Report Highlights Smart Rural Communities – including Halstad & Spring Grove MN

Last month, the NTCA (National Telecommunications Cooperative Association) published a collection of case studies highlighting some best-of class stories for use of broadband technology in rural communities. The goal is…

This paper will explain the economic and societal gains enabled by broadband, and describe how different rural service providers and the communities they serve have embraced the challenges and opportunities of new technology.

They take a look at Education, Health Care, Agriculture, Electronic Government, Public Safety, Utilities and the Consumer’s Home. Each chapter includes a statement of need (generally backed up with statistics and citations), some specifics on what communities and providers ought to be thinking about moving forward and a couple of case studies taken from real rural communities.

I think this report can be used to compel a community to take a closer look at broadband. It could offer some advice on goals. And, as it’s been developed by the NTCA and therefore uses examples from local telecommunications providers, I think this could be used to engage local provider through examples of success approaches by counterparts in similar areas.

I would like to pull out two Minnesota examples used in the report – both highlight best practices in Education…

Halstad MN – Discovery Education Drives Use

Based in Halstad, Minn., independent telecommunications cooperative Halstad Telephone Co. (HTC) maintains an Ethernet, fiber‐based network that provides broadband service to each of the four K–12 schools in its territory. HTC is part of the Northwest Minnesota Special Access, a consortium of 18 rural telephone companies that connects 126 schools and 43 libraries in the state. Students often use a remote video connection to take advanced placement, foreign language and other specialty courses from a teacher located in another facility. The network is linked to the University of Minnesota, Crookston, enabling high school students to enroll in college courses via a video conferencing application.

Although the network has been in place for many years, HTC recently observed an exponential increase in online activity. In 2010, HTC arranged provision of Discovery Education service to its four local K–12 schools at the company’s expense for one year. Under the terms of the arrangement, instructors and students have access to Discovery Education’s multimedia and interactive content within the school building. Content includes audio files, images and videos, as well as interactive elements such as online quizzes, educational games, and math and science lab simulations. The rural communications provider reports that the various school systems engaged in this endeavor each have a 6 Mbps to 30 Mbps symmetrical connection, and due to the popularity of multimedia content, the various capacities are maxed out at least once per day. HTC also stated that combined with the increasing use of tablets, it expects many schools to double their broadband speed requirements within the next two years.

Spring Grove MN – Devices Drive Use

Headquartered in Spring Grove, Minn., rural provider Spring Grove Communications (SGC) enables its citizens to learn on cutting‐edge technology devices. SGC partnered with its local school district to outfit students with the latest laptops and tablets. Apple iPads are used in all of the elementary classrooms, and every seventh through 12th grader has an Apple MacBook Air available to him during the school day. If a student wishes to take home a MacBook Air, he has the option of renting one for $15 a month. Many of the families renting laptops have never had a computer in their home. The program engages students on a dynamic, digital online platform, providing for learning anytime and anywhere. It also is educating students and teachers alike about how to use this technology and the importance of broadband in today’s economy.

In addition to the student aspect of education innovation, virtual learning is a driver of economic development for small, rural towns. Under the traditional education system, a teacher is limited to open positions within driving distance of her home. With virtual education, a teacher residing in a rural area is able to teach from home and reach students across the state, district lines or the globe.

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