Blandin eNews December 2009

Here’s the news from our latest newsletter. It’s mostly a compilation of Minnesota-related stories from the blog in the last month – but sometimes it’s nice to have it compiled.

Blandin Broadband Conference
The Blandin Foundation broadband conference was a big hit in November. It started with Jim Baller promoting faster goal broadband speeds for Minnesota. The next day the Broadband Task Force spoke about their recommendations. They highlighted the goal of ubiquitous broadband in the state and the need for public-private partnerships. Students spoke about their vision for future and ARRA grant applicants voiced some frustration with the slow process of federal funding Get reflections from the conference as well as videos and notes from conference sessions online.

Broadband Task Force Recommendations
In November, after more than a year of work and research, the Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force unveiled their recommendations for broadband in Minnesota. Highlights include ubiquitous coverage to all parts of Minnesota, a goal to be top five for broadband speed and penetration in the US and the suggested formation of an ongoing entity to support and promote broadband in Minnesota through 2015. The report made a splash with local press and that splash keeps rippling.

ARRA Funding
The NTIA/RUS report that they plan to announce successful ARRA grants starting in December; the announcements may happen through February 2010 as decisions are made.

Broadband and Telehealth
At the Blandin Broadband conference the leaders of Eindhoven talked about broadband as a necessary tool to get services to all citizens and that one such application was telehealth. New forms of telehealth are emerging each day, such as the Bluetooth wireless protocol that can provide faster and more reliable patient assessment data transfers between mobile devices, improvements to remote doctor visits for seniors and a Minnesota-based medical lab portal where healthcare providers can use guides, worksheets and calculators as well as get remote support interpreting lab results.

Local Broadband News

Anoka County
Anoka County is pursing a public-private partnership to obtain funding for broadband services.

Dakota County
Dakota County creates a video to promote broadband in the area.

Duluth hosts a walking tour and conversation on local technology jobs at the Blandin broadband conference.

Itasca County
Itasca County plans to leverage its 800 Mhz public safety network investment to improve local broadband services.

Lake County
Lake County News-Chronicle champions Minnesota as a possible national leader in rural broadband.

Clear Wireless is expanding its wireless network to Savage.

St Louis & Lake County
Saint Louis County Board approved financial support for the Lake County Fiber Network to expand into the northeastern portions of Saint Louis County.

Coleman’s Corner

Success comes easier with good partners. In my mind, good partners are committed to achieving shared goals and are willing to invest time and energy today for long term benefits. The state broadband task force emphasizes community-provider partnerships in market development strategies; this is an approach that the Blandin Foundation’s Get Broadband Program spurred in more than 25 rural communities with documented success.

Provider engagement in these initiatives was uneven. In some communities, providers were actively engaged as partners – serving on steering teams, sponsoring training programs and lending their technology expertise to teams of community leaders. Both community and provider benefitted from the partnership. In other places, despite active invitations from the community, providers were no-shows and the initiatives suffered as a result due to less knowledge of services, missed sales opportunities and fewer resources.

Use the state task force report as leverage to get your providers engaged in your community broadband initiatives. For best results, be specific in your requests to your providers. Ask them to attend a community meeting to discuss what current services are available and about future plans to upgrade services. Ask them to serve on a technology task force. Ask them to sponsor e-commerce training for small and medium size businesses, computer reuse programs for senior citizens or low-income families or an after school program for students interested in IT careers.

We would like to collect stories of the role that your providers play in your community. Which companies are active and helpful in your initiatives? Which companies are no-shows? Send your stories to

Final Reflections from the Blandin Broadband Conference

I’m excited to be able to post final notes on the 2009 Blandin Broadband Conference, Realizing Our Broadband Future: Getting from Here to There from Bernadine Joselyn. We’ve got her immediate takeaway messages in video and written reflections from the car trip home. If you have reflections to add – please post them as comments below. We’d love to read them.

It was great seeing folks at the conference. On my drive home I did some thinking about what we’d heard:
Getting from Here to There turned out to be a powerful theme. Our student guests from Mankato and Morris made it clear that they expect the world they step into to be wired; I think that will happen only if we do the work ourselves. That’s the main message I got from listening to our friends from the “Intelligent Communities” of Eindhoven and Fredericton. And even though the task is daunting, our morning discussions suggested that we’re making some progress.

It was encouraging to hear – from Mike O’Connor and John Stanoch, among others – a new optimism about prospects for deepened cooperation and collaboration, including in places like Grand Rapids and Monticello where they have failed in the past. As a number of community champions pointed out, public-private partnerships are one of the key strategies identified by the Task Force to help Minnesota achieve it’s “among top five” goal. Now we need to turn our attention to creating the regulatory environment and designing the incentives needed to help make more of that happen more easily. The Blandin Community Leadership Program’s adage, that leadership is ‘something you have to do yourself but can’t do alone,’ is truer than ever.

One aspiration everyone seems to share is to be “good ancestors” as Jim Baller said.

John O’Brien’s eye-popping presentation of a future in which my umbrella will change colors with the weather was arresting. And hearing about software that can save me from sending embarrassing emails late at night and teach me typing with the help of vampires was only vaguely reassuring. John’s challenge to see the contradictions in work place policies that simultaneously tolerate personal phone calls but forbid visits to Facebook (especially in the light of one student’s confession that 8 hours without Facebook would be a demotivating hardship for her), made me look long and hard at the face of the woman in his C.A.V.E. slide (Colleagues Against Virtually Everything). Is that me? Is that our organization? Our employers?

In the coming days we’ll be loading up the conference website with as much content as we can harvest from all the presentations. The Blandin Foundation’s Broadband Strategy Board is serious about responding to Mike O’Connor’s exhortation to scour the Task Force recommendations and be alert to ways we can contribute to the work of getting them done. There are lots of possibilities.

Future Leaders on Broadband

The last session of the day at the Blandin Broadband Conference was a great look at the future. It started with a presentation from John O’Brien at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. He provided a fun survey of what the Internet is, was and is becoming as well as how folks, especially students interact with the Internet and assume adequate broadband.

We heard about umbrellas that will change colors based on the weather forecast and tools that will help your plants remind you to water them. He also discussed the legitimate role of gaming in education. The observation I loved – students tend not to like classes that are too hard or games that are too easy. It’s seems like an opportunity to mashup some teachable moments. The session ended with a panel of students talking about how they use technology and what are their expectations for the future use – in the workplace especially.

Broadband Stimulus in Minnesota

Panel: The Who, The What and The Hopes: Broadband Stimulus in Minnesota. Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation; Danna MacKenzie, Cook County; Jackie Vanasse, Leach Lake; John Schultz, Windom. Moderated by Jack Geller, U of M Crookston

I’m afraid I missed part of the session on the stimulus applications. I’ve read and heard about the various applications before – so what was interesting to me was to see how the initial drive to get broadband remains despite the mounting obstacles. Danna spoke about the referendum in Cook County. (There was a referendum to allow Cook County to provide phone service; it needed a super majority to pass; it got 56% and didn’t pass.) Yet they forge ahead. John Schultz sort of spoke for Windom and Leech Lake – to hear the need for broadband in Leech Lake, which is un/underserved by pretty much any definition was telling.

To hear about how Blandin worked so early on to get community participation across the state. Signs point to that sort of application being the focus of the next round of ARRA grants. Jack Geller pointed out that place and collaboration will mater in future rounds of funding.

Blandin Broadband Conference Breakout Sessions

I moderated one of the breakout sessions so unfortunately my notes for each session are pretty uneven – although I heard great things about each. If there are readers who attended a session, I invite/implore you to share some notes in the comments of this post.

What’s Here, What’s Coming? Bleeding Edge Video Technologies; Dustin Artwohl, Video Guidance

Tools, Policies and Practices: Twitter Here, LinkedIn There, Facebook Everywhere! Social Media Policies for Organizations. Steve Boland, Nonprofit Assistance Fund; Barry LaGrave, MN House Public Information Services; Richard Fong, MN Department of Health. Moderated by Ann Treacy, Treacy Information Services.

Better Together. Lessons from the Trenches on Finding the Right Partners and Creating Connections that Last; Pat Medure, Itasca County Sheriff; Matt Grose, Itasca Area Schools Collaborative, Maggie Montgomery, Northern Community Radio, KAXE; Kathy Dodge, Grand Rapids Area Nonprofit Directors Group. Moderated by Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation.

Here are the presentations, videos and notes: Continue reading

Morris students talk about Willmar

The Morris students did a great job. I caught some of their comments on video. I also have their presentation below. They had a lot of good insights but one comment really caught my attention: “Students want to stay in their rural area – why are we pushing them out with poor technology and broadband?”

Video on how the students use broadband today:

Task Force comments on report

The Task Force graciously spoke about their report. The Blandin Strategy board chimed (here’s their written comments)  in and folks had questions.

Here is the introduction from moderator/task force member/former Blandin strategy board member, Mike O’Connor. In it he addresses Jim Baller’s critique of the Task Force report expressed the previous evening.

Here are comments from the Task Force members:

Chris Swanson – represented rural, small city, small business and started with goal of ubiquitous FTTH. Still stands behind importance of ubiquity. We often looked at Minnesota as a whole, which is different from sum of the parts. Private investment has done a good job but public-private partnerships are needed to reach far corners.

Mary Ellen Wells – represents rural healthcare as CEO of hospitals. Hope that by 2015 we can take broadband for granted. Access and quality are very important, especially in healthcare.

Craig Taylor – IT Director at HealthPartners – as a large business we have the technology/broadband we need but we need more across the state for smaller businesses. The speeds we chose were based on applications that are being used today.

Dan McElroy – Commissioner of DEED to represent economic development issues. Economic development issues have changed; access to the Internet is a utility today. We need reliable access to attract/retain businesses. Need to be specific about where access is in community – even outside a town; those folks 5-10 miles outside town need to know about access. Quality of Place is a big seller for Minnesota – broadband helps to weigh the quality of place more heavily. Check out MNPro,

John Stanoch – President of Qwest in MN & ND. The process of convening and the task force was very valuable – both meeting, and research done by members. Speed factors included need for speed. We need an ongoing dialog to keep this in the mind of Minnesota. We need an ongoing entity. Technology changes and to be successful need to plan too. Universal consensus on universal access was vital. Also we made some good plans for demand too. The equity of supply and demand will carry of forward.

Glenn Wilson – Commissioner from Department of Commerce – around the state we’ve found that manufacturers, doctors, others are using broadband and need broadband. The task force report will help focus the legislature.

From Blandin Broadband Strategy Team

John Linnell – Healthcare background – a big concern in healthcare is that healthcare is driven by connectivity; interoperability is essential with transient patents (including snow birds); we need symmetry; but they are all expensive drive. Healthcare is a cost sharing process and the patient is the one who pays. Sometimes the $2 aspirin is paying for more than the aspirin – sometimes it subsidizes connectivity. We address metro and small community needs – but not necessarily rural needs. We can keep people in their homes with telepresence – we catch things faster with home care. We need high speed, we need symmetric, we need affordable.

Nancy Hoffman – from Benton County, half of the county is well served. Unserved area heard complaints from businesses and schools. Ubiquity is very important. Speed is important too – Jim Baller’s presentation reinforced that. Changes come so quickly with broadband we need to keep up. We always ask businesses about broadband need; we are losing businesses to broadband-rich areas. We need local champions for broadband; we need users in government.


What would it take to be 5th or 15th in the world?

Well documented in Task Force report (pg 56).

Did the Task Force deal with cutbacks?

We recognized that in areas that are expensive to serve the government provided incentives. There are some federal incentives too. One problem is the current definition of rural are (more than 50 miles from city).

The stimulus funding is a drop in the bucket; we should look at USF and think about transitioning voice subsidies to filling broadband need.

How do we encourage public-private partnership?

There’s going to have to be more p/p partnership. It’s not necessarily popular, but will be important. Local officials need to understand importance of broadband.

There are some examples of efforts (Monticello, North St Paul…) but it depends on what the local government and the incumbents can do together.

We’re hoping that as the Task Force has agreed maybe we can start a new trend where there’s more consensus, more collaboration. In the short term, we need a better discussion about where the need is – and what are the resources. The incumbents are other providers need to work more closely with economic developers – we can provide service to businesses that want/need it. Minnesota should not lose businesses or jobs due to lack of broadband.

An ongoing entity might help that communication.

Where do you think money will be spent in the future?

Look to page (80), we have a sources of funds list. These will/should serve (in this order) unserved, underserved – the rest. The RUS is a good place to go. It has been and it should be even better as the ARRA funding thins the herd.

I highlighted one statement above because – and this is just my opinion – I think that consensus and collaboration are two important things addressed/demonstrated by the Task Force. They modeled it in their recommendations; they model it in their public appearances.

Mankato students talk about New Ulm

Here is the presentation from the Mankato students on New Ulm and what New Ulm has done to keep andor attract young people to the town. I thought the most telling statements from the students weren’t specifically about New Ulm – but spoke to small towns throughout Minnesota.

“I don’t think I could go back to my small hometown after living with the broadband in Mankato.”

“If I don’t have broadband I’m going to die.”

Best Practices in Broadband-Based Economic Development

This session brought Brad Woodside, Mayor of Fredericton, New Brunswick (Canada) and Elies Lemkes-Straver of Brainport Operations and Kees Rovers of Close the Gap both from Eindhoven, the Netherlands to talk about broadband as a vital tool in their communities. Both were named Top Seven communities by the Intelligent Community Forum. (Moderated by Bill Coleman)

Notes from Eindhoven
Interesting perspective – Eindhoven talks about broadband and technology as a necessity. One that people might not think they want – but they need to receive services. “Think of every customer as the 75 year old who doesn’t think they want a computer/broadband but want who wants the healthcare, entertainment, information services brought via broadband.” Eindhoven stresses the importance of cooperation – and focus. They say not to be restricted by borders. Finally, leadership is very important. They had 4 mayors, education leaders, CEOs of larger and small businesses involved in this project.

Each home has 100Mbps symmetrical connection. Everyone, everything is connected. It’s owned 95% by citizens. You need to offer phone, TV and Internet – but phone first. Not everyone has a computer; everyone has a phone. You need a financeable business plan. Businesses need fast ROI – communities do not. With a long term investment plan, fiber is cheap. $2000 per home stretched over 20 years is not expensive. Connecting schools, churches and other community institutes motivates residents to get and stay connected. We use language that people use – 100Mbps is not that meaningful for most folks. We get local help that can provide customer care. Finally you need high quality, reliable network.

Commercial operators reach rural areas may not be happy – but as citizens we need service and we’re not concerned with the commercial goals. If they want to serve urban areas; you serve rural areas too – it’s solidarity.

Notes from Fredericton
They were too dependent on institutional growth. Started to focus on technology in 1992. They were slow and expensive – so they formed our own telco. They started a co-op that competed with incumbents. They got customers to pay for subscriptions in advance – that was their starting funds. Public WiFi is free. They don’t charge people to walk on the sidewalks, why would they charge to use WiFi. Everyone is now connected; there was initial pushback from incumbents but now they are benefitting with increased use and demand. Collaboration, cooperation, communication – is key to long term project.

They serve every home and we worked with commercial partners to reach rural areas.

People can get free WiFi. The intention is to give people public access. They don’t try to flood/reach residential areas. There are areas where people can get a signal – but the intention is that people would pay for home access through local providers.

Cost for 100 Mbps – in Eindhoven it’s 60 euros; in NB is $150.

Here is a presentation from Eindhoven created for the conference, but not actually given:

2009 Blandin Broadband conference welcome

Bernadine opens the second day of the Blandin Broadband conference: Realizing Our Broadband Future: Getting from Here to There. (Read remarks here.)

If you want to see any video from the conference, please check out our playlist.

Below I will post Tweets from the conference. I’m not sure if they will be valuable out of context, but I wanted to at least capture them. (Sometimes my librarian roots show.) In the spirit of mutual leanring I wanted to share a little bit about the Tweets:

This is the first time we’ve made a concerted effort to Tweet during the conference (#mnbb09). We had 140 Tweets over the two days, mostly stemming from 5 Twitter accounts. Two folks Tweeted questions or comments who did not attend the event.

Continue reading

Jim Baller as keynote at the Blandin Broadband conference

Here are notes and video from the Blandin Broadband Conference keynote speech by Jim Baller. Jim is a lawyer who work on broadband and telecommunications issues in Washington DC. He is instrumental in the US Broadband Coalition and their efforts to spur, create and deploy a National Broadband Strategy.

Tonight Jim spoke about his work with the US Broadband Coalition – but he started by talking about the Minnesota Ultra High Speed Task Force recommendations to the state. Specifically, he reacted to a the results of a survey we had done with conference attendees. Here is the question and responses that caught Jim’s eye:

The broadband bandwidth goal, 20 Mb downstream/10 Mb upstream by 2015, will position Minnesota as a global leader in broadband availability.
Strongly Disagree 6.3%
Disagree 18.8%
Agree 35.4%
Strongly Agree 33.3%
Don’t Know/No Opinion 6.3%

Jim’s response was strongly disagree. He used a tool to track how long it took to run specific application-based tasks on the Internet based on bandwidth. (I found a version of the tool, but it’s not in English. That being said I was able to figure it out, so I hope you will be able to as well.) It showed how some applications (such as eleanring) that would take hours at 20 Mbps took minutes at a Gig. (I know that the Task Force included a chart of applications by bandwidth in the report. How this tool and that list compare – I don’t really know.)

After Jim’s demonstration many people wanted to change their answer.

The rest of the time he spoke on the US Broadband Coalition. Here are video clips and links to clips (listed in chronoloical oder).

Jim Hoolihan introduces Nancy Aronson Norr:

Nancy Aronson Norr introduces Jim Baller

Jim Baller talks about Minnesota Task Force 

Jim Baller demonstrates fiber speed tool

Jim Baller on what it will take for MN to be a world broadband leader  

Jim Baller on Blandin Foundation & Broadband Task Force Report

Jim Baller talks about the history of broadband in the US  

Jim Baller talks about the US Broadband Coalition  

Jim Baller mentions spectrum, USF and other policies  

Jim Baller – how do we plan for broadband future  

Jim Baller on broadband mapping

Blandin Broadband conference: Walking tour of Duluth

The Blandin Broadband conference started today. It started with a walking tour of Duluth. The weather could not have been better. We got a mini-walking tour of Duluth. It was fun to see the new places –and some of the old places. We ended up at Teatro Zuccone, a new spot in town with a couple of theaters and a bar. It looks like a great place to see a show or just hang out. Apparently it just opened this fall and has been very successful.

We saw the following presentation from Drew Digby of Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and heard from some of the locals. It was interesting to hear about what brought (or kept people in) people to Duluth. While many people enjoyed the outdoors, the arts, the size of the town, the colleges, – it was really the business opportunities that brought both people and businesses to the area.

Got a broadband resource to share?

We are gathering a list of broadband resources to share at the Blandin Broadband conference on November 18-19, 2009. I’m going to create a bibliography and we’re going old school by handing out materials. If you have a link, you’d like me to add to the bibliography, please send it my way. (Via blog comment or email If you have a research report, policy analysis or other items you’d like us to handout please let me know. With all due respect, we’re not looking for sales collateral (although you can ask me about exhibitor opportunities) and we can’t print out multiple copies for you – but I thought I’d still throw out the opportunity.

Immigration policy pits external views with internal goals

MinnPost recently ran an article on the high tech immigration issue. Some folks want to open the door wider for skilled technology workers to come into the US; some folks want to hold off on visa and give any jobs to “qualified Americans” first.

The debate reminds me of the broadband in discussion in that one side is focusing on how the US competes with the rest of the world and the other side is focused on internal issues only. For the US I think the short term answer will be a hybrid solution – but the long term answer is something else. In terms of getting qualified tech workers, Aman Kapoor, a private tech entrepreneur in Florida offers what I think is the best and most obvious long term solution:

“The bigger policy debate is what the U.S. education system should be like,” Kapoor said. “Will the next generation have better skills? That’s how you make a nation more competitive.”

In terms of broadband I think there’s a tension between ubiquitous access, world class speeds and affordability. Again in the short term, I think the answer will be a hybrid solution but there’s a long term answer too. I don’t know what that is yet – but it’s going to take long term planning and investment. An off the cuff brainstorm, maybe the plan is to call broadband a utility to promote ubiquity and teach people how to use it to make the market demand world class speeds. The increase in demand should help lower costs or at least the shift in use may expand consumers’ definition of affordable.

What I do know for sure is that we need to start long term planning soon – like yesterday – and yet much of what I’ve seen happening is still pretty short term. One of the things I’m looking forward to most at the November Blandin Broadband Conference, is the University Student Competition. Colleges and universities across Minnesota have been invited to develop presentations illustrating their view of a how a tech savvy rural community will successfully function in the year 2020. I think getting the students of today to think about the future is a great start.

A Futurist’s View of Rural Minnesota

Today Delore Zimmerman of Praxis Strategy Group, Grand Forks, ND presented the first webinar in a series hosted by the Blandin Foundation. (You can hear the presentation here – look at related media under the picture.)

Delore provided guidance for rural community leaders about development trends and the steps communities must take to increase their investment attractiveness. I tried to take Twitter notes during the event #mnbb09 (those notes will change as I post more on the broadband conference and related events).

In a nutshell, he spoke about the importance of creating and promoting a story for your community’s future. Drawing from past strengths is a good place to start but recognize the changes in government, manufacturing and agriculture – three sectors that have dominated past growth in rural areas. As the global populations grow so will the importance of these sectors but as you draw from the past remember to focus on infrastructure and the network that drives growth today. Best exercise – brainstorm your ideas for future growth by thinking of newspaper headlines you’d like to see in your community.

Upcoming free webinars include:

October 20, 2009
Broadband Best Practices in Greater Minnesota
Presenter: Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors, Mahtomedi, MN

And November 3, 2009
Telling a Story with Social Media
Presenter: Ann Treacy, Treacy Information Services