Computers improving quality of life for the disabled and seniors

Thanks for permission from the IRRRB to reprint…

Fifty senior citizens and people with disabilities recently received free computers and computer classes through a technology outreach initiative led by Access North Center for Independent Living. The outreach was part of a larger Blandin Foundation program designed to advance broadband in northeastern Minnesota rural communities.

“Access North solicited applications from our client base, and the response was immediate from folks who did not have a computer or wanted to replace their obsolete home device,” said Don Brunette, Access North executive director.

According to Brunette, the computer classes were taught by Richard Spicer, who is a veteran, computer class instructor and Access North client.

Founded in 1985, Access North serves 10 counties in northeastern Minnesota. Its Hibbing office partnered with Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce, PCs for People and Blandin on this initiative. Each recipient received a hard drive, monitor, keyboard and mouse from PCs for People. In addition, Access North assisted these citizens with acquiring subsidized home Wi-Fi connection when possible and provided them free printers donated by Target Corporation.

The Blandin Broadband Communities program is supported in part by a grant from Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation and involves an intensive two-year partnership between Blandin and area communities to advance broadband initiatives. This ongoing effort helps northeastern Minnesota rural communities develop high speed internet that is critical to economic development, education, healthcare and quality of life.

Visit the Access North website.

Ely uses feasibility study to come up with better broadband scenarios for the community

The Institute for Local Self Reliance (MunitNetworks) reports…

Last fall, the northern Minnesota community of Ely took up a feasibility study to determine the possibilities of better connectivity with publicly owned Internet infrastructure. They also wanted to explore local interest in investment. After conducting a survey and reviewing the situation, local officials are contemplating moving ahead with two pilot projects.

They outline the results of a recent community survey…

As anticipated, residents and businesses who took the survey revealed that 94 percent of local residents and 98 percent of business owners want improved connectivity in Ely. Jack Maytum, senior broadband analyst for Design Nine, relayed that approximately 400 residents and 60 local business owners completed the survey. The community chose Design Nine to complete the feasibility study.

From the residents who took the survey, only nine percent have connections that meet the FCC definition of broadband — 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

Forty-four percent of the people answering the survey purchase DSL Internet access and 27 percent subscribe to cable service.

Forty-eight percent of those who completed the survey said that they have the type of Internet access they have because they have “no other option.” If the Ely community had better competition, for companies and types of services, they might not need to engage in a feasibility study or consider a publicly owned option, but like many rural communities, large national providers are investing elsewhere.

Twenty-three percent of respondents consider themselves self-employed or describe their employment as full-time or part-time from home. In places like Ely, where upload speeds are not robust, entrepreneurs with home bases have a difficult time if their businesses require connectivity. For many businesses today, the ability to send information to colleagues online is a necessity and a fast, reliable connection is critical to everyday business.

Subsequently, they are looking at a few options – like starting with the downtown area…

One of the pilot projects community leaders are now considering is a fiber loop around the downtown area. Community leaders want to help existing businesses and attract new growth. At this early stage, Design Nine and the city are working on cost estimates, but Ely leaders have expressed that better broadband is a priority.

Another focuses on residential areas…

The pilot project for residential service may take on a public-private flavor. One of the early suggestions is that the city invest in fixed wireless equipment and towers and fiber at two local lakes that are outside of city limits. They would own the infrastructure and lease it to a private sector Internet Service Provider (ISP) to offer fixed wireless services to the homes around the area.

Ely is looking at their feasibility study and making a broadband plan

The Ely Echo reports

Armed with survey results showing significant demand for better and faster internet service, Ely city officials are pondering a major step forward.
They’re considering a pilot project to bring high-speed “broadband” service to the downtown corridor and some rural areas, including to properties on Shagawa and Burntside lakes.
The project comes on the heels of surveys showing 94 percent of area residents and 98 percent of local business owners want better internet data service.
Jack Maytum, senior broadband analyst for Design Nine, outlined the pilot project with council members Tuesday during their city economic development authority meeting.
In the talking stages for at least a year, the pilot project is the next step in the city’s quest to enhance high-speed internet options in the area for both business owners and residents and comes in the midst of the city’s involvement in a broadband program sponsored by the Blandin Foundation.

Cost estimates for the initiative are being developed for a project that would apparently involve a fiber loop along Sheridan Street from Third Avenue West to 12th Avenue East. A number thrown out in an earlier meeting this week had a cost of $750,000 for pole work.
A second pilot project would include placing wireless internet towers that would serve Burntside and Shagawa lakes. One tower would be at Sandy Point for the north shore of Shagawa, with another near Schaefer Road to point to the north side of Burntside.
City officials say they would look for Midco, Frontier or somebody else to provide the services
“The city could own the fiber and lease it out to somebody else,” said Harold Langowski, the city’s clerk-treasurer and operations director.
The group is still a month away from putting figures on paper. Langowski said the next steps could including an RFP for broadband partners to provide service and city would go after funding to get the fiber loop constructed and put up the 70 to 80 foot poles for the wireless service.

Getting a feasibility study is a good first step for many communities looking to improve broadband in their area. Here’s some of what Ely learned…

Some of the notable results of the residential survey included:
• 94 percent wanted better internet service;
• 93 percent said internet service is very important to their household;
• Regarding current internet service, 44 percent have DSL connections and 27 percent have cable modems;
• 48 percent have the type of internet service they currently do “because there is no other option;”
• 90 percent of households that completed the survey have just one or two persons in the household;
• 40 percent spend between $75 and $150 per month for television, phone and internet service excluding cell phones, and 36 percent pay over $150 per month;
• Just over a third (35 percent) pay between $41 and $60 per month for internet;
• 36 percent have five or six devices (smart phones, iPads, etc.) in their household;
• 80 percent reported having problems with playing videos and 75 percent have trouble when another person in the household is using internet service;
• Only nine percent of the people have the definition of broadband service, which is listed at 25 mbs of download time.
• Most use internet service for accessing news, social networks, banking and shopping;
• Nearly half of the respondents – 45 percent – would be willing to pay $40 to $80 per month more for faster service;
• 23 percent described themselves as self-employed either working full-time or part-time from home.
Among business owners who responded, 92 percent expressed dissatisfaction with current service and 98 percent said they needed better data service.

Mid-Minnesota Regional Roundtable on Broadband – filling the gaps for today and tomorrow

Continuing the regional tour of broadband discussion with Bill Coleman with a stop in Litchfield today to talk with the Mid-Minnesota Region. There were 20-25 people in the room including Representatives Dave Baker and Dean Urdahl and Chuck Ackman from Senator Klobuchar’s office and Jackie Anderson from Representative Peterson. We heard about broadband efforts in the area – including Kandiyohi (the old timer) and Meeker County (with a newly minted feasibility study in hand).

Kandiyohi spoke about some of their frustration getting the stars to align for their border to border grant was awarded. The quick version is that between application and award interest rates increased, other local providers started beefing up their connections and they were short of time to get local residents signed up for the service in advance as required by the providers. (They singed up but not necessarily with deposit.) Meeker County is excited but they realize that part of their challenge will be to get residents and local businesses to look to their future broadband needs.

Attendees recognized the need to plan for multiple technologies. As someone put it, fixed wireless is a great solution for getting people broadband today but it’s not future proof. But for a community like Kandiyohi, it will extend fiber into the area and for a community like Meeker, it will get people online and build demand.

Introductions – Continue reading

Blandin Robust Network Feasibility Fund grants – deadline March 16

Learn more at the Blandin Foundation website

Since 2007, the Robust Network Feasibility Fund has provided matching grants to communities to support the cost of research of the feasibility of geographically based broadband networks.

The words “feasibility study” mean different things to different people and can refer to technical, financial, organizational or political components of a proposed development. A feasibility study can also refer to different stages of a project, where preliminary, intermediate or final business plan stages include different levels of research and detail. The Blandin Foundation’s Robust Network Feasibility Fund acknowledges that communities are at different stages of development when they apply for support and consider proposals at any stage and for any component(s) as long as:

  1. The community or region identifies which stages and components are being proposed.
  2. Any earlier stages not yet completed are included in the proposed activities.
  3. Studies completed by the community for earlier stages are included with the application.

The next grant application deadline is March 16, 2018. Subsequent quarterly grant application deadlines for 2018 will be announced.

Headwaters RDC Regional Roundtable on Broadband – land of haves and have-nots

Continuing the regional tour of broadband discussion with Bill Coleman, today we talked in Bemidji with folks in the Headwaters Regional Development Commission area. There were 20 some people in the room including Representative Steve Green, Representative Matt Bliss and Andy Martin from Senator Klobuchar’s office.

The area is an extreme case of haves and have-nots. Many areas have FTTH; some lack adequate cell coverage. For those who have it access to broadband is like breathing air, those who don’t have it are struggling. There is frustration with some large a national incumbents and happiness with local providers. Community members wanted to know how to either engage disinterested providers or enticed engaged providers; providers stressed the importance of public funding through Universal Service Funds (federally) and the Minnesota State grants.

You can see the presentation, video archive and my notes below.

Introductions from attendees – what’s your broadband story Continue reading

East Central RDC Regional Roundtable on Broadband – great conversation on great need

I’m on the road this week with Bill Coleman talking to regions about broadband. We started last night with East Central RDC. My first lesson? I’ve heard people say that broadband is losing headlines with legislators and that it feels like old news. Well it’s not old news on the front lines! There were 60+ attendees to a meeting that started at 7 pm. (And eventually the custodians had to kick us out!) Attendees included Representative Jason Rarick, Senator Tony Lourey, Senator Mark Koran, Representatives from Senator Klobuchar, Congressman Nolan and Senator Smith.

People are there because they recognize that if they don’t get better broadband their community is in jeopardy. The counties in the region are at various stages of seeking better broadband – as someone said, they no longer need to discuss why broadband – it’s how. People spoke up about the need for continued funding for broadband projects, the need to transform federal funding and a new look at the role of cooperatives.

We got to hear real numbers from real feasibility studies (88 percent of residents in Isanti County want better broadband) real costs (the business in Kanabec County was quoted $35,000 per mile to upgrade to fiber) and real stories (the business that loses $35,000 per minute when an employee loses connectivity). You can see the presentation, video archive and my notes below. (I apologize for the coughing in the video – bought some cough drops for today’s meeting!)

Notes – (sorry didn’t do much clean up, you can cross check with video) Continue reading