Arvig Supports Local Schools

Arvig, a family-owned telecommunications provider based in Perham, Minn., has found an innovative way to support schools…

Arvig is proud to support your local school through the Arvig Internet School Partnership Program.

When you participate in this program, your school earns:

  • $10 when you connect your dial-up or high-speed Internet
  • $1 each month that you’re a dial-up customer
  • $2 each month that you’re a high-speed customer

I like the added push to encourage residents to get online. If you know an Arvig customer, you should make sure they have sign up for the promotion.

Broadband boosts rural arts in Minnesota

brian frink artThanks to John Schultz for the heads up on this fun story on the power of social media in removing barriers for rural art. The City Pages recently featured their 2012 Artists of the Year – including Brian Frink in Mankato. They made special mention of his use of online marketing to reach new audiences…

A couple of years ago, Frink had an epiphany: With the advent of social media, artists don’t need to strike out for the coasts or big Midwestern metropolitan areas for cultural exposure anymore. By connecting with the larger art world and each other online, artists can now make a name for themselves, cross-pollinate ideas, and even garner critical attention if they have enough talent and hustle, and a bit of web savvy. And with a fast internet connection, artists can do so from any home base they choose. Serious-minded, country-mouse contemporary artists just needed a virtual watering hole, a place to network with one another and share ideas, he figured. So he created RACA (pronounced rawk-a), a Facebook group with the cheeky aim of “making nowhere into somewhere.”

Artists flocked to the group, and it quickly took off as a place for members to share artwork and common cause, in time becoming a real community in digital space, bringing together far-flung but like-minded artists across the country. Spurred by the enthusiastic groundswell of interest in the Facebook group (888 artist members strong at last count), Frink set up an eclectic offline exhibition last winter in the Arts Center of St. Peter, with enough accomplished talent on view to upend even the snootiest urbane preconceptions equating “rural artist” with farm kitsch. Then, over the summer, with the assistance of writer and Twin Cities-to-Mankato transplant Stephanie Wilbur Ash, Frink launched a flagship website for Rural America Contemporary Artists and a sharp, biannual art magazine, RACAonline, which just put out its inaugural issue last month. With entrepreneurial vision and follow-through, Frink is helping to realize the potential and untapped esprit de corps among artists who happen to work off of the usually urban art grid.

Fond du Lac of Ojibwe – BBC Community

In December, the Blandin Broadband Community team is meeting with the nine new Blandin Broadband Communities. I have been able to attend some of the meetings and wanted to introduce folks to the new communities when I could.

FdL Ojibwe

On Monday (December 17, 2012), we met with Fred Underwood, Jason Hollinday and Karen Diver in Cloquet, Minnesota at the Fond du Lac Tribal Center MIS Conference room. Similar to some of the other BBC communities, they have uneven broadband access in their community. In January, the tribal buildings will be getting Gigabit access and there are community centers in each community – but outside of the Fond du Lac Government and Health Care facilities, and to a greater extend outside of town, the access is lacking.

The tribal community does have the benefit of centralized IT support, which makes easier collaboration among sectors. There is a lot of enthusiasm in the community – folks are eager to get access. They have tried some programs with varying levels of success. They already deal with multiple networks and the security issues with each.

Education is a big driver in the community. Karen noted that we are experiencing the problem of disinvestment in education. Broadband is an opportunity to reverse that trend.

Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBC) – BBC Community

In December, the Blandin Broadband Community team is meeting with the nine new Blandin Broadband Communities. I have been able to attend some of the meetings and wanted to introduce folks to the new communities when I could.

SMBS

Last week we met with the team from SBMS, which is driving the Blandin Broadband Community initiative in Jackson, Lakefield, Round Lake, Bingham Lake, Brewster, Wilder, Heron Lake and Okabena. This is the only community where the broadband provider is leading the effort to promote better broadband – and access to broadband is not the issue that it has been in other communities. SMBS is in the last stages of connecting the area with primarily fiber access and working to get wireless to the far reaches. That being said – neighboring communities are hoping the expand service – soon.

The next step for the area is to make smart use of the network. We met with folks from various sectors – education, healthcare, local government, economic development. Stuff is happening – the school have a plan in place for iPads. The local colleges are moving classes online. The local healthcare provider (Sanford Health) is doing some amazing online. Now it’s a matter of making sure folks are working together, that the smaller businesses are optimizing their use of technology and a big goal is improving online branding of the local communities to attract and retain residents.

Santa’s Helpers Closing the Digital Divide

I was out on the road with Bill Coleman last week. On Friday we visited with Renae Tostenson, Superintendent at Lac qui Parle Valley school district. I will write more about that visit later – but I wanted to post a story she shared with us for Christmas about a family in Western Minnesota and their new Christmas computer…

Renae does a great job telling the story – but for folks who would rather read than watch, here’s a recap. Renae was working with PCs for People to distribute computers to low income families in her area. One mother thanked her profusely adding that the computer was going to be a Christmas present –receiving it meant that she wouldn’t have to choose between buying gifts or feeding her kids over the Christmas break.

Besides being a heck of a Christmas gift, that free computer is also an investment in their future. The kids can use it for homework. The mom can use it to build work skills. And I suspect they will find ways for the computer to help save them money.

Just a nice reminder for all of us who may be getting our kids new electronica for the holidays or working in businesses getting new computers for 2013 – PCs for People offers a great reuse program. They accept computers, clean them up and distribute them to a families who needs them. They also accept financial donations. Think of it as a personal investment in helping the state get to better broadband adoption by 2015!

Caps – curbing innovation at a cost?

I just finished the  Open Technology Institute’s (OTI) report on data caps. The report has received a lot of attention since being released earlier this week:

So you get the gist – Wireless World disputes the research. The rest of the publications emphasize the findings.

I thought it was helpful to learn a little bit about OTI; here’s what I learned from their website

The Open Technology Institute formulates policy and regulatory reforms to support open architectures and open source innovations and facilitates the development and implementation of open technologies and communications networks. OTI promotes affordable, universal, and ubiquitous communications networks through partnerships with communities, researchers, industry, and public interest groups and is committed to maximizing the potentials of innovative open technologies by studying their social and economic impacts – particularly for poor, rural, and other underserved constituencies. OTI provides in-depth, objective research, analysis, and findings for policy decision-makers and the general public.

The report is thought-provoking. A couple assertions are made…

As this paper documents, data caps, especially on wireline networks, are hardly a necessity. Rather, they are motivated by a desire to further increase revenues from existing subscribers and protect legacy services such as cable television from competing Internet services.

So obviously that’s frustrating if you’re a consumer – especially if you’re a consumer that’s paid higher rates to increase or surpass data caps. But from a community perspective it’s more than frustrating it’s alarming…

Investment in infrastructure will ultimately be a major driver of U.S. competitiveness going forward. Rather than trying to curb consumer use and protect high profit margins on services over existing networks, it is critical that ISPs build for a future where the U.S. can provide competitive speeds and pricing in comparison to its international peers.

The case presented in the report feels like the incumbent providers are trying to maintain the status quo – but inherent in the technology game, I think, is the fact that if you’re standing still, you’re losing ground. Eventually I think providers who are motivated (and that includes many current incumbents, local governments and others) will find a way to serve communities – especially when there is a business case to support investment but until that time we’re losing ground as a nation – and the ones who are served by less motivated providers are feeling the pinch first.

The current providers attempting to maintain the status quo keep the US in a position to “maintain status quo” but again we’re losing ground by standing still. As other countries develop better infrastructure, we are losing ground in terms of innovation and economic development. (The US comes in 10th in the Global Innovation Index of 2012 and 15th in OECD broadband ranking. Compare the 2012 top innovators with the OECD top broadband subscribing countries. Six of the top innovators rank higher on the broadband charts as well.)

2012 innovation ranking

2011 OECD ranking

I understand that it is easier to provide service in smaller countries (less land to cover, generally higher population density) – but this latest report indicates that maybe the cost is not as big an issue as short term profitability. Again, as a country that is alarming. I will include one chart from the recent data cap report summary that shows the incumbent expenses versus customer base.

2012 cap report

Again – very thought provoking! The report goes on to make policy recommendations to encourage greater competition.

Epic changes to Electronic Health Records (EHR)

According to St Paul Pioneer Press

HealthEast plans to spend $135 million over five years on a new electronic health record system for its St. Paul-based network of hospitals and clinics.

Apparently they currently use seven different electronic health records in different parts of their network. They are now moving to one solution, Epic. According to the article, about one-third of clinics in Minnesota and one-fourth of hospitals used an electronic health record from Epic. Funny but the name came up in a meeting this week, when I met with someone at a smaller clinic who is trying to find a way to get their system to talk to Epic.

The article highlights some of the benefits of the change…

“That’s the ultimate goal of having electronic records — that regardless of where you go, your record could be accessible,” [vice president of information services at the Minnesota Hospital Association] Sonneborn said.

Patty [vice president and chief medical informatics officer at HealthEast] added: “It will make us much more efficient, and allow us to spend more time … caring for the patient (rather) than caring for the patient’s record.”

The impetus for change? A vendor’s decision to stop supporting the electronic health record software currently used in its hospitals. It reminded me of several of the speakers at the MHTA CIO Panel last week. Many mentioned that they had change “thrust upon them” in one way or another – changing policy, funding, regulation… But each seemed to view the change in a very positive way. It gave them an opportunity to think bigger, think more strategically.