The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society released a new report than in many ways reads like a latest version of a US broadband plan – or more like an invitation to create a new broadband plan. It’s very detailed and (unabashedly) looks at the positive impact of broadband. I thought I’d write about the report at least twice because there’s so much going on. Today I thought I’d pull out the parts that mention Minnesota.
Blandin gets a nod in the first new pages…
Leadership does not, of course, come only from government, but from community-focused organizations as well. For example, the Blandin Foundation focuses on strengthening rural Minnesota, including by supporting and measuring the impact of broadband in rural communities—measurements that found concrete economic benefits such as income growth resulting from broadband deployment.1
And then in a profile later in the report…
Building and revitalizing strong communities is hard work. It takes leadership, reaching across boundaries, and building lasting connections. For over 16 years, the Blandin Foundation has included broadband deployment and adoption in its efforts to build healthy and vibrant rural communities in Minnesota.
Blandin has been a trusted partner with, and advocate for, rural Minnesota since 1941. Drawing from this deep history of relationships, Blandin has partnered with dozens of rural communities and funded hundreds of projects to enhance quality of life and place.
In one of Blandin’s biggest and most impactful efforts, it implemented the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) project with a combination of $4.8 million in funds from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and $1.5 million in matching funds from project partners.
MIRC was a three-year project (2010–13); a multi-sector, comprehensive approach to promote broadband adoption that targeted un- and underemployed workers, non-adopters, low-income residents, small businesses, local governments, and critical services providers.
Eleven demonstration communities brought MIRC to every corner of rural Minnesota. This cross section of cities, towns, counties, and multi-county regions—with a total population of 250,000 people and population density ranging from 4 to 1,700 people per square mile— gave the project the opportunity to test the impact of education, training, and outreach efforts within communities of varying populations, size, and social and economic profiles. Further, the communities had a wide variety of telecommunications infrastructure and services, ranging from municipally owned and operated networks to duopoly-served markets to legacy providers.
The project used a community and economic development framework, called Intelligent Communities, which establish es five core community characteristics (broadband connectivity, digital inclusion, knowledge workforce, innovation, and marketing and advocacy).
MIRC set target outcomes that could be measured and monitored—all of which were accomplished or exceeded. In the past six years, Blandin’s Broadband Communities (BBC) program has applied what it learned during the MIRC program to its two-year partnerships with other rural Minnesota communities:
Communities know best and need to engage their citizens directly in articulating and reaching broadband adoption and utilization goals.
Local leadership matters, and leaders need to be trained to frame issues, build and sustain relationships, and mobilize people to build a community’s capacity to achieve its broadband goals.
Intra-community, personalized outreach works for technologically challenged small businesses and for historically marginalized populations.
Peers make great teachers and are a popular, low-cost, and easily sustainable resource to build a community’s technological savvy.
Cross-community communication is key to spurring and sustaining energy and excitement for community broadband projects.
Encourage a next generation of young leaders who can bring energy and sustainability to any community initiative by serving as co-trainers, technology mentors, and partners in computer refurbishment projects—and can use video and other social media to promote their communities.
Connect the economic dots. The “whole picture” Intelligent Community framework for community and economic development used in MIRC can help community leaders see how workforce, infrastructure, inclusivity, innovation, and marketing/ advocacy are mutually interdependent aspects of community vitality.
Have patience. This work takes time. Look for and celebrate early and easy “wins” along the way, but think long-term and build capacity and energy for the long haul. Money and other resources follow vision and commitment.
Then throughout the report, they mention part or aspects of Minnesota’s state speed goals and related legislation…
- By contrast, Minnesota defines “underserved” as any place where “households or businesses lack access to wireline broadband service at speeds of at least 100 megabits per second download and at least 20 megabits per second upload.
- Thus, recent legislation proposals and state programs, like Minnesota’s, target funding to any area that lacks at least 100 Mbps download (the upload numbers vary). That is a good beginning, in part because networks that provide those kinds of speeds (and associated features like low latency and capacious usage) can typically be upgraded at relatively modest costs as demand requires.
- At least twenty states—including Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin—have statewide broadband strategies with dedicated funding to promote deployments.269 Forty-four states have broadband offices, task forces, or legislative committees responsible for facilitating broadband deployments.
- Minnesota has lodged its effort in its Department of Employment and Economic Development, so the state’s program expressly considers the “likely economic impact” of the project alongside evidence of community 38 Chapter 2: Deployment of High-Performance Broadband Networks to Unserved Areas support.271 Minnesota funds deployment in both unserved and underserved locations, and its funds can be used for both last-mile and middle-mile construction.
- To date, Minnesota has funded broadband service to more than 34,000 previously unserved households, 5,200 businesses, and 300 community institutions,274 and 100/20 Mbps service is now available to nearly 75 percent of households.275 Minnesota’s efforts also illustrate the importance of broadband to advancing local economic goals.276 For example, rural tourist destinations in Minnesota have struggled to meet guests’ needs—and even process credit card purchases—because of slow internet connections.277 In Cook County, the state’s second largest county by square miles and a place that needs better broadband to satisfy the demands of tourists, the Arrowhead Electric Cooperative built a network with federal and local funding that provides roughly 95 percent of the county with access to internet with speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps over a fiber-based network.
- Minnesota’s Broadband Task Force Report recommends that the state prioritize funding its regional library systems so that libraries can benefit from “economies of scale providing greater effectiveness, improved quality and access to more resources.”
- The Minnesota Broadband Infrastructure Plan began in 2008 and is reassessed on an annual basis by the legislature as it considers adjustments to the elements codified into law.
Tomorrow (or maybe Monday) I look beyond the Minnesota scope – but it’s always nice to see how Minnesota plays outside state boundaries. And I think we played well.