Blandin Broadband eNews Aug 2011

News from the Blandin on Broadband Blog

Minnesota Broadband Ranking – Not Great
The Minnesota Broadband Bill strives to make Minnesota a top state for broadband speed, ubiquity and adoption by 2015. Recent reports indicate that there is work to be done. In January, Minnesota made the grade with some Akamai broadband ranking. Unfortunately Minnesota does not make the latest Akamai rankings. A separate report released by Pando Networks indicates that Minnesota (indeed the entire Midwest) experiences slower download speeds than the rest of the country.

Public-Private Partnerships
One strategy for reaching the Broadband Bill goals is collaboration. The original Minnesota Ultra High Speed Broadband Task Force report promotes public-private partnership to encourage border to border access. The Blandin Foundation recently compiled a list of partnerships that have developed in rural areas; many based on efforts of the ARRA-funded MIRC program.

Broadband Can Boost Rural Health
Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group released a report that highlights the disparities in healthcare in rural versus urban areas across the US. Telehealth strategies are offered as a tool to help bridge the gap. Recent studies on the impact of telehealth, especially with children, demonstrate the validity UnitedHealth’s findings.

Broadband Policy
Most Minnesota policies have been on hold during the July government shutdown but that hasn’t stopped League of Minnesota Cities, the Suburban Rate Authority and the Minnesota Association of Community Telecommunications Administrators from posting comments on rights of way issues to the FCC. On her visit to National Rural Assembly, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn indicated that the FCC is working on issues such as rights of way, Universal Service Funds and Intercarrier Compensation.

Tech Winners in the Omnibus
The July Omnibus bill provides tax credits to data centers and provides $5,659,000 to design and build a state data center.

Fall Blandin Broadband Conference – Nov 16-17
Please save the dates for the 2011 Fall Broadband Conference. Blandin is partnering with Connect Minnesota on an agenda intended to celebrate broadband success in Minnesota and inspire more broadband activity. The event will take place in Duluth. Details and the title will be unveiled soon.

Local Broadband News

Broadband allows Bemidji to broadcast a local live radio program online.

Cook County
Cook County began laying fiber on July 25.

Hennepin, Dakota and Olmsted Counties
Hennepin, Dakota and Olmsted Counties each made the Center for Digital Government’s Digital Counties top ranking for counties of their populations.

Lac qui Parle County
LqP has worked out some financial hiccups in their ARRA-funded project and is waiting for fiber to become available to move forward with construction.

Lake County
Lake Communications has taken over the ARRA-funded fiber project in Lake County.

Construction begins for the ARRA-funded, Southwest Minnesota Broadband Group led effort to bring fiber to end users in eight communities (Jackson, Lakefield, Windom, Round Lake, Bingham Lake, Brewster, Wilder, Heron Lake and Okabena) in Southwest Minnesota.

Norman and Polk Counties
The ARRA-funded project led by Halstad Telephone Company in Norman and Polk Counties progresses; they will be the first customer to deploy the EXA Powered E7-20 multi-terabit Ethernet Service Access Platform (ESAP).

Northern Minnesota
Construction begins for the ARRA-funded, Eventis-led Greater Minnesota Broadband Collaborative Project. The network will provide Middle Mile fiber to anchor institutes in Northern Minnesota.

Telecommunications company, Compass Consultants, has added 42 employees to their staff since the beginning of the year.

Red Wing
Red Wing unveils a new community web site and social media strategy.

Redwood County
Redwood County is still considering their broadband options.

Sibley County
Sibley County has obtained signatures from 1500 area residents that are interested in a community broadband network; they are striving for 3000 signatures.

Southwest Minnesota
Southwest Minnesota Broadband Group is looking for staff.

Todd County
Todd County is doing a fiber feasibility study with support from the Blandin Foundation.

Twin Cities
Comcast is offering reduced prices for broadband access, training and computers to families with children in the national school lunch program.

BRIDGEdotMN was created to help underprivileged students in grades 5 – 12 throughout the Twin Cities increase their technology skills and facilitate the exploration of STEM careers.

Windom began construction of their ARRA-funded network.

Emergency vehicles in Windom get laptops.

(Many stories are gathered from local online newspaper. Unfortunately each newspaper has a different policy in regards to archive news and therefore we cannot guarantee access to all articles cited.)


September 19 – TEDx1000Lakes (Grand Rapids MN)

November 12 – CityCamp Minnesota (Minneapolis)

November 16-17 – Fall Broadband Conference (Duluth)

Looking for more events? Check out TechDotMN’s calendar Many events are based in the Twin Cities but it is a comprehensive list. (If you have an upcoming event, consider submitting it.)

Coleman’s Corner

“Work with your existing providers.” A simple statement written in almost every community broadband planning document. It is similar to health advice like “Eat less, exercise more” — easy to say, hard to do.

Improving infrastructure and services is generally the most difficult place for collaboration between communities and providers, yet this is where most and earliest interaction occurs. Communities have high hopes for infrastructure improvements; providers have expectations for high return on investment. In rural areas, these two objectives are generally incompatible. We have seen through the stimulus process that building new broadband infrastructure in many rural areas, especially ubiquitous fiber in the countryside, requires a long investment horizon plus significant subsidies.

At countywide broadband meetings, I am happy when I see the existing providers in the room and lately I am seeing more of them. The incumbent telco always feels the heat from rural residents wanting broadband. The cable company and any CLEC providers are quite happy that they are not in the telco’s position, but show no interest in investing outside municipal boundaries. With budgets as they are, rural county governments are reluctant to even consider taking on a countywide broadband project hoping that someone else will address this problem. Citizen committees are frustrated as they see no solution coming from either private or public entities, yet know that broadband is essential for economic vitality.

As I look at the Connected Minnesota maps, it seems that the most cost-efficent way to meet the state’s border to border goal of 10-20 Mb broadband service would be to upgrade existing provider networks to a fiber to the node network. These improvements may be in the providers’ long term plans, but way beyond the 2015 statewide goal timeframe.

Lacking a current statewide funding mechanism, how might a rural county and incumbent provider partner(s) develop a partnership to stimulate the necessary investment? What would it cost per household to upgrade to a FTTN network with shorter copper loops? Do existing providers know what this would cost? Would they share this information and work with a county to explore the various funding possibilities (DEED infrastructure grants, revenue bonds, property tax assessments, 2012 state bonding bill, other)? Would this open the way for a statewide solution? Blandin Foundation’s Robust Networks Feasibility Fund might be used to develop mechanisms for making this work.

Building market demand for broadband should be a simpler way to collaborate. More broadband customers means sustainability and profits or providers; their interest is clear. More users and more sophistication of use creates a smarter, more productive, more prosperous community. The Blandin Foundation’s new Digital Inclusion Community Partnership provides an opportunity for providers and communities to work together in a win-win partnership. Lack of a computer is a top barrier to the use of broadband; lack of skills is also important, but without a device to connect to the network, skills lack value. Grants of up to $25,000 are available.

My advice to communities – 1) keep asking your providers to participate in your broadband initiatives. 2) Have some quiet talks with your providers about their plans for your community. 3) Identify priority improvements that you need in your community to meet specific customer requirements and community goals.

My advice to providers – 1) Show up when invited because relationships matter; communities would rather have the local technician who knows the issues and the community than either an empty chair or someone from management who they will never see again. 2) Develop a thick skin. 3) Minimize the use of “proprietary”. In most rural markets, there is no competitor to hide information from. Lacking evidence to the contrary, communities assume that no announced plans for improvements mean no planned improvements. 4) Participate in digital inclusion initiatives that build your customer base and enhance the community’s future.

Bill Coleman helps communities make the connection between telecommunications and economic development. As principal in Community Technology Advisors for ten years, he assists community, foundation and corporate clients develop and implement programs of broadband infrastructure investment and technology promotion and training. Bill is working with the Blandin Foundation on the MIRC Initiative, Community Broadband Resource Program and other broadband projects.

This entry was posted in Blandin Foundation, MN by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s