Blandin Broadband eNews – March 2012

News from the Blandin on Broadband Blog

Proposed Broadband Bill to Prohibit Community Networks

Representative Runbeck (R-53A, Circle Pines), Chair of the Property and Local Tax Division of the House Taxes Committee, introduced HF 2695 in the House. It would prohibit cities, counties and schools from using tax revenues or issue debt to construct, acquire, own, or operate, in whole or in part, a system to deliver broadband service.

Minnesota Broadband Task Force

The MN Broadband Task Force presented their broadband road map to the Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications. They also met in February to strategize about how to spend the next year preparing for the 2012 broadband report. Task Force members selected subgroups to join; each will focus on different aspect of broadband. Also they decided to hold meetings around the state to encourage interaction with more citizens.

At the February meeting, the Task Force also heard from the recently hired Chief Information Accessibility Officer at the Office of Enterprise Technology at the State on use of technology by people with disabilities.

Broadband to Boost Civic Engagement

Broadband has been discussed in February as a way to streamline voting and encourage involvement. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie proposed an electronic poll book as a solution to the voter ID debate. The idea is to let the State track voter pictures and not put the onus on citizens to produce picture IDs.

Minnesota is home to E-Democracy, one of the oldest and largest online discussion tools for promoting public discourse. E-Democracy recently received $625,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to support efforts to increase participation in the lists and broaden the user base. It’s a good way to encourage civic engagement and broadband adoption.

Broadband Policy and Education

The House Education Reform Committee approved HF2127, which would require high school students to receive at least one digital course credit before graduation. Schools would need to engage students with a “blended learning” approach, which uses technology to teach a subject. Requirements for students would be effective for those starting ninth grade in 2012.

Providers in the News

Minnesota got a glimpse last month of broadband providers and their business plans. It’s interesting to see how different providers approach broadband service:

  • The Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications heard from Connect Minnesota and Minnesota Telecom Alliance on the state of broadband in Minnesota and policy updates from the provider perspective.
  • The Cottonwood County Citizen highlighted the business plan shared between two local providers, SMBS (Southwest Minnesota Broadband System) and Windomnet.
  • Mainstream media highlights the difference between cable and DSL in terms of consumer experience.
  • AT&T invested $425 million in its network (wired and wireless) in Minnesota from 2009 through 2011, but it invested more in at least 18 other states in the same time span.

Local Broadband News

E-Business classes lead to better business and local community spirit in Akeley Minnesota. (Includes video.)

PCs for People give away 100 donated and refurnished computers in Alexandria.

Anoka County holds a Technology Collaboration Summit in February that features speakers who highlighted public sector use of broadband.

Grand Rapids
Itasca Community Television earns the prestigious Pegasus Awards of Excellence for its website

Broadband Corp. streams a bald eagle cam near Hutchinson.

Kanabec County plans for a broadband feasibility study.

A woman in Lakefield celebrates her 99th birthday chatting with daughter in Red Wing via Skype.

Businesses are learning how to better use the Internet through classes taught by University of Minnesota Extension and supported by the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) Initiative.

The Veterans Affairs Medical Center is one of the first virtual ICU centers in Minnesota, monitoring patients in seven regional hospitals.

Monticello is looking to restructure the bond agreement for their community FTTH network.

St Paul
Minnesota-based Christopher Mitchell is named one of the Top 25 Doers, Dreamers & Drivers in Public Sector Innovation by Gov Tech.

Two Harbors
Lake County commissioners celebrate the new headquarters for their fiber optic network project. (Article includes recap of Lake County’s tumultuous progress towards fiber.)

High school students are able to take college-level classes (for college credit) in nursing through interactive television and a partnership with the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative.


March 8 (6:300-8:30 PM) Designing Communication Tools for the Workplace (St Paul)

March 25-27 – Minnesota Telecom Alliance Annual Conference (Minneapolis)

March 27 – Minnesota Broadband Task Force meeting

April 17 – Minnesota Broadband Task Force meeting

April 25 – Minnesota High Tech Association Spring Conference (Minneapolis)

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.)

Looking for local MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) events? Check the MIRC Google calendar: or University of Minnesota Extension MIRC calendar

Stirring the Pot

I am part of a team just starting work on a project in Southwest Alaska – with place names like Kodiak Island, Unalaska and Dillingham. This rural region wants to make best use of a new federal stimulus project that will increase broadband speeds significantly in some places but leave other places with dial-up and satellite. Parts of the region have fiber networks for the last mile but rely on satellite for middle mile.

I know how important community leadership is in a process like this, but the challenges of distance in this region are immense. In Minnesota, distances are relatively small in comparison – another town is 7 – 10 miles down the road. Regional centers are separated by 100 miles or fewer. In this region, it can be a 1,000 mile plane ride from one center to another. For us, the immediate challenge is how to meet and engage these regional leaders. Our goal for the longer term is to determine how technology can be used to better connect these regional partners. Beside distance, there are other differences between Minnesota and Alaska. In Minnesota, our road system compares to a mesh network. You can go almost in any direction and form partnerships with other nearby places. In Alaska, the network is a hub and spoke system with hubs in Anchorage for business and education and in Juneau for government.

One of the other things we know in community broadband planning is that the most effective technology leadership is not necessarily an elected or appointed government official. It could be the tech guy on Main Street, the school tech coordinator, a local business or someone working out of their house. Across this region, we will find some of each. We need to use technology to find and connect to these leaders and then to leave a system where they can continue to connect to each other.

Which brings me back to Minnesota, while our distance challenges are almost insignificant in comparison (and believe me, I know about distances here in Minnesota), our challenge of empowering community leadership around all problem solving opportunities is just as real. I receive lots of newsletters from various groups with some excellent top down communications. The big challenge is real multipoint communications, discussions and action planning over distance. Time is short, resources are thin, our leaders are overburdened. It seems that we can do a better job of using technology as a tool for leadership empowerment. I am very interested in your ideas or current practices of how your organization uses technology tools to empower communications between leaders. Let’s hear about them!

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.

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