Governor’s Task Force issues preliminary outline

The Department of Commerce just released the Minnesota Broadband Task Force’s Minnesota Broadband Plan Outline…

The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband today issued a preliminary report that will lay the groundwork for a comprehensive broadband action plan. The Minnesota Broadband Plan Outline issued today will guide the continuing work of the Task Force as it develops specific recommendations for achieving border-to-border broadband access and adoption in all Minnesota communities – urban, rural, and suburban.

Established by executive order, the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband – which represents a diverse balance of broadband interests including consumers, businesses, residential users, educational and health care institutions, traditional telephone and cable companies, wireless providers, and local units of government – has worked collaboratively over the last several months to develop this initial outline. The goal of this document is to provide an initial roadmap that will:

  • Move the state aggressively forward in efforts to meet the statutory broadband goals and Governor Dayton’s desire for ubiquitous broadband in Minnesota
  • Establish a Task Force work plan and timeline for 2012 and beyond
  • Ensure broadband stakeholders and policymakers are aware of how Minnesota is doing in its efforts to meet the state’s broadband goals
  • Introduce a set of recommendations that the Task Force believes will help to ensure Minnesota meets our broadband goals and becomes a national leader in developing the economic and social benefits of ubiquitous broadband

Included in the outline is an appendix that establishes a timeline for Task Force deliverables throughout the year, including the creation and submission of an Annual Report to be completed by December 10 of each year for the duration of the Task Force’s work. That Annual Report will consistently provide the state an ability to benchmark Minnesota’s efforts toward achieving our 2015 goals as established by statute.

I hope to take a longer  later – especially at the Appendix, which include a detailed list of ongoing activities and details on upcoming reports. One thing that caught my eye was a desired to keep the Legislators in the loop…

The Task Force will engage Minnesota’s Congressional delegation by providing them with updates on Task Force activity and associated research and reports on the state of broadband in Minnesota.

I hope that will help raise the issue and raise the level of discussion around the state.

Stillwater doing Flipped Math: Good, Bad, Unfair?

I read an article last week in the Burnsville Patch that got me thinking, starting with the opening sentence…

The Internet has opened up a world of at-home learning opportunities, but how much should we rely on those when many families still don’t have Internet access?

The author spoke about flipped math classes now offered to fifth graders in Stillwater, MN, where students watch video lessons at home and spend class time working on problems – or what many of us traditionally think of as homework. (Khan Academy is one of the most famous flipped class structures.) I suppose it’s not surprising that I think flipped classrooms are a great idea but it was interesting to read an article that pointed out potential issues with the structure – the first being access to broadband.

Access to broadband – and home computers – is undeniably a big barrier for the flipped classroom. But I’d like to see that as an opportunity to work with families to get them beyond that roadblock to : 1) provide computers and/or lower cost broadband access in a perfect world or 2) provide after-school access to the technology in the school as a Plan B. Otherwise I think we’re playing to the lowest technology common denominator rather than trying to raise the bar for everyone. That not only cheats the students, it seems like a bad investment in our community.

Ironically, Stillwater’s Flipped Classroom website describes the move towards flipped learning as a move away from targeting the lower common denominator…

A traditional teaching technique for math is one where the primary purpose of the classroom time is for the teacher to present content. Generally, the pacing of the content targets the average or slower learner.

I’m excited to see that Stillwater has chosen the road less taken to raise the potential for all of their fifth graders.

The author asks a second question that doesn’t directly involve technology as much as I think touch upon a byproduct technology has brought to modern life…

When society is already wringing its hands about how much homework is appropriate, what would it mean to place so much of the burden of learning on the home?

I don’t know if more time is spent working on “homework” in the flipped model versus the traditional model. I do know that last night’s homework for my oldest kid involved her saying – “quiz me on cells”. If you have a middle schooler, you know that general knowledge does not help much. They need their quiz answers to match the reading exactly. Even the younger kid’s homework started with “you know Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”. Frankly, I feel I could pass an essay test on Alexander – but not a pop quiz.

So I can tell you that as a parent, I think watching the video with the student would save my time. I feel like it would save their time too – because we wouldn’t be barking up wrong trees and we wouldn’t be making drives back to school for the text-book because “Google answers aren’t allowed”. And I feel like it would be preparing my kids for tools that are being used in the workplace today. Think about it – when is the last time you watched a video to learn something; now when it the last time you picked up a reference book. (As I librarian I type that with some sadness, but I type it.) Part of the benefit of the flipped classroom is preparing kids for technology of this century, not last century.

The other point the author raises is that school shouldn’t bleed into the whole day…

But students also have lives outside of school. They play sports. They participate in church groups. They join clubs.

In some ways I think that’s the most compelling argument – but I think where you land on that issue probably aligns with how you feel about the workday bleeding into the whole day. In this case, yes technology does potentially make for more hours of work for a kid – but just as with an increasing number of work schedules, perhaps that hours could become more flexible. So perhaps I find this criticism most compelling because it highlights the fact that so many opportunities present themselves in education when we use technology that it challenges us to reevaluate traditional teaching methods. That’s exciting and scary – but again I think to not challenge the “regular” way will leave our children unprepared for the new century.

Up to 1000 Mbps broadband available in Lakefield

Thanks to John Shepard for the heads up on the update on Southwest Minnesota Broadband Service. I am impressed at how smoothly the ARRA-funded project seems to be rolling out – and just as impressed with the media attention. I think it helps to increase adoption – or at least interest – to follow the progress as closely at the SW papers have done. Here’s the latest update from the Worthington Daily Globe

By the end of January, about 300 Lakefield residents will enjoy a range telecommunication services powered by fiber-optic cables.

And here’s the tidbit that caught my eye this morning…

Personalized higher speed Internet up to 1000 Mbps is available to customers upon request.

I love my house and my neighborhood – but 1000 Mbps could have me checking out open houses!

Rochester Getting Smart on Public Safety

CivSource reports on Rochester Minnesota and a public safety project they are working on with IBM as part of their broader Smarter Cities initiative…

In Rochester, the Rochester Police department will use advanced analytics software from IBM to mine, share and extract intelligence from critical data in order to improve police investigative and prevention programs. Law enforcement will then be able to identify local “hot spots,” and allocate resources in advance.

The application, IBM InfoSphere Identity Insight, provides users with specific data from existing law enforcement and public safety databases to aid in investigations and prevention. “The technology will allow law enforcement officials to see broad patterns about activity in their city and focus on prevention,” Cleverley explains.

Computer Refurbishing bus to tour rural Minnesota

I’m happy to share this story from a MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) partner. We got a small flavor of what their mobile computer rehab project at the 2011 Minnesota Broadband Conference. It appears that despite a few hiccups – the opening night has led to a touring show…

Saint Paul, Minnesota nonprofit organization PCs for People is leading a mobile computer refurbishing project funded by the Blandin Foundation, Otto Bremer Foundation and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The project seeks to reduce electronic waste while simultaneously helping bridge the digital divide in greater Minnesota.

“We have created a mobile unit to travel to cities across the State of Minnesota, refurbish donated computers on-site and give them right back to families in the local community”, said Casey Sorensen Executive Director of PCs for People. “We are very excited about the project, last month we gave 113 computers to families in Duluth and saw overwhelming demand. Families were extremely grateful since over 80% were receiving their first home computer!” noted Casey. Over the next 7 months PCs for People will travel to 10 communities to replicate the successful Duluth event:

  1. Alexandria
  2. Bemidji
  3. Crookston
  4. Fairmont
  5. Austin
  6. Marshall
  7. Hutchinson/Litchfield
  8. Faribault/Rice County
  9. Cambridge
  10. Hibbing

The project will focus on getting computers to two demographics that generally do not own home PCs; low income families and senior citizens. Recipients are identified through partnerships with local community organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs, Head Start programs and Senior Centers. To be eligible for a computer each recipient attends a basic computer training session and they must be below the 150% poverty level.

Two critical components to making sure the computer is useful are an internet connection and ongoing technical support. Each computer comes with free support from a local computer repair shop and self-paced basic computer skills training. For internet, recently ISPs such as Comcast and CentruyLink have created $10 a month high speed internet programs exclusively for low income households. Sorensen said, “Families that receive a computer through our organization have never had the opportunity to search for jobs or use search engines from their homes. It is a big deal for them.” With an average income under $12,000 per year recipient families generally can’t afford $50-60 a month for internet. Sorensen mentioned, “In most cases families want a computer for the Internet and for school work. Even though they can’t afford the most expensive service we have found they are able to prioritize a $10-20 internet bill.”

According to Michael Graif, project lead for PCs for People’s Mobile Refurbishing, finding people in need of a computer is the easy part. “What we need now to make sure these events are successful is to find local businesses willing to donate their old computers.” Prior to arrival in each city, PCs for People will reach out to local businesses to source at least 100 computers. “This is a win-win for businesses needing to manage their end-of-lifecycle digital assets in a cost-effective way, and for the community,” said Michael Graif. “Not only are we offering businesses valuable data wiping and hardware recycling services for free, but it’s an opportunity to help their local community.”

Businesses looking to participate in the program and donate their equipment should contact Michael Graif at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling (651) 243-0093.

PCs for People, a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting and refurbishing used computers for distribution to those who lack this essential communication and education tool. Since 1998, the organization has distributed refurbished computers to over 10,000 Minnesota families.

Minnesota Broadband Task Force Jan 24: Full Notes

Today I attended the Minnesota Broadband Task Force at TIES. They were finalizing their report to the Department of Commerce, which is an outline of what they plan to do to promote and support broadband expansion moving forward. The report is due at the end of the month.

Most of the time the group was focused on looking at a draft report that had been created by staff based on notes from the last meeting. The plan is to use these notes to create a final version of the report – and from the report they will create a spreadsheet of tasks to help guide their progress throughout the year. It sounds very similar to how the National Broadband Plan was rolled out.

To help track the discussion, in bold I have abbreviated the high level goal being discussed. These aren’t the official notes so I didn’t want to retype the whole document – but did want to provide enough context for the discussion to make sense – even if you weren’t there.

Read on for the full notes… Continue reading

Rural Vitality, New Economic Strategies and the Role of Broadband

Sometimes ideas seem to fall into synch from odd places. Earlier this week Jennifer Bevis at Blandin Foundation sent me some interesting articles. One on the value of social media (Has Social Media Impacted Economic Development for Communities?) and one on the return of youth to rural communities (‘Brain Drain’: Put a Stopper in Your Mouth).

We were talking (emailing) a little but about how those articles were connected. I think both speak to a great schism in economic development strategies.

Information Channels as Economic Development Tools

The first article talks about the shift from an economy based on dollar value vs an economy based on knowledge. Specifically the article looks at Twitter. It’s difficult to monetize the value of Twitter and Tweets – because the value isn’t in the technology; the article claims that the value is in the database of information that’s being collected.

Tweets are unique bits of information in that their lifespan is brief. So even the value of the information is sort of misstating the value. (Although I’m sure there is value to be gleaned from looking back at Twitter trends.) The real value lies in that stream of information – and immediate access to users. The value will be reaped by those who listen, act or react to the information.

So we’re seeing a change in the value chain. Value shifts from that which we can monetize today, to information – and I’d claim to information channels. Folks who have access to technology and broadband have access to those channels. Others do not and will therefore be at a disadvantage – regardless of what else they do. (You can get the information – but that’s yesterday’s coin of the realm – today you need to have access to the source.)

A great underpinning in this shift is that money loses its value once it’s spent. If I have a dollar, I can keep it or give it to you. We can’t both have it. With information, we can both have it. And I think folks who learn to retain the value while sharing have the greatest opportunity to succeed in today’s economy.

The Recipe for Success Has Changed

The second article dispels the myth of the “rural brain drain” by telling two stories. First the story of the smart rural people who never left. Second by telling the story of the people who left for the promise of something bigger beyond, who are not finding that the rules have changed. Young people are leaving school and there are not enough jobs to fill. Families are finding that the security and homes they built are slipping away with economic uncertainty. These people are looking for new opportunities for success and rural areas are part of the equation. (I would defer to Ben Winchester’s research on the “Brain Gain” to back up this point.)

The author of this article makes the point that rural communities saw the economic uncertainty before other areas – and one positive reaction has been the birth of the New Farmers – fueled by, “first, an increasing consumer preference for locally grown and organic food and second, the economic downturn and increased unemployment.”

While this article doesn’t mention technology, I read with technology-colored glasses, and I remember speaking with a “New Farmer” about her use of broadband. It was an essential utility for her. There were many things she was able to give up to start her new rural life, but broadband was not one of them.

Also I think that success in rural and urban areas requires a connection between the two worlds. There is a report from Minnesota Rural Partners that quantifies the economic connection between rural and urban Minnesota – but even more directly I think that broadband removes the barrier of geographic distance that in the past has also kept an economic distance between rural and urban. I think rural communities felt this first and not in a positive way. Consider local bookshops closing once Amazon emerged. But I think that local entrepreneurs are realizing that broadband goes both ways. Or at least those who have access to broadband are able to realize that it’s a two-way street, which brings us back to the original article. Broadband opens a new channel for commerce – but it also opens the door to accessing the information channels.