I’ve said it before – the IMPACT 20/20 Task Force for Broadband in Northwest Minnesota is an impressive group. This week they have posted a nice history – in terms of why should I care – of the Universal Service Funds. Here’s the why you should care…

It is safe to say that the current process is not working and that we need change in the USF to bring Broadband to every American household. The differences in opinion occur when the discussion turns to the funding of USF and how it will be used to provide maximum benefit to the country.

Visit the editorial for more on the history.

Broadband apprentice positions available in the Twin Cities

I thought some folks might be interested in the following. The opportunity is available through the ARRA funded BTOP program at the University of Minnesota. I know nothing more about the opportunity than I’ve posted below…

University of Minnesota – Broadband Apprenticeship Position
(Classification 4912 Community Program Assistant)

The University of Minnesota invites applications for eight one-year positions as Broadband Apprentices to work on the Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Broadband Access Project (BAP). These positions are funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, (Award #27-42-B10003) and a $750k match from the University. BAP will enhance broadband access, awareness, and use in one new and ten existing public computer centers located in the urban cores of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The apprentices will have an opportunity to learn marketable new technology skills that can be used to find employment in a computer lab, help center, or other jobs requiring computer knowledge after the yearlong apprenticeship ends. Broadband technology is expanding and creating opportunities for those with the skills the apprentices will acquire. Apprentices will be assigned to one of four teams that includes community residents with varying levels of technology skills and experience: those interested in technology but with little background, those with a technical school or college technology background, current computer center employees seeking additional training, and leaders with strong technology and computer lab skills.

Apprentices will receive initial and ongoing training and will augment current staff by providing computer support in the public computer labs and training community residents (using training materials provided) to use technology for internet access and to access information about education, jobs, health care, and economic and community development.

These apprenticeships will be full-time for one year; there is no guarantee of reappointment. Schedules may vary due to the hours of the computer centers. Apprentices may need to travel among the 11 computer centers, so Metropasses will be provided. The salary will be $13.78 per hour and full University benefits will be provided, including medical and dental insurance, vacation, and sick leave. The positions will begin May 1, 2010 and end April 30, 2011.

Responsibilities

Receive initial and ongoing training to be able to successfully:

o Provide technical support and other assistance to computer users to help them access the internet and other technology tools (40%)
o Train new computer users using standard training materials so they are able to meet their information and technology needs (30%)
o Help troubleshoot and fix hardware and software problems in the public computer labs (20%)
o Assist the computer center personnel with managing the lab including maintaining logs, servicing equipment, and other duties. (10%)

Required qualifications

o High school diploma or GED and two years of work experience or additional education
o Ability to write and speak English clearly enough for others to easily understand
o Experience interacting with diverse and multicultural groups
o Ability to learn technical skills, computer operations, and basic computer problem-solving, and to conduct basic computer training and assist computer users
o Ability to work cooperatively as part of a team and to take direction from supervisors and managers
o Willingness and ability to work flexible hours and to travel between computer centers in St. Paul and Minneapolis
o Must be dependable with good attendance and timeliness
o Must have the legal right to work in this country

Preferred Qualifications
In addition to the above, fluency in a second language – especially Spanish, Hmong, Somali and other languages commonly spoken in Minneapolis and St. Paul – is a plus.

APPLICATION PROCESS

Applications must be submitted on-line through the University of Minnesota Office of Human Resources Web site at www.umn.edu/ohr/employment/. Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until filled. The positions will begin as soon as possible. Use requisition number 166129 to access the online application.

A completed application packet includes a letter outlining your interest in and qualifications for the position, a resume, and the names and contact information for three professional references. A background check will be required for the person to whom the position is offered. For questions about the position please contact Kathy Yaeger at 612-624-5841 or yaeger@umn.edu. For questions about the online application process please contact Human Resources at 612-625-2000.

The University of Minnesota shall provide equal access to and opportunity in its programs, facilities, and employment without regard to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, gender, age, marital status, disability, public assistance status, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

LightSquared – great wireless, but troubles for GPS?

Earlier this week the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote about LightSquared Wireless and since then I’ve had several people ask me about them. I wrote last fall about their plans to come to here. I don’t know a lot more but thought I’d share what I was able to find out.

Steve Alexander provides a nice description of LightSquared’s technology plans…

The network would combine two communications satellites and 40,000 earthbound antennas to cover 92 percent of the nation’s land area by the end of 2015. That’s more land coverage than any other wireless provider offers consumers. But the quality wouldn’t be uniform — the antennas would provide fast 4G data speeds in cities, while the satellites would deliver slower speeds in rural areas.

My first frustration is the two-tiered service for urban/rural customers – but it is in alignment with the National Broadband Plan so I won’t belabor my issues here. Also there seem to be bigger concerns about the technology, as Inside GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems) indicates…

In January, however, the FCC’s International Bureau, acting under “delegated authority” and after an abbreviated public notice process, granted an exclusive waiver to LightSquared to build a dense nationwide network — up to 40,000 stations — of high-powered ATC transmitters.

The coalition and many GPS manufacturers and users believe that the 1,500-watt power of the LightSquared signal — a billion times stronger than GPS — will saturate the RF front-ends of receivers, causing them to fail.

Apparently there are several independent tests being conducting to assess the validity of those concerns. Results are expected by the end of May.

There are also questions in terms of the business plan (as described by the Minneapolis Star Tribune)…

LightSquared’s business model is just as unorthodox. It would be the nation’s first exclusively wholesale wireless network, selling to retailers such as Best Buy. The retailers could then compete with traditional cell providers Verizon Wireless, Sprint and AT&T.

The concern is the expense of building such a large network from scratch. Can this business withstand the setup costs. Also time is not on their side. As Urgent Communications (trade journal of the International Wireless Communication Expo) reports…

But the FCC also is under pressure to find more spectrum to feed the explosive demand of mobile broadband services, and it wants to see more broadband deployed. LightSquared has a tight rollout deadline. As a condition of its waiver, the operator must cover 100 million people by the end of 2012, 145 million people by the end of 2013 and at least 260 million people by the end of 2015.

So right now it seems as if some things are up in the air. Almost every article I read talks about the gamble that LightSquared is taking and credits/blames the Minnesota-born financial backer Philip Falcone…

The hedge fund manager who made billions betting against subprime mortgages is engaging in another high-risk wager: that his telecommunications company LightSquared will be able to launch a next-generation U.S. wireless network.

Dakota County Broadband Forum – Stories of Broadband Success

Last week, Dakota Future held a Broadband Forum. It included a keynote from Michael Langley who spoke on the importance of regional economic development, local broabdand providers and local government/IT folks. It also included some stories of broabdand success. I have included videos of the presentations below:

David Riggs from Inver Hills Community College speaks about the impact broadband and social media has had on education. Twenty-five percent of the classes offered are either entirely online or a blended class (meaning some aspects are online). Both students and teachers are interested in using mobile devices – they use them on campus and from home. Video is a huge component of many classes.

Dr. Sonja Short from Fairview Ridges talks about how the hospitals have been using broadband to provide services to patients and streamline hospital adiminstration.

David Mason from Wings Financial talks about online banking and how they use broadband for efficiency, security and innovation. They have been able to change how they operate through broadband – especially in terms of centralizing IT administration.

Does technology unite or divide us in Carver County

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of joining the Beacon Group in Carver County. They are working to support and celebrate the inclusion of the new members to their communities, including Chaska, Chanhassen, Carver and Victoria. Each month or so they gather to talk about a topic that somehow relates to their mission. This month they spoke about broadband and asked me to join.

The Beacon group isn’t large in terms of people – but there are a lot of hats because everyone seems to wear at least three. You know those meetings where the person from the local broadband provider is also on the school board and the annual event committee. So there were a lot of perspectives in one room. We had a few questions to lead the discussion – but in the hour we really centered around one – does technology unite or divide us. For folks looking for the Reader’s Digest version – the answer is yes.

Lots of good things are happening in Carver County. There are ARRA broadband funding recipients and are working on Middle Mile broadband. The City of Chaska has provided fiber for years – and more recently added wireless access for residents. But like most areas – broadband gets scarce in the outskirts of town. And adoption is uneven. There are still homes without broadband. That’s where the conversation hovered – the need for ubiquitous access and adoption.

We talked about some of the fun things you can do with broadband – especially in education. We talked about the Khan Academy, which offers a flipped program where students watch videos to learn material as homework and class time is spent practicing and demonstrated comprehension. Online education also opens to the doors to learning new subjects. There are online classes available for languages where there may not be a local teacher. Niche science courses open up – because you no longer have to limit the classes you offer based on the teachers you have and majority interest in the student body. Finally online classes might help boost graduation rates when students can study when and where they are best able.

These are exciting approaches that have the potential to bring folks together – but what do you do for students without broadband access or even a computer at home? The libraries are already overtaxed with folks wanting to use their computers – plus is it putting undue hardship on families and students to expect that those without broadband access make it to the library frequently enough to catch up.

Another component is adoption in the family. Are we widening the gap when we put student information online? Many schools have online portals where parents can communicate with teachers and see how their students are doing with daily assignments. Households without computers and/or broadband are not able to take advantage of these online tools. Parents without computer skills are at a disadvantage too.

One option would be to use the opportunity to introduce families to computers. Some schools provide students with laptops or ipads and as computers get cheaper that becomes an easier option – but offering training might help too. For some parents offering computer training at the schools provides the incentive and excuse to learn more about computers. We do for our kids what we won’t do for ourselves. But is the school and the community ready and able to take on such an ambitious adoption program – especially during a slow economy.

Finally we talked about the danger of bringing too much of our community online especially in terms of social media taking over social life. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Chat rooms…) can be great for keeping in touch with people. They can be great for promoting local events. Kids seem to take to social media – in fact they seem so engaged that they would often rather text than talk. Does that mean that the community loses something from the real world? How do we sustain the real world interaction too.

So as you see, we didn’t come up with a lot of answers, but they were asking a lot of good questions.

MPR’s Broadband 7

This week, Minnesota Public Radio’s Ground Level has profiled seven Minnesota Counties and their broadband situation. It’s a concise look at what each county has done and is doing with broadband in their area. For communities, especially counties, that are looking at broadband, it is a nice range of recipes. Not every approach will suit every occasion – but you just might find a recipe you think is worth trying. Here’s a super Reader’s Digest version of their profiles – you can read Ground Level for greater details:

Lake County – They got big funding from the ARRA stimulus funds. The local area has a big interest in broadband but they are running into troubles. The County received the funding but they will partner with folks to build the network.

Lac qui Parle – LqP is working with Farmers Mutual. Progress has been smooth – but they have run into issues with finance. They also received ARRA funds. They planned for FTTH throughout the county. However the feds are insisting that workers are paid $30/hour when local planners had banked on $20/hour. Contract bids are coming in for the project now.

Todd County – Urged by residents, Todd County recently passed a resolution to make broadband available throughout the county. The interest is there – but there’s no indication of how resolute they are. They are planning a public meeting to gauge interest in creating a plan to move forward.

Redwood County – Mapping from Connect Minnesota indicates that Redwood County has some of the slowest connections in the state, so they are starting to rally to build an interest in improving their ranking and broadband.

Windom – Windom isn’t a county, but they made the list because they received ARRA funds to expand to surrounding areas in their county. Their plans are going smoothly – but they are watching LqP closely as they may run into similar issues.

Cook County – Cook received ARRA funding through Arrowhead Electric to build Last Mile infrastructure. It’s an area where adoption and interest in broadband are high and availability has really been the bottleneck. They are quietly in process.

Sibley – Sibley is gaining steam. They have been having public talks for months. They created a Joint Powers Board. They continue to talk to residents but at this point on plan seems to be to look at the county providing the service, which will require a referendum. So they’re moving forward but at a cautious pace.

Broadband groundbreaking in Northeast Minnesota

What’s the latest sign of spring? They’re breaking ground in Mountain Iron, Minnesota to get started with the Northeast Service Cooperative, ARRA-funded fiber project.

According to the Northland’s News Center

A $43.5 million dollar fiber optic project made its first official mark on region today.

It’s a bright outlook for the future of northeastern Minnesota, and after [last] Wednesday’s ground breaking, it will be a more connected one, too

The project will bring 915 miles of fiber to the Arrowhead Region. The initial goal is to connect anchor institutions – but more good news came to the residents…

In an announcement that could be the first of many, Frontier Communications told those in attendance that they’re in the process of forming a contract with NESC to use more than 450 miles of the overall network.

The Northland News site includes a great video on the ceremony.