AT&T invested $425 Million in MN (2009-2011) – But how does that compare to other states?

According to a recent press release..

AT&T* invested nearly $425 million in its Minnesota wireless and wireline networks from 2009 through 2011 with a focus on improving the company’s mobile broadband coverage and overall performance of its networks.

During 2011, AT&T made nearly 850 wireless network upgrades in four key categories in Minnesota. These enhancements include:

— Activating approximately 20 new cell sites or towers to improve network coverage.
— Deploying faster fiber-optic connections to nearly 225 cell sites. Combined with HSPA+ technology, these deployments enable 4G speeds**.
— Adding capacity or an extra layer of frequency to cell sites – like adding lanes to a highway – with the addition of nearly 325 of these layers, or “carriers”.
— Upgrading more than 275 cell sites to provide fast mobile broadband speeds.

Sounds good – but the middle schooler inside of me had to ask – what did the other guys get? The press releases have been trickling out for the last couple of weeks. I suspect the list isn’t finished but here’s a list of how Minnesota ranks with the pack so far. You can link through to an article of press release on the other states to get details on their improvements:

AT&T Invested around…

  1. $6.3 Billion in Texas
  2. $3.5 Billion in Illinois
  3. $2.8 Billion in Florida
  4. $2.3 Billion in Missouri
  5. $1.8 Billion in North Carolina
  6. $1.5 Billion in Washington State
  7. $1.4 Billion in Ohio
  8. $1.3 Billion in Alabama
  9. $1 Billion in Indiana
  10. $1 billion in its Wisconsin
  11. $950 Million is South Carolina
  12. $925 Million in Pennsylvania
  13. $750 Million in Virginia
  14. $650 Million in Alaska
  15. $625 Million in Maryland
  16. $600 Million in Kansas
  17. $500 Million in Arkansas
  18. $500 Million in Arizona
  19. **$425 Million in Minnesota
  20. $400 Million in Sacramento
  21. $275 Million is Puerto Rico
  22. $140 Million in Utah
  23. $125 Million in Iowa
  24. $120 Million in West Virginia
  25. $110 in New Mexico
  26. $50 million in Vermont
  27. $30 Million in North Dakota
  28. $13 million in US Virgin Islands

Akeley Business Breakfast Club – Byproduct of Broadband Training

Facebook is a business tool? That was the question asked by a business owner in Akeley before she attended MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) sponsored e-business training by the University of Minnesota Extension. Watch the video below to hear Kristin Fake, owner of Just A Stage/Second Stage answer her own question. The video highlights Kristin’s experience with the class, her post-class business success and the birth of a business club (which turned into the rebirth of the local Chamber of Commerce) in Akeley, Minnesota.

I think it’s important to note that Akeley has been working with Extension as part of the Horizons program. One goal of Horizons was to build rural leadership today to reduce poverty tomorrow. Often the communities chosen were in flux. Akeley moved from the Horizons project to MIRC, which focuses on building strong communities through broadband.

The short story in Akeley is that the e-business workshops have been very successful. One unintended consequence has been the development of weekly meetings, aka the Akeley Area Breakfast Club. As the meetings caught on even people who hadn’t attended the workshops were able to learn what the attendees learned through peer-to-peer sharing and collaborating.

The breakfast club heard that the area Chamber was running into issues and was thinking about closing shop. So they all met, inspired each other and the Chamber is now thriving. It went from 4 members to 30. The businesses are using the skills they learned to grow their own businesses online but also to bring people into the community. An effort that redoubles as the  community promotion brings more people through the doors of the local businesses.

MIRC Coordinator, Susanne Hinrichs spoke about the progress in the community, “The MIRC project has provided knowledge and a place for people to come together. The folks in Akeley are realizing their assets, which includes natural resources and a whole host of artisans. Community-wide change is happening. It’s happening right now and it will be visible to the whole world through the eyes of the internet. Plans are being made to unveil a new website for the chamber soon. The website will include a shopping cart for local businesses and artisans.”

MIRC has contributed to the community wide change happening in Akeley, however it’s the folks in Akeley who are living this and making it happen.

University of Minnesota Extension is offering free sample classes for all communities if you are an interested community leader.

Broadband Adoption and People with Disabilities (especially in Minnesota)

So many posts, so little time this week – yet I wanted to highlight a presentation that Jay Wyant, Chief Information Accessibility Officer at Office of Enterprise Technology (OET) just shared with me…

Jay gave this presentation to the Minnesota Broadband Task Force earlier this month. I found it very enlightening and while I’ve added it to the Task Force notes, I wanted to make sure folks had an opportunity to see it.

I have always thought of the Internet as a tool that would help many people with disabilities. I think of how much easier email can be than the phone for folks with hearing loss. I think of how speak aloud software can “read” websites for folks with visual impairments.

But I hadn’t really thought about what’s happened as information on the Internet has developed – often into video. While obviously video can have closed captioning – most of it isn’t. And speak aloud software doesn’t help a site that’s created using images and other visually rich tools.

Jay’s presentation was a good reminder of how important it is to make information accessible. Also I hadn’t realized how dismal the stats were for employment and broadband use for people with disabilities. I’ll just pull out a couple of stats from the presentation:

  • When the ADA was passed in 1990, 22% of people with disabilities were employed
  • 22 years later, that number remains the same
  • People with disabilities employed in state government decreased from 10.1% in 1999 to 4.6% in 2011

By 2009 only 41% of Americans with disabilities had adopted broadband. (39% of all non-adopters are people with disabilities.)

  • Assistive technology is too expensive
  • Broadband speed is insufficient [to run assistive technologies on top of other applications]

Just something to consider. It seems like there ought to be a way to get more people with disabilities using broadband – and that it might be a key to increasing employment rates. Jay just started his job as Chief Information Accessibility Officer this month – but I’m hoping that’s a good start to making more people aware of the challenge and opportunity.

Nursing programs coming to Worthington High School via ITV

What can $14,000 in interactive television (ITV) equipment do for a school? According to the Worthington Daily Globe, it can buy college credits and inspire a cadre of budding healthcare professionals…

Principal Paul Karelis is excited for what the prospect of a nursing course could provide to students at Worthington High School.
Several students will begin a newly designed nursing course in the fourth quarter, which will earn them college credits for three pre-requisite classes into a college nursing program.

In collaboration with Minnesota West Community and Technical College, the school district has spent months tweaking the upcoming course.

Apparently the class will include the following…

Students will spend the first portion of the course learning medical terminology with high school and college instructor, Craig Kroger.

Once they’ve completed the class, they will devote two and a half weeks training for first aid and CPR-AED certification with District 518 school nurse Wendy Donkersloot.

The final class focuses specifically on introduction to nursing assistance.

“Topics include child care, reporting procedures, and hospice care,” he added.

Additionally, students will also be exposed to supervised lab activities at Sanford Regional Hospital, Worthington.

It will give students insight into a prospective career, for students who are drawn in, having the college credits will give them an advantage is a very competitive field. It will be fun to see what other classes the high school is able to offer through the ITV options and their partnership with the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative.

Monticello looking to restructure bond agreement

The Monticello Times ran an update on the FiberNet Monticello. The paper reports…

city officials met with their St. Paul-based financial adviser last week to advance the effort to restructure the 4-year-old bond agreement issued to create the city-owned telephone, Internet and cable TV provider.

Barry Fick, senior vice president at Springsted Incorporated, a public sector adviser, said the hope is to gain agreement from bondholders to lower the interest payments before the city’s next payment on the bonds is due in June. Currently, the city only pays interest on the $26.44 million in bonds that were issued in 2008. The first principal payment is due in 2013, Fick said. The city makes two payments a year to the bondholders.

It’s not unusual for municipalities to restructure such deals, Fick said (he’s currently handling three such deals). But he added that doing so only four years after the original bonds were issued is not as common.

It sounds as if one issue is that they’re losing customers to lower pricing – especially from Charter Communications…

According to Kelly’s fourth-quarter report, FNM had a net loss of 36 cable TV customers between the second and third quarters last year and a net loss of 81 cable TV customers between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31. FNM has 1,423 Internet customers, down slightly from the peak of 1,504 in September 2011. It has 1,058 cable TV customers and 1,002 telephone customers.

Part of the issue for FiberNet Monticello is that Charter folks are apparently going door to door with amazing pricing – or what the FiberNet Monticello folks have called predatory pricing. I think that from the competitive perspective of course it makes sense to do what you can in terms of making a profit; that’s what businesses do. But I think that just as Monticello has been held up at a municipal network story of inspiration that may have made it an even more attractive target for competitors.

It sounds as if the financing will need to be addressed…

For his part, Springsted’s Fick said reducing the debt service is vital to turning FNM’s situation around. He said one group of investors holds about 30 percent of the bonds and hopes that it can be a lead cow, so to speak, in getting other bondholders to agree to renegotiated terms.

“We know who they are and we’re keeping them apprised of the situation,” Fick said. “In order for this restructuring to be successful, we have to get consent of virtually all of the bondholders.”

Stats on rural broadband – but only if you define broadband as 3 Mbps/768 Kbps

Thanks to Bernadine Joselyn for sending me the heads up on an update on the state of NTIA/RUS/ARRA projects from Fierce Telecom. The article starts with some high level stats…

Since 2009, over $3,525,706,687 in stimulus grants have been disbursed to 258 applicants in two rounds of BTOP funding, according to the NTIA. More than 18,000 miles of new broadband networks have been built out as of November 2011, the Commerce Dept. reported. The money has been used for more than 229 projects so far–beyond building infrastructure, stimulus has funded the creation and improvement of public computer centers, state government development, and sustainable broadband adoption initiatives.

But the article really focuses on the difference between rural and urban access. Fierce Telecom reports…

Last February, Connected Nation’s analysis of NTIA data found that less than 4 percent of counties across the United States–114 of 3,219 counties–met the stated national broadband goal of having speeds of 3 Mbps download and 786 Kbps upload available to residents. About 15 percent, or 474 counties, were in line to meet those speed goals.

A secondary article indicates that there is between a 10-15 percent difference in availability in rural versus urban areas in Minnesota (based on broadband defined at the 3 Mbps/768 Kbps federal standard).

It’s interesting to look at availability in rural areas – but I have to admit that until they are talking about higher speeds, I’m only kind of interested. I’m about as interested as I am in hearing about a job that pays half of what I make now. I’d be hard pressed to knowingly move to an area that boasted 768 K speeds and I’d never start a business there.

What is more promising is the statistics on FTTH build out…

Taking a look at other research statistics, however, shows that momentum for network buildouts has picked up: The Broadband Forum reported that Q3 2011 saw the strongest global growth in Fiber to the Home (FTTH) subscribers since 2009, with the United States adding over 978,000 lines in the quarter to reach 90.5 million lines.

Broadband Bald Eagles in Hutchinson

You know it’s an early spring when there are stories about eagles and broadband in February! Usually these articles don’t pop up until April. But it’s always fun to see a broadband application that’s fun and educational and  now pretty easy to do. FOX9 reports…

High-speed internet provider Broadband Corp. is live streaming a bald eagle cam near Hutchinson in south central Minnesota on a UStream channel.

The nest sits 75 feet up a tree. The camera providing the live look-in is 100 percent solar-powered. You can check it out at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/broadband-mn-eagle-cam and even look back at recorded videos of active scenes from the nest.

I’ve set up UStream channels and show so I can tell you with great certainty that the toughest part of this job was getting the cameras in place. Then it’s just a matter of aiming and clicking the play button. UStream offers free (and enhanced) streaming options. You just have to have enough broadband to upload the video from location and download to view.