Cloquet Valley looks at Better Broadband

I am delighted to share a guest blogger post today from Janet Keough town board supervisor for North Star Township and Chair of the Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative Steering Committee. Jan is part of a crew in Cloquet Valley that is working towards better broadband…

The Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative (CVII) is an effort by seven rural townships north of Duluth to bring broadband internet to our region. These townships (plus 2 unorganized townships) are located between two big fiber optic projects (Lake Connections and North East Service Coop) but so far are not being included in their development or in development by any of the private internet providers.

Internet to our citizens is, at this time, provided by dial-up, satellite, and a patchwork of low-speed DSL and wireless. This is a grass-roots effort by rural township government and interested citizens. With advice from many experts, including Bill Coleman and the Blandin Foundation, the CVII team developed educational materials and distributed them to citizens in the area.

The team developed a questionnaire to gauge the level of satisfaction with current internet access and interest in paying for improvements. The Blandin Foundation team (thanks Ann and Bill!) turned the questionnaire into an on-line survey. The CVII team used the on-line survey, plus door to door distribution, mailings, and newsletters for distribution. The results showed strong dissatisfaction with current internet access and also showed a very good market for improved broadband. We took this on the road to various providers, but generally got the message that our population density is too low.

The next step was to conduct a broadband feasibility study to understand the details of what it would take to expand broadband and what it would cost. Grants were obtained from AgStar Financial Services and from the Blandin Foundation, and St Louis County and Lake County facilitated the matching funds. At the same time, the ad hoc team developed a joint powers agreement among the townships to create a single organization to promote and leverage broadband internet. We all realize that individual rural townships simply don’t have enough people to attract the infrastructure for broadband, and we have to work together.

We are embarking on two feasibility studies. The first study will provide an objective analysis of the capacity, capability, monthly cost and pros and cons of all the potential broadband provider types. The second study will provide an engineering analysis for fiber to the premise and fiber to the node with DSL to the premise. These two options are likely the most expensive to deploy, yet would yield the greatest capacity and capability for broadband levels at or above the Minnesota state standard. Both studies will give us valuable information for our town supervisors and for our citizens to understand the costs and benefits of various types of broadband internet. And we can use the results to further convince providers that it is feasible and profitable to build in our region.

A real challenge for rural townships such as ours is the limited capacity and capability of rural townships to initiate broadband projects on our own. Our townships do not have an “anchor” city, county, hospital or school within our borders. We are a tiny part of St Louis County, that already has areas of broadband deployment – our situation is, rightly, not viewed as county-wide, although our county has a lot of rural under-served areas and other townships in a similar situation.

Our government offices have very limited administrative capability; town supervisors, clerks and treasurers all work on part-time schedules – most less than 10 hours per month. There are no full-time administrative staff. Rural townships are typically in the business of fighting fires (by volunteers), grading and plowing roads, and some have cemeteries. We have no larger organizations with deep capabilities and deep pockets to seek the large sums required to deploy broadband infrastructure. However, within our townships, our citizens are small business owners, doctors, lawyers, professors, public and home school children, fire departments, and seniors, all needing high speed internet capability and capacity, the requirements of which are growing daily.

When we look across the broadband development landscape, we see mostly cities, counties, telephone companies, and electric coops in public-private partnerships to develop broadband infrastructure. We are likely not unique in Minnesota, since the state has many rural areas that are under served for broadband. One good thing that rural townships have is neighbor-to-neighbor relationships and trust among our citizens. These relationships will be valuable for communication, education and promotion, if and when we can find partners to work with us to leverage broadband. We have received a great deal of encouragement in our strategy, and we are hopeful that we can demonstrate a good market and an unfilled niche for broadband from one or more providers.

Update on Anoka County – looking for last mile providers

Just a quick update on the ARRA-funded project in Anoka County. As you may recall, Anoka ia working on building fiber to anchor institutions – and they are hoping to find a last mile provider to serve local residents and businesses. In fact, part of my reason for mentioning their progress is to help them find a good last mile partner – so please feel free to share the news…

Their next Governance Group meeting is scheduled for June 21. The plan is to invite last mile providers to make presentations on their services. If you know of any last mile providers who might be interested, please have them contact David Minke.

The meeting will start at 9:00 AM in Room 705 at the Anoka County Government Center. Please pass the word along to all those who may be interested in learning more about last mile connectivity including council/board members, EDA members, economic developers, cable commissions, etc.

Minnesota High Tech Association Spring Conference: Notes

Yesterday I attended the Minnesota High Tech Association Spring Conference. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, current chair of the Minnesota Broadband Task Force hosted the event (as President of the MHTA) and former Task Force chair Rick King gave the keynote presentation. So it seemed as if there was a lot of broadband in the air.

The buzz about the conference was the announced relocation of the MHTA. They will be moving downtown to the Grain Exchange Building. In the sessions, folks were talking very specifically about how to use technology to improve business. Social Media, Cloud Computing and Security were hot topics.

Talking to attendees, it was good to hear that most folks feel business is good. From Involta to the Eagan Data Center, folks were talking about growth and building capacity – broadband, workforce and knowledge. Folks were telling stories of how technology has worked for them and what they are doing to make sure that it continues to work.

I took notes from the sessions I attended. They aren’t full notes – but I offer them for folks who weren’t able to attend….

Margaret Anderson Kelliher

Recent jobs report indicates that the computer sectors is reaching levels we haven’t seen in 10 years. The question is – are we producing enough quality people to meet that need? We will be looking into that with listening sessions with MNSCU today.

MHTA is moving this summer to downtown Mpls – the Grain Exchange Building

Gov Dayton

Rick King – what sets you apart matters

Will talk about how to work with and create a community & culture in a global company. Branding comes down to image – and those who control the image control the brand.

Do you want to define your brand or do you want someone else to define your brand personally and professionally? You don’t want to leave yourself with nothing.

If you don’t know anything about something – you will define it yourself and generally less complementary terms than a product would want.

Thompson Reuters focuses on: Authentic – Transparent – Courageous

My job is to make the company and the brand better than you found it. You need to be able to walk the talk. The Brand Becomes the Verb

Continue reading

New Map is report card on broadband deployment & adoption in MN due to BTOP funding

NTIA has developed a new, interactive map that displays how BTOP investments across the US are connecting people, communities, and institutions. The Map allows users to locate BTOP-funded infrastructure investments and community institutions connected in their region, find new and improved public computer centers and identify locations where broadband training and adoption programs are available.

I think the main purpose of the map is to connect the user to information about their community. You can do a search by zip and find out what’s happening in your area. You can also track information by state, which provides a sort of nice report card on the impact of CTIP in MN. The quick take on info for MN:

  • Broadband adoption percentage in MN: 70.6 percent (National average 68%)
  • Communities connected via BTOP funding: 3
  • Communities planning to be connected via BTOP funding: 12
  • Institutions connected via BTOP funding: 1
  • Institutions planning to be connected via BTOP funding: 148

Adoption progress in MN due to BTOP funding:

  • 14 new public computer centers
  • 143 new or improved workstations
  • 121 total broadband adoption programs
  • 31.2K total new household subscribers
  • 22.9K total training hours delivered

Sibley County Commissioners vote for Fiber

A quick update on the Sibley County Commissioners’ vote from earlier today thanks to KEYC in Mankato

Sibley County Commissioners voted to move forward with a multimillion–dollar fiber optic broadband project that would bring faster Internet to Renville and Sibley Counties and even individual farms in the area….

The proposed fiber–optic system would be publicly owned, but privately run and connect every home, farm and business in the area to high speed Internet.

Sibley County EDA Tim Dolan says, “Each person has the choice to either opt in or out.”

The involved communities would sell around $70 million in revenue bonds to build the network, which will be paid off with user fees.

Dolan says, “We’ve gone over the 55% mark that are interested in the project which when we do our cash flows and projections gives us profitability for all 30 years.”

ConnectMN new maps unveiled

Last week, Connect Minnesota unveiled an updated version of the Minnesota Broadband maps

The mapping tool, called My ConnectView™, is a valuable tool for consumers, policy makers, Internet providers, and planning teams working to increase broadband access, adoption, and use in communities across the state and nation. …

 My ConnectView, developed by Connected Nation, Connect Minnesota’s parent organization, replaces the previous mapping tool and is faster and easier to use; features more interactive data layers and additional tools to explore data; and allows users to e-mail, print, and send feedback on custom maps.

From what I’ve seen it is faster to use and seem smoother. I still wish I could get info by county – but I wasn’t able to find a way to do it on the map. There will be a webinar demonstration of the new tool on Wednesday – unfortunately I’ll be at the Minnesota High Tech Association conference…

Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/451387954

This webinar will provide a demonstration of the new interactive broadband mapping application published by Connect Minnesota called “My ConnectView.” The interactive map offers unique tools to view the state’s technology landscape and analyze broadband penetration down to the street level. Attendees will be shown some of the tool’s basic features and can ask questions during the presentation about the underlying data and the map’s functions.

 Title: Connect Minnesota Demo – My ConnectView
Date: Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Time: 10:00 AM – 10:30 AM CDT

After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.
System Requirements
PC-based attendees
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server

Macintosh®-based attendees
Required: Mac OS® X 10.5 or newer

Big Vote in Sibley County Tomorrow

Tomorrow is a big day for folks in Sibley County – especially for folks who live in the outskirts of town, between towns or the back and beyond. Tomorrow the Sibley County Commissioners vote on whether or not to be part of the RS Fiber Network, which will bring fiber to the area. The vote was slated for a couple of weeks ago but was postponed.

Many of the area cities have voted to be part of the network; Renville County has also voted in. Arlington has voted not to participate.

Minnesota Public Radio highlighted the potential impact on rural residents – some of which are still using dialup connections…

Linda Kramer and her family grow corn, soy beans, even a little wheat. The family’s farm is on 1,100 acres in rural Sibley County, about 85 miles southwest of the Twin Cities.

Kramer pays about $60 per month for Internet access that by today’s standards is archaic.

“My husband on the farm needs to send files… He’ll throw them in an email, send it out, let it run overnight, come back in the morning and two-thirds of them haven’t gone through,” Kramer said.

They talk about the community support – as demonstrated by local residents signing up for service…

So far, over 50 percent of the residents said they would take some combination of phone, Internet or cable TV service from the broadband project. In parts of rural Sibley County it’s closer to 80 percent of residents.

The meeting begins at 10 am tomorrow; the vote is expected to happen soon after the meeting begins.