About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

MN Job Growth Committee meets today at noon (May 21) – broadband in the budget

The Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance committee is meeting today at noon (or at call of the chair) at 1100 Minnesota Senate Building.

Looking at latest SF 1456 Conference Committee materials there’s $20 million for broadband. And $250,000 a year from DEED…

25.13 Subd. 8. Broadband Development
25.14 (a) $20,000,000 in fiscal year 2018 is for
25.15 deposit in the border-to-border broadband fund
25.16 account in the special revenue fund established
25.17 under Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396.
25.18 (b) $250,000 each year is for the Broadband 25.19 Development Office.

And $100,000 a year for Administrative services

35.3 Subd. 4. Administrative Services
….
35.6 (b) $100,000 each year is for the support of
35.7 broadband development.

It doesn’t look like this will be broadcast.

RS Fiber starts broadband construction on final four cities Brownton, Buffalo Lake, Fairfax, and Stewart

According to the RS Fiber website

RS Fiber Cooperative (RS Fiber) begin the final stage of its state-of-the-art fiber-optic network next month.

Plans to begin construction to link the cities of Brownton, Buffalo Lake, Fairfax, and Stewart to the RS Fiber network is scheduled to start by the end of June. Those cities will join six others (Gaylord, Gibbon, Green Isle, Lafayette, New Auburn, and Winthrop) who have been connected to the network since the project began in June 2015.

To date, RS Fiber is serving more than 1,100 customers. Customers connected directly to the fiber network are receiving TV, telephone, and Internet services with speeds up to 1 Gbps. Some customers receive services through RS Air which delivers wireless broadband Internet to homes and farms in more than 17 townships over a network of 13 towers. RS Fiber general manager Toby Brummer is expecting to have over 2,000 customers connected to the network and enjoying super-fast gigabit speeds by the end of the year.

Bemidji MN innovates and reinvents with focus on future and a little fiber

Yesterday I went with the Blandin team and the Iron Range Broadband Communities to Bemidji to talk about innovation and reinvention. The meeting wasn’t all about broadband – but I wanted to share notes – because it was a great opportunity for attending communities to learn from a community that very intentionally set goals and met them. Part of that was getting and using broadband but to a larger degree it was about getting the community to take continued and renewing responsibility for the community future.

The day started with a presentation from Jim Benson (former Bemidji State University president) on how Greater Bemidji planned from their future. The created a vision of what they wanted to be and then worked toward it. They began with a meeting to figure out their expertise, passion and hopes. Leaders stepped up at the meeting and they have been meeting monthly for 15 years.

One lesson was the importance of language and intentionality. One quick example is that they wanted to work on a 4-land highway from the Twin Cities to Bemidji – not a highway to the Cities. Also and at least as important is the continued effort. They meet goals and set new ones – which keeps the motion forward.

We heard from a few folks who have worked on efforts in the community to spur innovation, invention and entrepreneurship:

Bemidji TEDx
They held first event in April (2017). Limited to 100 attendees but livestream viewers were up to 650. Learned that the most curious people are often the more involved in a community so TEDx has been a way to gather and cultivate curious people. They will be releasing videos in June. (There’s apparently one on broadband in rural communities and I’m looking forward to that!!)

Gig Gamers
Gaming has been a way to really pound the heck out the gig access. They held an event (sponsored by Paul Bunyan) where 28 teams participated. It got the attention of very techie people. Builds local techie skills. This year 23 people applied for internships at Paul Bunyan this year – based on recognition from the gaming event. Previously they had not been such a hot spot for interns.

The idea of a gaming event seemed crazy but the folks in charge approved whole heartedly and now it’s made an impact.

Launch Pad – Coworking space

There are 35 coworkers in the space. Rural coworking is rare – but internationally it’s big. Transplants to Bemidji made the transition easily. It’s a place for meetings. It saves people from isolation. It provides resources and motivation.

Used Million cups as a model to create a weekly meeting for entrepreneur that suits Bemidji. They have 35-50 people come each week.

Hackfest

Bemidji hosted a hackfest to bring techies together with a problem to solve. They had 9 teams. At night there was a game design challenge. Kids loved that! The next day was a more traditional hackfest.

PCs for People

They distribute refurbished computers. Working with Blandin, they have been able to bring computers to rural communities. Sometimes those computers go to households, maybe a public computer center, key nonprofits or used a rewards to get people to participation in digital inclusion training or other efforts.

GigaZone – Steve Howard from Paul Bunyan
Steve talked about the power of gig economy from the provider perspective. It has been an investment for the company (and a big one at that) but they are happy with their decision to invest.

They have found some ways to be the economy of fiber optic infrastructure work?

  • Economies of scale
  • Reduced transit costs
  • Reduced backhaul costs (DWDM)

He had some advice for how to attract a rural broadband provider?

  • Get data and do a survey – map the results!
  • Economic development staff and community champions
  • Identify needs
  • Identify how much money people are willing to pay
  • Map the results and get them in front of the providers.
  • Be responsive when communicating with providers
  • Consider grant funding – offer to help get letters of support and assist with applications
  • Be polite but professionally persistent

We ended the tour with a stop at Bemidji Brewing to hear about how the story of how those owners decided to move to Bemidji to start their brewery. They actively looked at communities all over Minnesota. Part of the decision was based on the “up north” feel of the area but support from the community was important as well.

50 innovative ideas – MN gets nod for rural broadband plan

Fast Company just published a list of “50 projects that are really making America great again” – one for each state. Minnesota gets a mention for the Border to Border broadband grants.

Minnesota
A high-speed hookup for rural residents
More of Minnesota will soon have access to what’s become a necessity: reliable, affordable high-speed internet. In January, the state announced its latest Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant to expand service to some 16,000 households and 2,000 businesses in underserved areas.

Not all of the ideas were technology related – but here are the ones that were (with abbreviated decsritions)…

Arkansas
A push for faster classrooms
The state’s effort to bring high-speed internet to all K–12 schools will be complete by summer. …
Delaware
A statewide embrace of blockchain
With last year’s Delaware Blockchain Initiative, the state became the first to adopt distributed-ledger technology, to underpin its public archives. …

 

Virginia
A technology employer for all
Richmond’s Maxx Potential is a five-year-old tech company whose workers are paid (starting at $12 an hour) to learn on the job. …

 

Connecticut
A help desk for citizens
New Haven resident Ben Berkowitz created the SeeClickFix app to allow locals to quickly report nonemergency issues (broken meters and streetlights, potholes, and even excessive noise from ice-cream trucks). …

 

New Hampshire
A bridge with a mind of its own
… sensors along the span that gather data on everything from structural soundness and traffic patterns to the effect of the bridge on the marine life below.

 

New York
A big-city tech-talent pipeline
…steeps students in digital product development and entrepreneurial thinking while giving them an appreciation for the real-world needs of society…

 

Kansas
A lifeline for rural hospitals
… a tech platform that connects remote clinics with primary and specialty care from bigger facilities, eliminating the need for long drives or costly transfers….

 

Missouri
A database for smart cities
…opened its data to residents so that they can access traffic patterns and find available parking spots. It’s also sharing its information with other cities to help them develop best practices.

 

Nebraska
A digital connection for seniors and their families
…LifeLoop, a web-based platform that connects employees at senior-care facilities directly with residents’ families. The LifeLoop site offers relatives real-time updates on their loved ones’ daily activities, along with the ability to send messages to staff…

 

Colorado
A marketplace for adventure
…inviting ski coaches, yoga experts, musicians, and more to list their services on its app and find eager clients. The app, which has developed a robust community with more than 1,000 experiences in the Denver area, is setting its sights on nationwide expansion.

 

Idaho
A new lens for nature lovers
… an online platform that provides emerging shutterbugs with a million-person community and tools to perfect and sell their work, including online photo tutorials and preset Lightroom-editing filters.

 

Oregon
A housing service that doesn’t discriminate
…NoAppFee.com, a platform that runs a background check on applicants and returns a list of buildings guaranteed to approve them.

 

Wyoming
A map of the natural world
… an interactive mapping system that encourages outdoor enthusiasts to contribute on-the-ground info and photos of the state’s trails. ..

Sen. Franken Slams FCC, Calling Vote to Undo Net Neutrality “A Major Step Toward Destroying the Internet As We Know It

Sharing the press release from Senator Franken…

WASHINGTON, D.C. [05/18/17]—Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) preliminary vote—which was decided on a 2-1 party-line basis—to get rid of the rules that protect net neutrality threatens to destroy the internet as we know it.

“Make no mistake: the FCC just took a major step toward destroying the internet as we know it, putting the interests of a handful of giant corporations like Comcast and Verizon ahead of the American people,” Sen. Franken said. “For as long as the internet has existed, it’s been grounded on the principle of net neutrality—meaning what you read, see, or watch on the internet shouldn’t be favored, blocked, or slowed down based on where that content is coming from. Net neutrality allows Minnesota’s small businesses to compete with the big guys, it drives innovation by putting entrepreneurs on the same playing field with large companies, and it protects Americans’ free speech. The truth is there’s no good reason to get rid of strong net neutrality protections, unless you want to give giant companies the power to shake-down consumers and small businesses even more by establishing fast and slow lanes. This is a terrible idea, and it’s never been more important for us mobilize and fight back to stop the FCC—and the large corporations who are behind this attack—from destroying the free and open internet that all Americans deserve.”

Sen. Franken has long been a leading champion of net neutrality, calling it the free speech issue of our time. And yesterday, he took to the Senate floor to defend a free and open internet. You can watch Sen. Franken’s speech by clicking here.

Minnesota hosts National Net Inclusion conference – and we got to show off a little

I spent the last two days attending the National Digital Inclusion Alliance Net Inclusion conference in St Paul. Actually I spent a good chunk of the last couple months helping to plan for the conference. It brought about 200 practitioners and researchers to the area. We learned about what’s going on in other places and we got to show off some of the things Minnesota is doing right. They have PowerPoints and other materials from the conference on the website – so I won’t detail the conference as I often would but thought I’d touch on some high level points and a few stories that struck me.

I hear a lot about the three-legged stool of digital inclusion:

  • Access to equipment
  • Training
  • Affordable broadband

Turns out Minnesota has some pretty good solutions for addressing each.

Access to Equipment – PCs for People

I have written about PCs for People before. They take donated computer, refurbish them and distribute them to low income folks. One story we all love was in Lac qui Parle County. PC for People was distributing computers through the school in December. One woman with tears in her eyes thanked the volunteers as she explained that now she didn’t have to choose between food or Christmas presents. They also repair computers affordably and offer some quick and dirty support to get people started on their computers.

PCs for People is branching out. They are working in other areas such as Denver and Kansas City. They have a good model (for collection, refurbishing, distribution) and it’s working other places.

Training – Northstar Digital Standards

I’ve done a lot of training – how to build a website, use social media, remember the password your grandson used to set up your Hotmail. We all want to build our own curriculum. We might start by borrowing heavily from someone else’s but I think most of us want to have some ownership – we want our own examples. So I’m always a little jaded when it comes to shared curriculum. The Northstar Digital Standards isn’t a curriculum (well they have curriculum too), it’s a set of standards around which you can build a curriculum – like school standards. And it sets a bar that helps folks in the industry – trainers, students and potential employers understand what it means to have received the “email” certificate.

Trainers use testing to figure out where a student in on the ladder of digital inclusion sophistication. Do you know how to use a mouse? Can email with ease? Build a spreadsheet in your sleep? Once that benchmark has been set a student can start learning at a place and pace that’s appropriate for them. There is curriculum you can use of again build your own based on the standards. Students pick up various certificates demonstrating proficiency. And employers can use to understand skill sets. Used to be you could give your word-per-minute typing proficiency and get hired based on that – not a certificate works. Northstar is being used in a number of places in and out of Minnesota. Some attendees got to see it in action on the site tour to PPL. (I did a post earlier about the site tours where attendees bused of walked to various places around the Twin Cities with digital inclusion programs.)

Affordable Access – Office of Broadband Development

The conference was not rural-focused. Many attendees were from urban areas and we heard from Mobile Citizen, which has options for low cost service and Comcast Internet Essentials was a sponsor. But when it came to access for rural areas – the Minnesota got a nice nod for $65 million invested in broadband grants in the last few years and the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development got a nice nod for distributing funds throughout state.

There was also a heated discussion on the FCC and future of Net Neutrality. A lot of discussion on data and what we can learn from evaluation. Evaluation is hard – especially for folks on the frontlines. I don’t that’s a technology-only issue but to make the case to funder and policy makers assessment and evaluation is key.

MN HF 739 small cell equipment placement permission passes in House

Yesterday I attended the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy meeting on HF739 small cell equipment placement. They have had a few meetings. It’s a contentious issue. Wireless providers want to have easier access to place small cell wireless equipment in public rights of way to facilitate deployment of 5G. Local governments do not want to give up control of local rights of way. It sounds like many hours have been spent with providers and local governments (League of MN Cities) trying to come up with a plan.
Right now wireless providers can get access – but they need to work through each communities. They want a streamlined solution – a solution that it the same for each community. But each community is different.

Minnesota is not alone with this issue. It is also being discussed by the FCC. The big questions

  • If Minnesota comes up with a plan will that stand even if the FCC comes up with a plan?
  • If Minnesota doesn’t come up with a plan will that slow down deployment of 5G?
  • If local folks lose control will that cost local communities? Will equipment become cumbersome, costly to maintain, an insurance/liability threat?
  • Why is 5G getting special treatment when other utilities don’t?

It sounds like the bone of real contention right now is the price being bandied around for access. But the bill passed with the idea that the two side would continue to work to a solution that will make both (or neither) happy.

(House Summary)

I’m on the road and trying to catch up – I took pretty complete notes below but I’m not going to proof much, especially since there’s video too… Continue reading