Yesterday, despite April snow showers, a good crowd gathered in Hinckley to talk about broadband. It was the second annual East Central Broadband conference – and for the second time I was very impressed. I think the idea of a regional broadband conference is very smart. It’s an opportunity for regional neighbors to learn from each other, to applaud one another and to find ways to collaborate. They talk about how to work with providers to get unserved areas covered. The message was clear – these folks want to work with providers, they don’t want to become providers.
It was interesting to learn from Kevin Larson, a local broadband provider. He explained his $49 million investment in telecommunications in the area, his desire to do more and the roadblocks. The Behemoth is funding. If funding was available, he could deploy. He explained that they have access to spectrum for wireless, but right now the equipment to manage it is too expensive to make a business case to purchase. So they are testing new, lower cost equipment. Once it’s tested and true, they can deploy – and it’s a good sign that equipment is coming down in price – but it takes time to test.
They also talk about how to boost adoption. In this pretty rural part of the state, kids can spend hours on school buses so the wifi on the bus (aka rolling classroom) is a big hit. It’s an even bigger hit for students without access to broadband at home. Businesses are learning to take advantage of broadband too. There are local community portals and business training to help boost use. One line I loved came from Cloquet Valley, where they are adopting as fast as they can deploy.
I was able to capture much of the day in video – presentations and report outs from peer discussions on topics of interest.
Welcome and introductions from Bernadine Joselyn from Blandin Foundation
Stacey Stockdil, Resilient Region
Roxy Traxler, East Central Regional Broadband
Marc Johnson – KBI
Roxy Traxler – Connect Mille Lacs County
Janet Keogh -Cloquet Valley
Tom Ardolf – Cybermation
Diane Wells, Office of Broadband Technology
Report-out from small group discussions
Success Stories continued – Tim Brinkman – Fergus Falls
Broadband in Education – Marc Johnson, ECMECC and Steve Bistrup, Milaca Schools
Funding Opportunities – Kevin Larson
Report back on next steps – what can I do and how?