News from the Blandin on Broadband Blog
Border to Border Broadband: A Call to Action
The Border to Border Broadband conference starts today. It’s not too late to join the conversation February 4-5 at the RiverCentre in St Paul. Join the conference onsite http://wp.me/p3if7-2vQ, follow the conference on Twitter, check out the Blandin on Broadband blog for updates, check out for livestreaming on The UpTake or checkout the Facebook event page.
Minnesota Needs Intervention to Meet 2015 Broadband Goals
The Minnesota Broadband Task Force released their annual report. It emphatically states that Minnesota will not reach 2015 broadband goals (ubiquitous broadband at 10-20 Mbps downstream and 5-10 Mbps upstream) without help. Among other recommendations, they support $100 million investment in broadband deployment. http://wp.me/p3if7-2xS The reports comes after some animated discussion in recent task force meetings. http://wp.me/p3if7-2wA
Minnesota Broadband Doesn’t Rank
Once again, Minnesota broadband is not fast and/or ubiquitous enough to rank on the Akamai broadband charts. http://wp.me/p3if7-2yk (The finding is backed up with similar results of a study by Ookla. http://wp.me/p3if7-2wK) One hopeful nugget, Akamai cites Melrose Minnesota for their Gig access where Diversicom provides robust and affordable broadband. It makes a difference to residents and the community as a whole. As Marc Johnson of ECMECC points out in a recent blog posts, affordability is a big issue to families in rural areas. http://wp.me/p3if7-2y5
Legislative Broadband Discussions
Senator Matt Schmit completed a second series of broadband listening tours http://wp.me/p3if7-2y8 in January and has been talking about legislative action to promote broadband expansion. http://wp.me/p3if7-2xA Industry leaders met at the TISP Forum and discussed potential topics for the legislative un-session this spring. http://wp.me/p3if7-2xO Economic developers and planners have also added broadband to their agenda. http://wp.me/p3if7-2xD
Blandin Awards Broadband Grants
The Blandin Foundation awarded 32 new grants in support of broadband expansion across Minnesota. Awards total a $472,930 investment in local broadband efforts. http://wp.me/p3if7-2ya
In January 2014, the Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC can’t enforce Net Neutrality because years ago the FCC decided not to classify broadband providers as common carriers. The jury is still out on how this will impact the providers and the Internet community. http://wp.me/p3if7-2×0
Local Broadband News
Annandale hosts one of Senator Schmit’s broadband listening sessions. One topic of conversation was their recently completed feasibility study. http://wp.me/p3if7-2wY
Becker School District
Becker has put Wi-Fi on their school buses, providing connectivity to students during long commutes. http://wp.me/p3if7-2y3
Chatfield hosts one of Senator Schmit’s broadband listening sessions. They make the case that broadband is a utility. While they recognize the business case to serve the area is tough to make, broadband is necessary for business and education. http://wp.me/p3if7-2wq
Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative has been talking to potential broadband providers in their area. Subsequently, Cooperative Light and Power is installing a fixed wireless solution to some parts of the community. http://wp.me/p3if7-2xx
Arrowhead Electric has completed 431 miles of fiber for broadband mainlines and installed 2079 Network Interface Devices at end sites (homes). They are hoping to take order for customers soon. http://wp.me/p3if7-2xF
Dakota County telecom bills go from $700,000 to $15,000 after years of deploying fiber. http://wp.me/p3if7-2yq
Arrowhead Regional Development Commission hosts one of Senator Schmit’s broadband listening sessions. Many attendees are frustrated because parts of the area are seeing great increase in broadband due to near completion of ARRA funded projects and other areas are not. http://wp.me/p3if7-2wm
East Central Minnesota
Marc Johnson, an educator in East Central MN, writes about discrepancy in broadband access and affordability in rural areas and the impact on students. http://wp.me/p3if7-2xn
BBC Community, Kanabec County, plans for more community videoconferencing, new community laptops, training and a community portal. http://wp.me/p3if7-2yh
Lac qui Parle (LqP) County
The Computer Commuter in LqP County is a modified mobile lab that brings computers and broadband access to small towns in LqP, similar to a bookmobile. Recently patrons have had success getting jobs, getting on MNsure and learning how to use new devices from Santa. http://wp.me/p3if7-2wU
BBC Community Lake County talks about their community YouTube channel, new tablets in the schools and various digital inclusion classes. http://wp.me/p3if7-2xd
Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC), in a partnership with the community, is installing fiber optics to serve the business community in Little Falls. http://wp.me/p3if7-2we
Long Prairie hosts one of Senator Schmit’s broadband listening sessions. Their quest for broadband started years ago with the Todd County Development Corporation and then the Livestock Advisory Commission. Now they talk about co-ops, broadband as a utility and how to smooth regulatory path to better broadband. http://wp.me/p3if7-2wQ
Minneapolis looks at ways to improve access to open data sets to encourage civic coding. http://wp.me/p3if7-2yn
Park Rapids hosts two of Senator Schmit’s broadband listening sessions. Locally several attendees talk about upgrading from dialup in the last year. There are areas around the lakes that are still without access. http://wp.me/p3if7-2ww
Renville and Sibley Counties
Renville and Sibley Counties (RS Fiber) plan to use a new private co-op as a way to build out fiber to the farm. http://wp.me/p3if7-2xp RS Fiber is not the only one talking about co-ops as a road to successful community broadband projects. http://wp.me/p3if7-2wW
CURA has created a civic technology incubator in the Twin Cities. It supports collaboration in the area and is sponsoring potential funding opportunities. http://wp.me/p3if7-2×3
Border to Border Broadband: A Call to Action (St Paul MN) http://tinyurl.com/m4pzfq6
Digital Learning Day http://wp.me/p3if7-2xs
Capital Code Hack Event (St Paul, MN) http://wp.me/p3if7-2×5
Deadline for American Technology Awards http://wp.me/p3if7-2wO
Minnesota Telecom Alliance Annual Conference http://wp.me/p3if7-2xI
Deadline for Blandin Broadband Grants http://broadband.blandinfoundation.org/programs/
Red Hot Hack (Red Wing, MN) http://www.redwingignite.org/
Looking for more events? Check out TechDotMN’s calendar http://tech.mn/events/. Many events are based in the Twin Cities but it is a comprehensive list. (If you have an upcoming event, consider submitting it.)
Stirring the Pot
Minnesota’s winters increase the potential value to be tapped from broadband. Imagine realizing the full advantage of broadband with our recent spate of cold weather school closings and the painfully slow snowy commutes to work. Stress would be reduced, time would be recaptured and cars would escape the auto body shop.
I read last week that one metro private high school, with a student body that is 100% connected with laptops and Internet, assigned students homework while the school was closed. With a little bit of planning and preparation, that at-home school experience could be escalated to include YouTube lectures, Google chat small group discussions and online quizzes and writing exercises. Sports coaches could even lead teams on conditioning drills and chalkboard sessions. This scenario is possible with a 100% connected student body. While the students might rather be at Starbucks or the mall, parents might be glad to know that their kids are busy and supervised. Extra smart kids might even be able to pull off their schoolwork at some of these fun alternative locations.
In the workplace, companies could increase their preparedness to support telework. At the recent DEED Economic Competitiveness Conference, Thomson Reuters Executive Rick King talked about the importance of broadband for disaster recovery operations. It seems like our snow clogged freeways fit the definition of a disaster. If at-home snow days were encouraged, businesses might even gain some productivity. Workers could be at their home computers working rather than staring at taillights for several hours each way. Email, conference calls, videoconferencing and other tools could be easily used to make this happen. And when a real disaster strikes, workers will be more comfortable and the IT department more prepared for large scale teleworking. While some of this is happening, it is obviously not enough.
In the metro area and in parts of greater Minnesota, the provider networks are generally up to the task to use these alternative school and work strategies. In the 25% of the state that does not meet state goals, residents may need to hit the road in dangerous conditions. For those who are limited by broadband data plans that charge by the Gigabyte or have usage caps, or those that have broadband services affected by heavy snowfall or high latency, their ability to fully participate in telework may be limited. Unfortunately, they are generally the same people who would have the farthest to travel to work or school or library. For those people with lower incomes, they may lack both a home computer and a broadband connection. They may also have unreliable cars, day care issues with kids at home from school, and more tenuous work situations. It seems that telework would be especially valuable to them.
When people ask, “What’s the value of broadband?” ask them to think about the lost school days, lost hours in bumper to bumper traffic or the cost of a tow out of the ditch. Affordability and ROI considerations would seem to melt away. As will this snow…someday.