Minnesota leading the way to bring broadband to rural communities through collaboration

Here is the official press release from the Blandin Foundation on the conference last week…

BRAINERD, Minn. (Oct. 31, 2017) – “The number-one threat to community and economic development in the 21st Century is the digital divide,“ said technology researcher and development expert Roberto Gallardo last week at the Border to Border Broadband Conference, co-hosted by Blandin Foundation and the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development.

“Rural communities can take a big piece of the digital-economy pie if leaders look inward and develop the assets they already have at home,” Gallardo said.

Gallardo, assistant director and community economic development specialist at the Purdue Center for Regional Development, urged more than 150 broadband leaders in the room from across rural Minnesota to double-down on local efforts to prepare for the digital economy.

Gallardo showed conference participants how economic benefits to Minnesotans could be boosted by nearly a billion dollars over 15 years if broadband access and use improved. This number comes from the Digital Divide Index (DDI), a tool Gallardo created to look at broadband infrastructure, adoption and socioeconomic makeup at the county level to determine the amount of missed economic benefits due to lack of broadband access and use. Ranging in value from 0 to 100, where 100 indicates the highest digital divide, Minnesota scores a 21.51, positioning the state as a national leader in bridging the digital divide. DDI profiles for all Minnesota counties are at https://blandinonbroadband.org/.

Blandin Foundation-commissioned research released at the conference informed attendees about the impact public investment in broadband infrastructure has had on five well-served rural Minnesota communities. Using formulas to measure annual economic benefit per household and increased home value with broadband, findings indicate that each of the communities will recoup public investment within one to six years.

“This research looks at economic benefits to an entire community, not just to a broadband provider,” said Ann Treacy of Treacy Information Services, the report’s co-author. “Just because there’s not a business case for a provider doesn’t mean there aren’t economic benefits to be had for the community.”

The case studies report can be found at www.mnbroadbandcasestudies.org.

Cooperation: a broadband development strategy

In hard-to-reach rural areas, new forms of cooperation are needed to reach the last mile, said conference speaker Kevin Edberg, executive director at Cooperative Development Services.

“Communities have to think differently, think collaboratively, to see progress,” said Edberg. “We need to rediscover what it means to connect with our neighbors and our communities if we’re going to have the things that we want.”

Successful broadband partnerships start with conversation and assessing assets, said Laura Withers, director of communications at NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, during her address to conference attendees.

“Broadband partnerships are the future of our industry,” Withers said. “Minnesota is leading the charge and we’re noticing it at the national level.”

Public-private partnerships lead the way for broadband expansion in Minnesota

From fixed wireless to fiber, cooperative partners to legacy providers, eight public-private partnership were highlighted to illustrate the many ways Minnesota communities are finding the right Internet solutions to fit their needs. The projects had been funded in part by the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development, which has funded 72 projects totaling more than $65 million and are currently reviewing proposals to grant an additional $20 million. A complete project list can be found at https://mn.gov/deed/programs-services/broadband/grant-program/.

One of the grants featured at the conference was $1.7 million awarded to Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC) to reach Aitkin County, Minnesota’s least-served area. MLEC has partnered with nearby Consolidated Telecommunications Company to bring fiber optic service to year-round residents and draw in new seasonal residents.

OBD Executive Director Danna MacKenzie’s leadership was recognized during a special ceremony during the conference, citing the national award she recently received for “outstanding individuals that identify local broadband needs and apply homegrown solutions.”  MacKenzie received the “National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisor’s “Hero of the Year” award.

“The reason that the Minnesota program has risen to national attention is that all of us working at the ground level are pulling on the same set of oars,” MacKenzie said. “I accepted this award on behalf of everyone in this room. Thank you for your work.”

“Minnesota has a lot to be proud of,” agreed Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement at Blandin Foundation. “We are beginning to see the impact that creative broadband partnerships can have in a rural community. We cannot stop. Only by working together will Minnesota realize the full potential of border-to-border broadband.”

For 14 years, Blandin Foundation has tackled rural broadband as a strategic priority, positioning it as a national leader and partner in community broadband leadership development and adoption. Partnering with more than 75 communities, the Foundation has invested more than $9 million in rural Minnesota’s capability to design and claim their future, one enabled by high-speed Internet and the digital literacy to put it to work for all residents.

A full archive of conference sessions is at www.blandinonbroadband.org

-END-

About Blandin Foundation: Blandin Foundation works for vibrant rural Minnesota communities by investing in community leaders and working with partners to expand opportunity for all residents. Located in Grand Rapids, Minn., it is one of only a handful of foundations in the U.S. focused exclusively on rural communities and the largest rural-based private foundation in Minnesota. Information on Blandin Foundation grant-making, leadership development programs and public policy initiatives: www.blandinfoundation.org. Information about the Blandin Broadband Communities Program: http://broadband.blandinfoundation.org

Media contact:

Blandin Foundation

Allison Ahcan, Director of Communications

C: 218-259-2893 Arahcan@blandinfoundation.org Blog http://outposts.blandinfoundation.org and http://www.blandinonbroadband.org

Twitter @BlandinFound

Digital Divide Index scores for all MN Counties – a MN Broadband Conference highlight

Last week’s Minnesota Broadband conference was so content rich, I thought I might post some of the highlights this week at a more leisurely pace.

A top highlight was Roberto Gallardo’s presentation – The Digital Age: So What? (You can see Roberto’s slides and video presentation.)

Roberto walked us through the impact and growing speed of technological changes to set the stage for looking at counties in Minnesota to see whether we are prepared for the digital age. Specifically he looks at

  • Infrastructure and Adoption (Do people have access to broadband and do they use it?)
  • Socioeconomic factors (age, poverty, education,
  • Combines those to get a DDI number

The higher the number the bigger the digital divide. You can learn a lot from the numbers in terms of planning a strategy to combat digital  – if you’re Infrastructure number is high – you need better infrastructure. If you’re Socioeconomic number is high, you may need more digital inclusion programs.

Minnesota scoring is:

  • DDI – 21.51
  • Socioeconomic – 41.37
  • Infrastructure – 21.02

Roberto shared county profiles for all Minnesota counties.

Roberto also took a look at how counties have fared based on their DDI number (or their quartile). He found that counties in the highest quartile (remember higher is bad)

  • Saw the greatest population decline from 2010-2015
  • Saw the greatest decline in establishments
  • Saw the greatest decline in jobs

Check it out and see how your county compares to the rest of Minnesota.

Meeker County is focused on manufacturing – and that means better broadband

According to the Litchfield Independent Review

In an effort to support manufacturing businesses, the Litchfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Meeker County Economic Development Authority have teamed up to bring forth a new manufacturing group logo and concept through Meeker County Made.

Part of that effort is better broadband…

“Another initiative that Meeker County is involved in is working on a stronger broadband presence,” Krueger said.

Jack Maytum, senior business analyst for Design Nine Consulting, was among those present at the luncheon. Design Nine is the consulting agency hired to study Meeker County’s broadband internet presence and determine what’s necessary to keep up with technological advances.

“In 10 or 15 years, we’re going to be at the point where dial-up internet used to be,” Krueger said. “This analysis is all about what your businesses need for the future.”

Taking steps forward to provide the best outcomes for manufacturing businesses across Meeker County, Meeker County Made, the speakers said, hopes to bring national recognition to an industry that has provided a careers to a great number of the population as well as economic growth.

Matt Schmit asks for a concerted effort to create a One Minnesota push

Former Senator, Matt Schmit asks Minnesota to look to history with the Greater Minnesota Corporation in 1987 and Blandin Foundation in 2003 (to present) for lessons on how to invest in rural area to invest in Minnesota’s future. His editorial was recently posted in MinnPost.

Here’s a brief excerpt…

Whether serving the urban core or rural reaches, through state agency, philanthropy, or public-private partnership, a critical component of the 1987 approach involved the idea of statewide “One Minnesota” capacity building – for local communities, organizations, and collaborations to better understand problems, pursue solutions, and make meaningful change.

As a modern example of model capacity building, consider the decade-plus investment the Blandin Foundation has made through its Broadband Communities Program. Since 2003, over 70 communities and 110 organizations have benefited from focused work establishing local technology goals, measuring broadband access and use, and leveraging technical assistance and resources to drive progress.

Without this planning, preparation, and investment in local capacity, Minnesota’s nation-leading Border-to-Border Broadband competitive grant fund – which was established in 2014 and has since extended the reach of high-speed internet access to approximately 30,000 hard-to-reach homes and businesses – never could have inspired the 150-plus applications the program received through its first three competitive rounds or the high quality of its nearly 75 funded proposals.

And her reminds us to look forward…

While Minnesota faces pronounced but nonetheless familiar geographic differences in culture, politics, and socioeconomic conditions – as well as mounting challenges in access and affordability for such essentials as health care, college and career advancement, broadband utilization, child care and early learning, and workforce and affordable housing — we all have a part to play in promoting constructive dialogue and actionable solutions.

As we embark upon a critical year ahead, in which candidates for governor and Legislature will share their respective ideas for guiding Minnesota’s future, here’s hoping history will inspire a redoubled effort toward investment in a vision for One Minnesota built to succeed for the next 30 years – and beyond.

House Judiciary Committee to hold Nov 1 hearing on net neutrality, antitrust issues

A heads up on an important meeting on Nov 1 from the Benton Foundation

House Judiciary Committee to hold Nov 1 hearing on net neutrality, antitrust issues

House Judiciary Committee, Independence Avenue and South Capitol Street Rayburn House Office Building — 2141, Washington, DC, 20003, United States

The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on network neutrality and the role of antitrust for Nov 1. The Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law, which will hold the hearing, has not released details, but the event is likely to address concerns that internet service providers stifle competition. The hearing comes as Republicans in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) put their finishing touches on a plan to scrap net neutrality. The agency has not released a timeline for when it will release and vote on the final version of Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to roll back the rules, but telecommunication insiders speculate that a vote could come as soon as December.

How can broadband help with the opioid crisis?

Yesterday at the Border to Border MN Broadband conference, Broadband Task Force member Maureen Ideker said her goal was to find a way for broadband to help with the opioid crisis. Maureen is a nurse and has been involved with telehealth for a long time; I remember when she spoke to the original Task Force as an expert in 2009. Thinking that broadband could prevent opioid addiction seemed like a big,  but fantastic, ask.

Then I remembered just the day before Chuck Olsen (Visual) talked about how virtual reality (VR) was more effective with pain management than morphine. In a test 10 years ago, they used VR to distract a veteran while he was being treated for burns. VR reduced his pain by 50 percent; morphine will only reduce pain by 30 percent.

You can see how it works below

Perusing the literature, it sounds like the health care profession has been using VR for acute pain for a while and it looks like more work is being done to help with chronic pain too. Keeping patients away from opioids is clearly a big step to solving the problem.

Pain Pathways Magazine noted…

While Dr. Gromala acknowledges that opioids have their place, she also believes that any tool she can offer patients to better manage their pain that isn’t an opioid is important. Since the late 1990s, some studies have shown that VR reduced the need for opioids in patients who had acute pain and who used VR during very painful procedures.

“If we can achieve the same results for chronic pain, that would be a game changer,“ she states.

And the doctors approve…

The medical community has been surprisingly positive about VR. For acute pain, VR has become commercially available in the last two years or so. It will take a little more time for VR for chronic pain to become accessible, but it’s already in the hands of some pain experts. The technology is still not as stable as Dr. Gromala’s team would like, and it’s incredibly expensive to develop what she refers to as “content.” But VR researchers, pain doctors and other health providers have been forming networks to speed up development and access.

“Based on the response I have when I present my research at medical and especially pain conferences, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for VR. Now we have to do the hard work of figuring out how to integrate VR in health care systems,” states Dr. Gromala.

The key is access to the technology – and for folks in remote areas, especially folks who might be difficult to move, broadband is part of the answer!

$2.57 million in tax abatement bonds proposed for broadband in Nobles County

The Worthington Globe reports…

After months of discussing funding options for Lismore Cooperative Telephone Company (LCTC) to cash-flow the construction of a multi-million dollar broadband project in Nobles County, commissioners on Tuesday authorized the issuance of $2.57 million in taxable general obligation tax abatement bonds.

Under state law, notification to owners of property included in the tax abatement project isn’t required. Property owners will not see any difference in their tax statements compared to those who don’t have property listed in the abatement.

Mark Loosbrock, representing LCTC, said the sale of the tax abatement bonds will “work in our cash flow very well.”

The resolution authorizing the bonds was approved on a 4-0 vote, with Commissioner Gene Metz abstaining because of his position on the board of LCTC.

The projected interest rate on the bonds is slightly less than 3 percent, said Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson, and will be repaid over a 15-year period by LCTC.