Always interesting presentations…


April 11th, 2012 * 4:00 to 5:30 pm
Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs
Roy Wilkins Room (215)
301 19th Avenue South * Minneapolis, MN 55455

Join us for a discussion of the “Connexion” – the carrier neutral, multi-tenant data center and colocation facility development announced in Eagan. The session will address the public/private efforts to make it happen, and the broadband implications for Minnesota in avoiding “single points of failure.”

MILDA HEDBLOM – Director, TISP Forum

COMMISSIONER MARK PHILLIPS – Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development

TOM GARRISON – Communications Director, City of Eagan

BRIAN GINKEL – Vice President, Jones Lange LaSalle

BRETT SEVERSON – Senior Associate, Jones Lang LaSalle

Special thanks to our program’s sponsors:
Blandin Foundation * League of Minnesota Cities * Minnesota Municipal Utilities Association

MTA Annual Convention: Clouds, Videos, partnerships and planning for the future

On Monday I had the opportunity to attend the Minnesota Telecom Alliance Annual Convention. With 1,400 attendees, the MTA Annual Convention is one of the largest  conferences of its kind in the US. It included two large rooms for trade shows, a series of educational workshops and association meetings (votes, awards, planning). I was able to see a little bit of everything.

Here are a couple of the sessions that I thought would be interesting to folks outside the industry as well as those in telecommunications:

  • Beyond the Demarc: The Revenue Opportunity Inside the Digital Home
  • Revenue Generating Opportunities for the Digital Marketplace
  • Putting a Wall Around the Cloud? Security in the Cloud
  • The Cloud Has a Silver Lining: Becoming the Service Provider of the Future
  • Central Office Strategies for Speeding FTTH Service Turn-up Requirements
  • What Impact Will Over-the-Top Video Have On My Bottom Line?
  • The Evolution of Mobile Technologies 2G to 4G LTE
  • IPTV for People Who Aren’t Engineers
  • Managing Customer Service Via Apps

Cloud, video and apps seem to be some strong themes, which would indicate to me that they will be broadband drivers in the future. Sadly I was unable to attend the session on customer service apps, which sounded really good.

I was able to attend the session on public-private partnerships: Making Public/Private Partnerships Work for You – and Your Revenue Stream with John Schultz, U-reka Broadband Ventures. I thought that would interest a wide swath of readers and I was able to capture it on video. John talked about his experience working to develop partnerships with local communities.

I was also able to talk to some of the MTA members – specifically about telework. I’m very excited to talk more about that – but will make that a new post, hopefully for Monday.

Broadband deployment – bumpy ride, but moving forward

I was at a non-broadband meeting yesterday morning when someone came up to ask me about the problem with fiber. He had recently heard MPR’s story on fiber  (Broadband projects take a bumpy ride) and it left him feeling like things weren’t going that well for broadband in Minnesota.

The article highlights the trials and tribulations with some of the ARRA funded broadband projects…

Eighteen local construction projects won federal grants and loans as part of the Recovery Act of 2009 totaling almost $229 million. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some will be owned by the public, while others will be built and run by small phone companies and electric coops. And they are at various stages of completion. The federal government’s Recovery.gov website lists 14 as less than 50 percent completed, two as more than 50 percent completed and two as not yet started.

Many have proceeded without hitches. But others have faced obstacles like difficulty obtaining building materials, opposition from incumbent providers, cost overruns, frustratingly slow bureaucracies and trouble clearing environmental hurdles.

What’s funny is that the discussion in the article reflects fuzzily one of the sticking points in broadband adoption. It’s happening, but is it fast enough? We’re just talking about deployment here, not speeds. Ironically, another recent article in MPR raised the speed issue asking if wireless in rural areas was an improvement to existing broadband options in rural areas or rather a stop-gap measure that might delay a larger solution. I might ask a similar question here – are we seeing improvements or are we seeing federal funding getting in the way of other investments? I think we’re seeing improvement – at least in the 16 (out of 18) projects that have been started.

It’s true that some projects have run into hiccups – for the reasons listed by reporter Jennifer Vogel. (For a more comprehensive list of what’s happening with projects, you can check out the Minnesota Broadband Task Force Report (Dec 2011); it includes a table that details progress of ll of the projects that received ARRA funding.) Some projects are actually ahead of schedule. (According to the Task Force report, the Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services is ahead of schedule.)

I might not look at whether the glass is half full or half empty with these federally funded projects – but I might celebrate the fact that the glass is filling! Lac qui Parle County (one community listed as waiting for fiber) may be stalled, but they are moving forward – as are most of the other projects mentioned. Federal funding (and I think results of federally funded mapping) has spurred other communities, such as Kanabec, Redwood Falls and Sibley Counties to take a more serious look (and/or strides) towards broadband deployment. The stimulus funding has stimulated broadband projects and an interest in more!

Finally I have to sing the praises of Blandin Foundation-led Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) project. Yesterday at the Task Force meeting we got to hear about the federally funded project and its impact on one community – Benton County. Here are a handful of their measures of success;

  • More than $20,000 in-kind match
  • More than 200 businesses assisted
  • More than 500 residents assisted

Benton County is just one of 11 participating MIRC communities – and some MIRC activities reach beyond the select demonstration communities. The project is making a difference in the quality of life in the area; it’s also boosting a demand for greater broadband, which will help support deployment efforts, which as the MPR article points out – can be a bumpy ride – but I’d emphasize that it’s a bumpy ride forward.

Sibley & Renville Counties postpone fiber vote

Sibley and Renville Counties have been looking at a community-led fiber effort for years. In January, the Joint Powers in Sibley County held a public meeting to talk about progress towards getting broadband in their area. Their hope was to build the backbone this year and start bringing it to residents next year. The estimate cost is $50 million; they are looking for revenue bonding for $70 million.

According to MPR’s Ground Level, the project has been postponed…

So far, there have been four votes. Three communities–Buffalo Lake, Winthrop and Renville County–have voted yes. The city of Arlington has voted no. Sibley County commissioners were supposed to vote yesterday, but instead opted to postpone a decision. Sibley County is the entity that would bring farms into the customer base. A no vote wouldn’t kill the project, said Mark Erickson, Winthrop city administrator and project champion, but it would make it more city-based.

“Sibley postponed and wanted more commitment cards and buy-in from the townships,” said Erickson, who interrupted a meeting with local township representatives this morning to talk with me. “I think we have a way forward.” The project’s success hinges on having enough customers to make the bond payments, but it’s hard to know how many customers the network will have before it’s built.

Minnesota Broadband Task Force: March 2012 Full Notes

Yesterday the Minnesota Broadband Task Force met in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota at Independent Lifestyles, a center for independent living and home to a new tech center sponsored by Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC). It was fun to hear about the MIRC project, to hear from a number of community members who spoke up about their experience with (and without) broadband and to get reports from the Task Force subcommittees about their various tasks.

Here are the full notes: Continue reading

Where does wireless fit into the rural tapestry?

Today Dave Peters at MPR’s Ground Level looks at wireless in rural areas. He asked folks on different sides of the issues about the role that wireless does and potential could play in rural areas. Here’s a Readers Digest version…

Verizon – plans to provide service…

Verizon earlier this month announced its HomeFusion product, offering rural wireless Internet access faster than many urban residents have today and riding on the company’s expanding 4G network. You stick a bucket-sized antenna on the side of your house and pay $60 a month and, presto, you allegedly get downloads speeds of up to 12 megabits per second and upload speeds up to five megabits per second. That’s faster than a lot of people get in the Twin Cities.

I just heard someone talk about using Verizon’s MiFi as an alternative to her not-so-great broadband in a suburb of the Twin Cities. I’m a fan of MiFi – but as I learned on a recent road trip, you can hit the data caps pretty quickly. I wouldn’t want to worry about that each month. And as MVTV Wireless points out in the story, Versizon may not be serving the smaller towns (or space between towns) any time soon.

MVTV Wireless (a local wireless provider) is providing wireless service to rural homes now…

MVTV is upgrading its service steadily, now covering almost 20,000 square miles. It’s residential service offers speeds of 2.5 megabits but the non-profit company is preparing for 4G and faster service. He says he’s adding about 100 customers a month.

But he’s not really trying to compete with wired services. “We want to go where people aren’t,” he said. Most of his customers are rural and are switching from satellite service or dial-up service or getting Internet access for the first time. “Wireless is just one piece of the whole puzzle,” he said, but he cautioned people not to rule out the long-term potential of wireless speeds.

Some folks feel that wireless is a Band-Aid that sort of distracts consumers and prohibits providers from investing in fiber…

“Most Americans don’t know what they’re missing” with slower speeds and data caps, said Christopher Mitchell, who follows telecommunications issues for theInstitute for Local Self-Reliance and who is a big proponent of community-built fiber projects. …

Still, Mitchell notes how wireless service can make the economics more difficult for those pushing for high-speed fiber networks.

And yet others feel there is room for both…

“Most tech futurists would say we need them both” said Bill Coleman, who runs the broadband and economic development consulting firm Community Technology Advisors. Simply put, for some people at least, wireless works, he said.

24 hours, 180 nerds, 18 websites

For several years, The Nerdery, a web development company is Minneapolis, has hosted an Overnight Website Challenge. Nonprofits are invited to submit applications to have their website created or recreated, for free by web development specialists working through the Nerdery. Well, last weekend was the magic weekend for 18 nonprofits who are now sporting brand new websites.

The Nerdery blog estimates the value of the volunteer time as about half-a-million dollars…

During more normal business hours the more than 4,200 hours of pro bono services freely given would have a real-world street value of about half-a-million dollars. The 18 nonprofits were chosen from a field of more than 80 applicants, and the 18 teams were picked from a field of 34.

Wondering how a day like that goes? Here’s the schedule from their website:

7:00 a.m. – Registration, set up work stations. Volunteers: You are welcome to come as early as 6:30 am to set up; please be there by at least 8:00.
8:45 a.m. – Welcome, get ready to rumble, announce team assignments
9:00 a.m. – Countdown begins. Nonprofits meet their team of volunteers and get to work.
Noonish – Lunch from Gyropolis
6:00 p.m. – Dinner from Bacio and Zelo
Midnight – Second dinner from Pizza Luce
6:00 a.m. – The most important meal of the day. Meanwhile, judges make the rounds between 6-9 a.m., spending 10 minutes assessing each team’s work.
9:00 a.m. – Final presentations
10:00 a.m. – Winner announced. Good night, and good luck.

You can learn more about the project, the volunteers and the nonprofits on The Nerdery website.