Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Minnesota’s Children Press archive

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.)

Webinar chat: Continue reading

Broadband Roundtable on small-scale economic development strategies Archive

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!

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable:Social Media for Community Broadband

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!

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable: Polco’s civic engagement platform notes

Thanks to Matt Fulton of Polco (www.polco.us) (matful@polco.us) 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!

EVENT June 9: Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable: Polco’s civic engagement platform

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 broadband@blandinfoundation.org

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable Discussion Notes June 2, 2020

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/

Key learnings:

  • 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.

EVENT June 2: Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable: State broadband funding

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.

 

May 26 Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable Discussion Summary:

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.

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable Summary: selecting private sector broadband partners

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!

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable Summary: Speed Testing

I led off the conversation on Speed Testing with a brief PowerPoint presentation Speed Tests: The What, Why and How (attached), covering what data most speed tests generate: Download Speed; Upload Speed; Ping/Latency; Jitter; and Packet Loss.  I talked about the uses of speed tests for individuals and communities.  I also discussed standard objections of providers to the use of speed tests to illustrate the quality of broadband services and some counterpoints to those sometimes-valid objections.  Finally, I promoted a set off broadband speed test best practices for communities to use.

There was strong participation from the attendees including community leaders, broadband providers and GIS mapping specialists.  At the core, communities are seeking to challenge maps that overstate broadband coverage which makes places ineligible for broadband funding like the FCC RDOF program and the Minnesota Border to Border program.  There was frustration that while providers can simply claim that they provide service to an area, community activists have to provide highly documented data to refute provider claims.  Adding to the injustice is the protocol that allows providers to claim service in an entire census block by providing service to a single location within that block.

We also heard brief updates from Colin Peterson’s congressional staff about new broadband legislation.

Join us next Tuesday at 9 am for our next discussion.

EVENT: May 12 Blandin Roundtable discussion on Broadband Speed Tests

Tuesday morning at 9 am, Blandin Foundation will host the 2nd of its broadband roundtables.  The starter topic is Broadband Speed Tests.  After that, it will be discussion of the topics that are front and center in your mind.  Bring your questions and comments to the conversation.  Register at broadband.blandinfoundation.org and look under the webinar series.

Blandin Broadband Roundtable Roundup: Notes on Rural Development Opportunity Fund from May 5, 2020

From roundtable host, Bill Coleman…

The FCC’s Rural Development Opportunity Fund and the impact of the Frontier bankruptcy were the topics of the day yesterday on the first of a series of broadband roundtable discussions happening every Tuesday morning at 9 am CDT.  Everyone is welcome and you can find the Zoom registration link at broadband.blandinfoundation.org under the webinar heading.

The consensus of participants was that the RDOF reverse auctions will be critical to currently unserved areas broadband future.  The program rewards the deployment of high-speed, low-latency broadband networks which is great.

While the auction will be held this fall, prospective bidders must complete their short-form application soon.  This is a real opportunity for local units of government to plan with their preferred provider partners.  It is important to be listed on the provider’s short-form application due to bidding rules. A community’s best role might be to create a partnership to help providers deploy to the surrounding ineligible areas.

The eligible areas are a patchwork of geography.  The preliminary eligibility map can be found here: https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/maps/auction-904-preliminary-eligible-areas.  The FCC initially declared areas eligible based on their maps using provider supplied data.  Incumbent providers were then able to challenge that eligibility, essentially challenging the data that they had already supplied to the FCC.   You can see a map of those challenged areas here:  https://www.cooperative-networks.com/rdof-challenge-map/ .  The community route to challenge these maps is unclear, possibly requiring outreach to federal elected officials.

You can find some excellent introductory materials about the RDOF process here: https://www.adtran.com/index.php/rdof

Our second discussion topic was about the Frontier bankruptcy.  This process is generally outside of state regulatory processes. It is possible that Frontier will emerge stronger out of bankruptcy with the removal of debt.  Frontier recently sold their exchanges in three states, so we discussed possible buyers here in Minnesota.  We also discussed the relative approaches of an entity purchasing existing Frontier assets and customer base as opposed to simply overbuilding in those areas.  It is possible that Frontier may acquire long-term subsidies via the RDOF process.

The roundtables are a great opportunity to bring both your knowledge and your questions to share with the Blandin team and other community broadband advocates.  We will start our next roundtable with a discussion of speed tests.

Now available – Model Broadband Feasibility Study Request for Proposal

Good information is required for good decision-making, especially when the consequences of those decisions are important and expensive. For community leaders working to improve local broadband services, good information is usually acquired by hiring a consultant to conduct a feasibility study.

Study elements generally include the following: a review of existing networks and services; a market study; technology options; legal structures and/or partnership agreements; operations; and financial projections. The study process should drive decision-making so that on completion, the community has a strategy with committed leadership that leads to the desired goal – better broadband services.

Selecting the right consultant is critical. They need the right mix of technical and financial expertise, plus know how to work with community clients. While private sector providers have a well-defined decision criteria and decision makers, these things are more fluid and complex in a community broadband initiative.

Over the years, Blandin Foundation has funded many broadband feasibility studies. In fact, the demand for grant funds for this purpose has never been higher. We have created a model RFP for communities to use as a base document that should be customized to meet specific community objectives. A focused study scope will yield detailed analysis critical to good decision-making.

You can find the sample RFP and a list of possible consultants on the Blandin Foundation site. 

5G Wireless as Rural Solution: Not any time soon.

bill rightA guest post by Bill Coleman
(Download as White Paper)

5G Wireless as Rural Solution: Not any time soon.

Minnesota legislators are now hearing that a market-based broadband solution is near. 5G wireless to the rescue!  Learning that public dollars would not be necessary for rural broadband development would be soothing music to elected officials’ ears as other groups line up for funds– roads, schools, health care, tax cuts; the list is endless.

After all, many counties and regional entities are growing desperate for broadband and are actively studying the options for spurring broadband delivery to meet at least minimum FCC broadband standards.  Alternatives range from subsidizing incumbents to partnering with new or existing broadband cooperatives.  While the State of Minnesota is seen as the major finance partner, even townships are writing checks for broadband!

So the question “Is 5G coming to rural America anytime soon?” is critical for policy leaders and elected officials.  They wonder, “If we wait, will our future pass us by?” Conversely, they question “Will our investment in fiber be a waste of money as wireless becomes the preferred and available technology?”

After doing a lot of reading and talking with technologists, it is clear that 5G wireless is coming to the marketplace, but it is not coming to rural America anytime soon.  5G wireless does offer promise, but only to high density population centers such as  campuses, large office buildings and apartment buildings.  5G’s chief feature is very high bandwidth– 1 Gigabit or more!  Once established, 5G promises to have the ability to connect many devices with very quick responses, especially applicable for self-driving vehicles or many smart devices in a factory, on urban streets and so on.  5G would also be great for large file sharing applications like HD movies.

So why not 5G in rural areas?  That answer is easy and indisputable.  Deployment of 5G wireless services will require significant fiber deployment, more than either the current 4G wireless cellular network or the new CAF2 Fiber to the Node (FTTN) installations by large incumbent providers.

Rural 5G wireless services would require installing radios every 1,000 – 3,000 feet on towers and poles.  These small cells would require direct fiber connections and all of them would require electricity to power the radios.  The radios would connect to wireless devices in customers’ homes and to other devices on the network and, of course, back to the network backbone.

For comparison, today’s fiber-fed 4G towers might be four to fifteen miles apart depending on terrain and the number of customers.  We know that 4G services have yet to reach many rural customers at their homes since these services are often focused down state and federal highway corridors in tandem with existing fiber routes leaving those in the bulk of the rural countryside without modern service.

In today’s CAF2 environment, providers are making significant investments to deploy FTTN, shortening copper loops to approximately 7,500 feet.  These shorter loop lengths will allow some customers to exceed the 25 Mb download and 3Mb upload FCC broadband standard while others at the end of the line will more likely receive 10 Mb/1 Mb. While this may be a significant improvement from current services, it lags far below the Minnesota broadband goal of 100 Mb/20 Mb by 2026.  Optimists view these CAF2 improvements as an interim step to future FTTH deployment; others view these improvements as the last incumbent investment for a generation.

There are many questions yet unanswered on 5G wireless technical standards and final standards may be years in the making. There are just as many questions on the different business models that will drive deployment in urban, suburban and rural markets.  These deployment strategies will likely vary by location and provider mix.

For example, ATT and Verizon are dominant wireless carriers seeking to use more wireless in their old wired local exchange areas.  They could relatively easily transition their landline customer base to the new 5G networks adding to their existing wireless customer base.  In Minnesota, these wireless companies use a combination of their own networks and leased facilities from a variety of providers to reach large customers, but primarily to reach cell towers.

In Minnesota, incumbent providers CenturyLink and Frontier are just one year into a five-year process to deploy their CAF2 FTTN networks.  Once completed in 2020-21, likely to coincide with 5G technology and devices entry into the marketplace, will they be willing to open these deep fiber networks to competitive 5G wireless providers?  Or will they offer their own 5G wireless services on enhanced CAF2 networks?  Or, will these companies decline to sell access to their networks to wireless providers to preserve their own customer base.  In that scenario one has to wonder if there would ever be a business case for wireless carriers like ATT and Verizon to install duplicate fiber networks to reach rural customers?

So 5G is coming, definitely and soon, but only to metro areas, just as new technologies always seem to hit metro markets first.  But will and when will 5G reach rural?  For those rural residents and businesses still waiting for 4G wireless services, the answer is clearly not any time soon.  Fiber networks, to the home or to the node with very short loop lengths, will be a requirement to support future 5G wireless services.  First fiber, then 5G.  Not the other way around.

My advice: keep pursuing local fiber deployment so that all innovative broadband services – wired and wireless – can be offered in your community.

Steven Senne of Finley Engineering reviewed this article for technical accuracy.

 

Broadband hot topic at MN Association of Townships

bill rightIn the midst of rain and snow and wind, township officials met in St. Cloud last week for their annual conference.  Broadband was the topic of choice.  I stared with the following introductory presentation…

Senator Amy Klobuchar, Danna MacKenzie and two panels of presenters talked about rural broadband challenges and solutions.  Blandin Foundation community partners Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Chisago County and Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative were all featured as was the USDA and Paul Bunyan Telephone Cooperative.  It was great to hear of the winning solutions that will result in Fiber to the Home networks at Fond du Lac and north central Minnesota.  The value of partial solutions was also highlighted recognizing that more work and some luck will be required to reach a full solution.  The Minnesota Association of Townships has been a strong partner in an alliance of rural stakeholder groups, all of which recognize the foundational necessity of rural broadband services.