The use of CARES funding for broadband development is a very hot topic right now. Cities, counties, townships and school districts are all increasingly recognizing broadband access and digital equity concerns magnified by COVID-19. The short timelines and vague guidelines have caused great confusion and uncertainty across Minnesota and beyond. I am rarely at a loss for offering advice, but the possibility of claw-back by the federal government for misspent CARES funding is a real concern.
Barbara Droher Klein, superstar volunteer/part-time staff for the Le Sueur County Blandin Broadband Communities initiative, talked about how they are approaching this opportunity. They are utilizing existing fiber and tower assets to almost immediately launch some fixed wireless services in and around LeCenter and along Highway 169. They are also working to expand existing fiber to the home deployments to reach more homes, including some that were disqualified due to an incumbent’s challenge. Barbara reports that these folks are ecstatic to learn that they will get fiber to the home when they thought that they would be stuck with slower DSL while their neighbors enjoyed gigabit connections.
Dakota County requested letter of interest from the provider community and received a good response from a number of providers. The county board will be reviewing those responses and setting budgets and pursuing formal partnerships. Dakota County has used their 300+ mile fiber network to increase public access at parks, libraries and government buildings in an attempt to address access questions.
Some governments are frustrated with the short timelines and restrictive rules that limit flexibility and long-term thinking. There was some discussion that there could be an extension of timelines or new COVID response legislation. We will have to see what happens in Washington or St. Paul.
This was the last of the Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtables. Hope to see you participate in the Minnesota Broadband Conference in October!
In today’s Blandin Community Leadership Roundtable, Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) presented and discussed local community ownership models being implemented across the country as a way to bring the highest speed, lowest cost Internet services to their citizens. He also talked about the network as a community asset to promote economic development and digital equity initiatives. Scott County was cited as a model for economic development in using its network assets to attract data hungry companies. Chattanooga TN was recognized for using its network to provide broadband services to all of its citizens during the pandemic. We learned about how Dakota County is continuously seeking partnerships with other providers to expand and fortify its network.
Next week, in the final episode of this series, we will focus on what Minnesota local units of government are doing with CARES funding to further broadband access and adoption. Barbara Droher Kline, Le Sueur County’s Blandin Broadband Communities leader, will showcase how Le Sueur County is using its broadband planning efforts to allocate county funds and amplify Blandin funding.
Today, the Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable participants heard from Nathan Zacharias, representing the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition about the new statewide broadband speed test. With large numbers of participants, Minnesota will be able to create a new broadband map that demonstrates the availability and use of high speed Internet. The new map will also show where high-speed broadband is not available. Large numbers of tests will increase the validity of the maps. The software system has a built-in feature that provides the required number of tests to ensure statistically valid information.
While there is clear value for this tool at the state level, there is huge value at the local level. Cities, townships and school districts can use this information in their own broadband planning and development programs as well as for digital equity initiatives. Local efforts to promote and complete the speed test will provide clear evidence that supports grant applications and local leadership.
For complete information, go to the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition website at http://mnruralbroadbandcoalition.com/speedtest .
Next week, August 18th at 9 am, Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (www.ilsr.org) will lead a discussion about public engagement in broadband network development. Join us.
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Thanks to Michael Curri of Strategic Networks Group (www.sngroup.com) for a very interesting and informative presentation on the uses of data to justify broadband investments. Every stakeholder group – community members, business owners, elected officials, broadband providers, funders – has a unique set of Return on Investment measures by which they will consider participation and measure success. Michael’s presentation provides an overview of those measures.
Participants raised many questions about broadband investment, including discussion of a changed mindset that would treat broadband infrastructure more like roads, a part of the public investment strategy to supports economic development. We also talked about the economic and business benefits to increased broadband and technology sophistication. An interesting point was made about that jobs created by a rural-based company may now be filled by people who are working online from another location. We often think about remote rural workers teleworking to jobs in the metro area; the Internet is a two-way street which reinforces the need to build a local knowledge workforce.
Congratulations to Becky Lourey and her company Nemadji. After years of seeking better broadband, they are about to get it through a new fiber extension by SCI, a regional broadband provider in east central Minnesota. As a result, Nemadji will now have a redundant Internet connection and all residents of Bruno, population 102 in northern Pine County, will have fiber to the home Internet services!
Next week, August 4th, Bernadine Joselyn will lead a presentation and discussion about the new Connected MN program and how that will benefit Minnesota students in the months ahead. Register at broadband.blandinfoundation.org under the webinar heading.
Join us Tuesday, June 28th at 9 am for the next Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable where Michael Curri of Strategic Networks Group will participate in a discussion of broadband data necessary to justify a broadband investment. Strategic Networks Groups has worked with many states and cities gathering and analyzing broadband related data.
SNG has recently been studying how various stakeholder groups can effectively measure their own Return on Investment for broadband investment. Learn what what data are needed to make the case for broadband and to build local buy-in or to get projects funded and financed?
Everyone that invests their time, money, and/or effort needs to see returns based on their terms – which vary depending on the stakeholder group and what they are bringing to the table. Elected officials, local champions and organizations, service providers, investors, government funding will be discussed and what each need to move forward in terms of data, commitments, or opportunity.
Bring your data questions for Michael. Register now.
I asked Nokia’s Brian Pickering about Doug Dawson’s timely Pots and Pans 5G blog post today. Brian shared this response with me and Blandin on Broadband blog readers. You can see Brian’s presentation to our Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable here:
This has been a heavy debated topics with the big operators, cable industry and others. The discussion has always centered around the business case for 5G – number of house covered, uptake of customers per cell site, etc vs trenching fiber to the house or through a subdivision.
mmWave and cmWave is the best for this solution. mmWave having large bandwidth, but small coverage AND requires an external antenna to receive the signal as the signal will not penetrate the exterior walls. There is a high power CPE coming to the market in the 2H 2020, which may eliminate the outdoor antenna. cmWave is great for the coverage, but the speed may be comparable to cable guys, and outdoor antenna is not required.
I have heard from a cable company, they believe 5G to the home is a case by case for deployment – a tool in the tool box. Will use 5G where it makes the most economical sense. With that said, the big cable operators do not have a large amount spectrum yet. Windstream small regional operator has 28Ghz spectrum.
Verizon as you know have pushed 5G to the home and had small success with it. They have launched it in 6 markets, but its very limited in its geographic area. Tmobile stated over a year ago they will go after the cable industry using their 2.5Ghz spectrum, using the same business model and process they do for wireless. The cable guys continue monitor and test 5G to better understand what the telecom guys are doing.
Prior to the pandemic, cellular systems were lightly loaded in residential areas during the day as everyone went to work, traffic picked up in the evening, but overall still not heavily loaded. Verizon looks at 5G to the home as a benefit to the network, as it helps use a lightly loaded network in the evenings or at night.
5G to the home is probably more appealing to the 20 &30 year olds – where they can take it anywhere at any time. Example, my eldest has a 6 month co-op internship, he was not able to get cable at his apartment because the cable company wanted a 1 year contract. So, he is connecting his computer to his cell phone so he can watch Netflix, youtube, etc.
Hope that helps. If you have any questions, please let me know.
Anne Brataas, director of the Minnesota’s Children Press and other enterprises, was our guest presenter. She described how she is active in the Grand Marais community empowering kids age 5-15 with technology and communications skills around community messaging. There is a strong focus on entrepreneurship so that kids develop both skills and attitude to achieve economic self-sufficiency. Most recently, the kids have been creating messaging around community health during the pandemic for residents and visitors to Grand Marais. Using marketing strategies borrowed from Burma Shave, they find sign sponsors, create the verbiage, and make and install the signs. Profits go to community projects like a new cover for the practice rolling log at the YMCA or a new sun shield at a local park.
The discussion included active conversation about the current pressures on local newspapers, many of which are cutting the number of papers published per week, including the Duluth paper. Becky Lourie noted that many of the articles in her very local papers in northern Pine and Carlton County are written by citizen journalists. We also talked about the ability of local media, especially with active youth involvement, to address the gaps of information around local history, including a focus on indigenous people and other people of color. Anne calls this “whole history.” Finally, we had an active social justice discussion on the uneven impact of the pandemic on people based on race and economic status.
Next Tuesday, July 14 at 9 am, we will talk about 5G. Brian Pickering will be our guest expert. Brian is Nokia’s Vice President of 5G Product Sales North America. This is a great opportunity to learn about how 5G technologies and services might impact your community’s broadband services and the way that your residents, organizations and businesses use technology. (See slides.)
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In today’s Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable, Ann Treacy and Molly Solberg, each a social media wizard, shared how they work with local businesses to expand and improve their online marketing efforts resulting in increased sales. The theme today was Small Scale Economic Development Strategies. Through a combination of training, networking events and one-on-one technical assistance, they work with businesses to implement social media strategies.
They help the businesses establish goals, determine the most effective set of social media platforms and do the necessary work. Molly noted her use of customized step-by-step powerpoint checklists that help to establish a disciplined approach that help a business stay on course. Bud Stone of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce noted the importance and the difficulty of a sustained effort. Ann Treacy said that she sometimes works to develop long-term community capacity by training a local person while assisting small businesses. Communities need to consider small business technology mentoring as a core business retention and expansion strategy. The benefits can be large, especially if the community can develop a core set of tech-savvy small businesses. Thanks to Ann and Molly for sharing!
The June 16 Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable discussion centered on social media practices in Community Broadband Initiatives. I did a brief history overview beginning with Google Fiber and their community competition and went up through today’s collaborative environment with friendly providers’ use of fiberhood survey practices. From there, the conversation went to a more general overview of successful social media strategies. We talked Facebook. Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Next-door and TikTok. Multiple folks chimed in with both successes and challenges of the use of social media in communicating with customers and community members. We talked extensively about magnifying your social media strategies by re-tweeting, liking posts, tagging and hash tagging. We also had a good conversation about the need to ensure accuracy of your own posts and to work to fight disinformation. Thanks to all who chimed in! It made it a very interesting conversation.
On Tuesday June 23, we will talk about the rapid emergence of telehealth in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. To contribute to the conversation, find out what is now available from your own health care network or even bring your own tele-health care experience!
Thanks to Matt Fulton of Polco (www.polco.us) (email@example.com) for an excellent presentation on the Polco community engagement platform. The survey tool allows local units of governments and other entities to quickly and easily set up surveys to gather community input on any topic. The basic Polco platform is free to use and Polco offers upgraded features for a fee. It is easy to embed the surveys right on a web site or blog or newsletter. Results can be seen by geography or demographics. Survey respondents can be verified through a registration function which also enables the results by neighborhood features.
There was great interest and questions by roundtable participants. There was a question around privacy and the verification process. The verification process guarantees that people are not voting multiple times and provides geo-coding oof results. People do not have to use the verification process, but some functionality is lost. There were also questions about how community organizations could use the tool for organizing and informing citizens about issues like water quality and youth engagement. There was also discussion about the need to write good survey questions – Polco has some online tools as well as examples to guide survey development. There were also concerns about how representative poll results might be if there is an unrepresentative sample of survey respondents. Organizers can check the demographic and geographic representation of the responses and actively market the survey to increase the responses to make it more representative of the community. There are also ways to use Polco to do a random sample survey rather than an open poll on the community web site or Facebook page. With so many public entities now using Zoom meetings and more limited opportunities for public input, online tools used correctly can play a signifiant role in filling the participation gap.
Next Tuesday morning at 9 am, June 16, we will take a look at some examples of the use of social media in community broadband organizing. If your community is making effective use of online communications to spur your broadband projects, please send me some links so that I can look at them in advance. Thanks for your help on this!
The next Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable will feature a presentation by Matt Fulton of Polco. According to their website, “Polco’s civic engagement platform makes meaningful communication between community leaders and the people they serve not only possible, but enjoyable.” See more at www.polco.us . Be prepared to share how your community is using online tools to engage citizens and the benefits and challenges of that engagement. The Blandin broadband team will share its experience of moving it Blandin Broadband Communities project development process online. Join us Tuesday, June 9 at 9 am by registering here: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJwoc-2qrDotHNMilSss2LwHaw92XEhj3fqi .
Please share your ideas for future discussion topics to firstname.lastname@example.org
Today, our group learned about the broadband funding available via the federal Economic Development Administration. Thanks to Robin Weiss and Jay Trusty from Southwest RDC for their excellent overview of the program. You can also find a summary on the Blandin on Broadband blog.
Here are links to Development Commissions: http://www.mnado.org/contact/
- Lots of money – grants available up to $30 million
- Grants are first come-first served so haste is required
- The Regional Development Commissions are the best gateway to these dollars
- Grants can require little (20%) to no match ($0)
- Dollars can be used for broadband infrastructure or technology technical assistance, including adoption and use activities
- Economic development considerations are important
- There seems to be significant opportunity for all kinds of collaborative efforts on both construction and non-construction activities. The RDCs are talking about this.
- It would be great to leverage DEED Border to Border dollars to get more federal dollars.
Next week, we will hear from Matt Fulton of POLCO (www.polco.com) who will showcase a cool technology for community engagement with local government. Join us at 9 am on Tuesday morning.
Join a group of community broadband advocates for their weekly broadband discussion. Next week, we will start the discussion with information on the federal Department of Commerce’s available broadband funding. This program was covered in the Blandin on Broadband blog recently. The dollars are available on a rolling basis so haste is required to get it. We will talk about program rules and processes and possible strategies for consideration. Maybe some opportunities for collaboration!
Once we wear out the above topic, we can shift to any other topics that attendees want to talk about. Bring your ideas and questions. Click here for to join us – or register in advance.
I was happy that on the Tuesday morning after the Memorial Day holiday we had a dozen folks discussing community efforts to spur broadband adoption and user sophistication. Using the Intelligent Community framework as a guide, I showcased some of the projects that our Blandin Broadband Communities have implemented over the past several years.
For the broadband pillar, I highlighted public wi-fi offered at the Chisholm Pocket Park, Rock County campgrounds, wi-fi on school buses and improved wi-fi at libraries. For knowledge workforce, I talked about Leech Lake’s computer training tied to their workforce program, Swift County’s online welding program, and Red Wing’s Coder Dojo after-school program and Fond du Lac’s summer app camp for kids. Digital Equality efforts highlighted PCs for People, Hibbing HRA’s broadband project in housing that they operate and Winona’s longstanding to connect new Americans with college students for computer training. Innovation projects included multiple efforts at one-to-one business technology audits and counselling, Access North’s installation of Smart Home technology for older adults and those with disabilities and Hibbing’s use of iPads in health care. Finally, in advocacy/marketing, I talked about Red Wing’s community calendar and web portal and Cannon Falls “Cannon Roots” branding campaign.
There was active discussion among participants about the implementation strategies for these projects as well as talk about the challenging task about how to make them sustainable once grant funds expire. Participants also spoke about how the COVID-19 pandemic has multiplied the benefits of these projects and accelerated adoption.
Great thanks to Robin Weiss of Southwest MN RDC for discussion about the new funds available through the federal Department of Commerce EDA program which can support new infrastructure and adoption and use. The Blandin blog has a nice post on this program with all of the links.
Join us June 2nd at 9 am for our next roundtable discussion when we will focus on this EDA program and generate some ideas and strategies for applications.
On Tuesday May 19, Blandin Foundation hosted a Broadband Leadership Roundtable discussion focused on selecting private sector broadband partners. I started the conversation by asking participants to list some of the characteristics that they want to see in a broadband partner. Responsiveness, transparency, community engagement, longevity and established reputation. Several people indicated that they were looking for a provider who put “people over profit.”
That list alone demonstrated that it is important for communities to create a shared perspective on what makes a good partner. “People over profits” may point to the need for a public sector entity or a cooperative. It is interesting to note that “fast speeds” or “cheap prices” did not make this list.
Blandin Foundation has published a list of principles for partner selection and partnership development. They are:
- Complementary mission, values, and culture
- Commitment to inclusion
- Mutual trust and respect
- Balance of power and sharing of resources
- Clear, open, and accessible communication
- Continuous partnership improvement
- Established partnership roles, norms, and processes
- Reality-based and action-oriented
- Willingness to share credit
- Long-term and flexible perspective
Two providers on the call indicated that they look for community engagement as a key indicator of a good community partner. If communities can fill a room for a community meeting or if they can get a good turnout for a community broadband survey, that is a good sign. If a community can provide even a small financial contribution to a project, even as little as one percent, that is a great sign. One provider indicated that communities should seek to include multiple providers in coming up with their connectivity solution when possible.
We shifted topics to talk about an exciting new digital inclusion effort under development to ensure that kids have devices and connectivity when school starts in the fall. Look for more information on this project soon.
Next Tuesday, May 26, we will talk about best practices in community broadband adoption. In other words, once you have a network, what is your community going to do with it! Learn about what some communities are doing through the Blandin Broadband Communities program. A key lesson – most projects don’t take much money to be successful and to positively change your community!