Hot Spots & Dead Spots in Stevens County

Earlier I wrote a little bit about the wireless hot spots in Stevens County. At that point, Resources Connections (the folks responsible for the hot spots) had done a lot of research and planning to decide where to put the hot spots. Last week I had the opportunity to talk to the installer and tech expert behind the hot spots.

Currently there are three hot spots in Stevens County: a Mexican restaurant in Morris, a gas station in Hancock and a shop/café in Donnelly. Each hot spot includes a computer that’s available to the public and of course wireless access available to anyone with a laptop or Wi-Fi enabled gadget/smartphone. The hot spots have been up for a couple of months, Joe De Vita set them up. Joe is the IT Manager at the hospital – and I don’t think they could have picked a better person to set it up. He said they’ve had exactly one call for support since the hot spots were lit up. Impressive!

The hot spots are getting plenty of use. People come in to use the wireless connectivity and the computer. Unfortunately the onsite training and support is pretty minimal; it relies entirely on the person who happens to be working at the host location. So at the café, you might get more attention than at the gas station where the work is a little more rushed – but it seems to be working well.

The big question, especially for readers who may be thinking about public access computer is – how do those computer run so smoothly. Joe set them up well. (Joe also donated much of the equipment.)

They started by finding a reputable hot spot provider who will take on support and management aspects of the wireless network with something such as hot spot systems. Each computer has a five year warranty. Joe has remote access to fix any issues. But more importantly, he uses Microsoft SteadyState, a program that will reboot after each use and revert the computer to a previously stored state. In essence the slate is wiped clean after each user.

Joe also involved with an effort to put the Stevens County cemetery information online. They have volunteers who have slogged through cemetery records up to 1972 (more recent when available) to gather the details. Then Joe puts the information online as a searchable database. So far they have records from 12 cemeteries online and are working on 16 more. It’s a great boon to area genealogists and genealogists from the area. You can find out where someone is buried, when they died and often how with added notes.

Both programs are supported by the Stevens County Economic Improvement Commission, a project partner in the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities initiative. MIRC is a coalition of 19 statewide partners and 11 demonstration communities funded in large part through an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant. The work of the coalition focuses on bringing the full promise of broadband technologies to rural Minnesota communities, businesses and people. Blandin Foundation serves as the project administrator.

Edyael Casaperalta Explains Why on Rural America Radio at 3 pm today

I thought folks might have an interest in the following program info from RuMBA, especially since it’s a sneak peek at one possible segment of the National Rural Assembly, which will happen in Minnesota this summer…

The Rural Broadband Policy Group (RBPG) is a growing national coalition of rural broadband advocates working to enhance rural communities’ opportunities to participate fully in the nation’s democracy, economy, culture, and society. Our guest is Edyael Casaperalta, of the Center for Rural Strategies. She explains the importance of ensuring that all members of our society have access to broadband, and why denying rural areas the fundamental human right to communicate and receive information in our digital age is not a smart move. She will also talk about the upcoming National Rural Assembly meeting to be held next month in St. Paul, MN.

Rural America Radio gives voice to rural residents and those who wish to promote the well-being and economic growth of rural communities across the U.S. We bring you the very best in talk-show programming related to rural American affairs, by deliberately focusing on the use of technology, especially high-speed Internet, and healthy living. Rural America Radio is a project of the Rural Mobile & Broadband Alliance (rumbausa.com). Listeners may join the show live on Fridays at 3pm central time and ask questions by dialing 646-378-1746. You may listen later, at your convenience, by clicking on www.blogtalkradio.com/luisahandem.

Minneapolis Innovation Center opens July 5

Minneapolis is soon to be home to a new innovation center. It’s a marriage between CoCo and Project Skyway. I’ve written about CoCo before; it’s a coworking center in the Twin Cities. Project Skyway is “Minnesota’s first tech accelerator program for motivated entrepreneurs.” I don’t feel like I know a ton about them – except that I’ve met some bright bulbs who have been involved with the Project Skyway. Well the news from their press release is that they are working together to create opportunities…

CoCo and Project Skyway have teamed up and will be launching their combined innovation center on the historic Trading Floor of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange.

It’s a beautiful location. It sounds like a great place to locate a new, budding business or even just to hang out to get (or implement) some good ideas. Here are some of the details…

  • CoCo Minneapolis opens on July 5.
  • Project Skyway is choosing 25 companies to go through a bootcamp weekend on June 10-12 that will be hosted by CoCo at its St. Paul location.
  • Project Skyway will select 10 companies from these 25 to participate in its inaugural three month class beginning in August at the new Minneapolis CoCo location.
  • The Grain Exchange will be the second location for CoCo.
  • CoCo opened its first location in Lowertown St. Paul in January 2010.
  • CoCo bills itself as an alternative to working from home or the coffee shop, attracting freelancers, entrepreneurs, consultants and home-office workers.
  • CoCo is part of the global coworking movement. With more than 700 coworking spaces in the U.S., coworking is growing at more than 100% per year.

Maybe it will provide a model that smaller towns can replicate and/or be akin to a day spa that rural business owners can visit to get rejuvenated to perk up their businesses at home.

Broadband for jobs in rural Minnesota

The Twin Cities Daily Planet ran a nice article today on impact broadband is having on jobs and economic development in rural Minnesota. They highlighted the ARRA-funded MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) initiative and some of the programs that are funded through MIRC.

The article points out that broadband infrastructure and adoption are key economic develop tools…

A key to that competition is access to high-speed internet connections, which requires new infrastructure and training throughout much of Greater Minnesota. That access can help increase access to jobs throughout the state.

Treacy emphasized the importance of access to infrastructure for broadband in rural Minnesota, as well the need for training in everything from the basic computer skills to social media and website skills.

And yes the Treacy above is me. Kind of funny to quote an article that has quoted me. It was fun to talk about the role that broadband/technology plays in jobs – because I do really think that it is a key solution to one of our biggest problems. I suspect most readers are very comfortable using technology. Imagine for one moment that you weren’t comfortable using a computer. Now imagine you’re looking for a job. Your prospects would not be sunny!

Second Annual International Broadband Data Report

The FCC has recently published the second annual International Broadband Data Report, where they track and compare broadband around the world. It’s the closest thing you can find to an apples to apples comparison – except as the FCC points out in the report, they aren’t always counting apples. There isn’t an international standard for speeds or really any aspect of the characteristics that might apply, but I always think this sort of data is at least reflective.

Here are the highlights from their press release:

Broadband adoption linked to population size, density and income: The results suggest a correlation between broadband adoption and (1) communities with larger populations, (2) communities with higher population density, and (3) communities with higher income. The analysis, however, does not detect a statistically significant relationship between education and broadband adoption.

Download Speeds in Some European and Asian Cities Have Edge Over Comparable U.S. Cities: The data on average actual download speeds reported by consumers in U.S. and foreign cities show that some large European and Asian cities exhibit a significant edge over comparable U.S. cities in reported download speeds. Reported speeds for some other international cities, however, are roughly comparable to speeds in many U.S. cities.

And I’ve sort of reworked their chart of findings to include only country-level data and included Minnesota. As you’ll see Minnesota does quite well on the ranking.

What they try to track is:

  • Percent of Households with broadband
  • Population Total
  • Population density (avg population per square [kilo]meter)
  • GDP total (US$m), PPP (purchasing power parity)
  • GDP per cap, PPP (purchasing power parity)
  • Education (% of labor force with tertiary education)

Community

% HHs with BB

Pop Total

Pop density

GDP total, PPP

GDP per cap, PPP

Educ

Iceland

87

319368

3

11311

36301

31

KR0: Korea

84

48606787

489

1204692

24861

34

SE0 Sweden

79

9256347

21

336512

36785

34

NO0 Norway

78

4799252

15

252580

53635

39

NL0 Netherlands

77

16485787

395

648467

39585

36

DK0 Denmark

76

5511451

127

198338

36316

38

FI0 Finland

74

5326314

16

186936

35346

40

Luxembourg (Grand-Duché)

71

493500

187

39577

82453

32

Malta

69

413609

1304

8530

20868

 

UK0 United Kingdom

69

61179300

250

2131507

34954

36

Minnesota

66

5220393

25

262847

50350

29

DE0 Germany

65

82002356

230

2853157

34748

28

Estonia

64

1340415

31

23838

17760

 

BE0 Belgium

63

10666866

349

368213

34653

38

US0 US

63

309280117

33

14165565

46588

 

ALA0 Australia

62

21429366

3

855409

37197

23

Canada

62

33739859

4

1299895

39004

59

JP0 Japan

62

127771000

338

4972265

38916

24

Slovenia

62

2032362

100

55211

27232

 

AT0 Austria

58

8355260

99

308599

37112

20

France

57

64367000

118

2071782

32460

31

PL0 Poland

57

38135876

122

537468

14060

 

Ireland

54

4450030

63

193371

44383

 

Lithuania

54

3349872

54

47786

14208

 

Latvia

53

2261294

36

34095

15096

 

Cyprus

51

796875

86

25585

32264

 

HU0 Hungary

51

10030975

108

188682

18763

23

ES0 Spain

51

45828172

89

1412140

31466

34

PT0 Portugal

46

10627250

115

240155

22638

16

SK0 Slovakia

42

5412254

110

109387

20267

17

IT0 Italy

39

60045068

198

1840070

30990

18

CZ0 Czech Republic

36

10467542

132

247689

23968

16

Chile

35

16928873

8

   

 

GR0 Greece

33

11260402

85

311084

27793

27

BG0 Bulgaria

26

7606551

69

52438

6956

 

RO0 Romania

23

21610213

94

206852

9620

 

Community Transformation Grants Funding Opportunity Announced

I thought this might be a possible fit for readers who are looking at tele-health programs and projects.

On May 13, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the availability of more than $100 million in funding for up to 75 Community Transformation Grants. The grants, authorized by the Affordable Care Act and administered through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will provide local-level funding to implement projects that prevent chronic diseases, address health disparities and build the evidence base for prevention programs. State and local government agencies, tribes and territories, and state and local nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply, and at least 20 percent of the grant funding will be directed to rural and frontier areas. Letters of intent are due June 6, 2011 and applications are due July 15, 2011; technical assistance calls will occur on May 25 and June 14. For more detailed information about the grants and the calls, please see NACo’s information sheet at: http://www.naco.org/programs/csd/Documents/Health%20Reform%20Implementation/CTGs.pdf.

Also, please see HHS’ press release: http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2011pres/05/20110513b.html and CDC’s webpage, www.cdc.gov/communitytransformation and send questions to CDC at ctg@cdc.gov.

Broadband for rural economies

The Daily Yonder ran on interesting article this week interviewing some folks in the know about broadband and rural economic development. Specifically they spoke with the following people:

  • Shane Greenstein, Northwestern University;
  • Ken Flamm, University of Texas at Austin;
  • Amy Glasmeier, Department of Urban Studies and Planning Department Head, MIT;
  • Bill Lehr, with the MIT Research Program on Internet & Telecoms Convergence; and
  • Moderator Sharon Strover, director of the Telecommunications and Information Policy Institute and the University of Texas

A tenet through the discussion is whether broadband availability will boost economic development in rural areas. The answer is that it may slightly – but the roadblocks right now (for 95% of the country) is not availability; it’s cost and inability of lack of interest in using broadband.

Most economic decisions depend on a multitude of factors, and broadband is but one of many.

Other key determinants of a region’s economy include its resource endowments (e.g., being naturally beautiful, endowed with minerals or forest, etc.), the quality of its labor force (e.g., well-educated, etc.), the specialization of its existing businesses (e.g., ranching, agriculture, tourism, etc., which has been determined over decades), and other facts, such as the nature of the vehicle traffic in the area (e.g., near a major highway or not).

The presence or absence of broadband cannot change those factors, and cannot massively change long-term economic trends established over decades (e.g., prevalence of entrepreneurship, loyalty to a region or out-migration of youth, the ability of a regional economy to generate revenue through exporting to other parts of the country).

It’s kind of depressing. But I wonder if broadband with training might make a difference. I’m thinking about the Blandin Foundation’s MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) Initiative, where we are bringing, training and project grants to local communities to bolster education and experience with broadband. Can we demonstrate success with broadband in a local community that becomes the bedrock for more success? I think we can and we’ve seen glimpses of it as MIRC projects get off the ground.

In Winona, recent immigrants are learning computer and digital literacy skills – and it’s helping them integrate and making their lives easier. In Redwood Falls and Nobles and Jackson Counties, local businesses are learning how to implement digital marketing strategies. In Benton County, older residents are going online with kiosk-type computers that also help families remotely monitor healthcare issues. In Stevens County broadband is helping speech therapists see students remotely so that they spend more time in therapy and less time on the road.

Each community has unique strengths and challenges but by working to build success based on those local ingredients, we set success and create an interest that might help change some of the factors mentioned above. Maybe we can’t move a lake or forest – but we can build on the quality of workforce and specialization of existing businesses.