Minority Serving Institutions Technical Assistance and Capacity Building Conference: 2009

I have had the privilege of attending and presenting the MSI Conference in Dallas, TX for the last two days. Minority Serving Institutions include Hispanic, African American and Tribal Colleges and today focuses on how they can participate in the BTOP program in future rounds. Due to the work we have been doing with the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe (LLBO) Jackie Vanasse of LLBO and myself were asked to present the process and project that LLBO submitted for Round 1 funding.
In addition we heard from many highly-educated PhD. level experts in the social sciences and project management and how it relates to these projects.
It is sad to see the poor service that these areas around the MSI’s have for broadband access and great to see the success that bringing broadband to these areas can have. William Reed from Technology for All spoke about how their wireless network in Houston not only increased access to free internet services but it also drove the adoption of commercial broadband services.
I heard a new term from Blanco Gordo, PhD. of the Center for Latino Policy Research from the University of California, Berkley-“Digital Destitution” which is beyond the idea of digital divide but instead areas that have persons desperate for those services.
All of us in Minnesota as we work on our applications and begin thinking about round two we need to consider the lack of services and “digital destitution” that we still might be facing in our own backyard.

OSP Expo is Full of Optimism

I spent Wednesday and Thursday at the OSP (Outside Plant) Expo at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The OSP Expo is national trade show and this year was sponsored by Qwest.  The buzz was very positive between vendors, construction contractors, engineering firms and service providers. While catching up with a lot of old friends and colleagues the question that was asked the most was “How likely do you think your stimulus project is to be funded?”  The companies that were attending the show will be some of the biggest beneficiaries of the Stimulus dollars as they will be the ones who will be providing products, designing and constructing these networks.

Most people I spoke to also believed that the $28.8 billion that was submitted  means that not only is there stimulus dollars to be spent but many of these projects could go forward if they are funded by other means.  It was great to see people being positive about the industry and the future.

I did not see any real ground breaking new products or services but what was exciting is the continued development of products to support the fiber-to-the-home market making the turn-up and maintenance of these networks  easier.  I guess that means we have a real industry there.  There was not only discussion about fiber-to-the-home but also fiber-to-the-cellsite.  Much more concentration on fiber than copper this year, maybe we have finally hit the tipping point of companies trying to pump the most of their copper pairs but instead focusing on the future of fiber optics.  It was also refreshing to hear persons speaking about the future requirements being 25-40 Mbps not 1.5 Mbps or 768 Kbps like regulatory bodies keep referencing.

SouthWest Minnesota Broadband Group Update

I wanted to provide a quick update on the progress of SouthWest Minnesota Broadband Group (SWMBG) and our Blandin Robust Network project. SWMBG is a group of eight communities looking to expand the reach of fiber-to-the-premise technology in portions of Jackson, Cottonwood and Nobles County. We have spent the last month gathering information from our communities, doing engineering and operational planning and last week we submitted a Stimulus loan application to RUS and NTIA. There has been strong support from the communities involved and we will be spending the next month completing the marketing survey for the area and completing our final feasibility document. Special thanks to Dan Olsen at Windomnet and Mitch Jasper at Jackson for their continued support. Also Round Lake and Lakefield have been very instrumental in the project. We at U-reka Broadband Ventures are proud of the determination of this group as we put the project together. We believe that multiple communities working together can eliminate some of the scalability concerns of rural networks. In this case Windomnet will provide backbone services to the project eliminating the start-up costs to the project. This project has truly been a partnership of cities, counties, education and private sector to bring real broadband to the area.