Lac qui Parle Computer Commuter

Thanks to my friends at Lac qui Parle EDA for sending me the lastest on their broadband application project…

The LqP Computer Commuter is the result of a grant project that began in early January of 2010. The Lac qui Parle County Economic Development Authority (LqP EDA) has been working on promoting and expanding broadband service within the county for the past two and one-half years. As a result of these broadband efforts Lac qui Parle County came to mind for Congressman Collin Peterson when he was approached by the TDF Foundation in late December 2009. The TDF Foundation was searching for a potential site to install a computer lab in rural Minnesota. This search included finding a community that would be willing to apply for one of their computer lab grants. When the call came into the LqP EDA, Director Pam Lehmann formed a task force (computer lab committee) to brainstorm ideas for a computer lab project in Lac qui Parle County. This task force determined that there was not just one town within our county in need of a computer lab – there were several. And the idea for a mobile computer lab was born!

In February an application was submitted to the TDF Foundation for a handicapped accessible mobile computer lab that would travel to the communities in Lac qui Parle County offering access to computers and to internet service for anyone in the area at no charge. The application included details of a plan to schedule specific days and times to be in each community. The unit would be open to people of all ages and folks with any level of computer experience. To help educate folks with little or no computer experience classes will be offered for small groups or individuals as needed. When available the unit could also be leased by area businesses/organizations wanting to do staff trainings without significant travel expenditures.

Upon receipt of the application the TDF Foundation was very intrigued by the concept of offering this lab in multiple locations within one county. Due to limited funding available, research began on the costs associated with a mobile unit and a secondary plan was established for transporting laptops to be used in each community as a portable lab. Conversations were had with residents regarding interest in this lab, and talks with Farmers Mutual Telephone and Frontier Communications regarding the overall project were very positive.

By the end of March, six of the communities expressed interest in supporting this project and having this service available to their residents and the surrounding rural residents as well. The communities of Bellingham, Boyd, Dawson, Madison, Marietta and Nassau each committed a site for use by the lab whether mobile or portable.
In April we received word that our application was nearing approval, but the cost of a mobile unit was significantly more than the TDF Foundation was able to fund. By the time the final agreements were ready to sign the “computer lab committee” agreed that an application should be submitted to the Blandin Foundation for their LightSpeed Grant Program to help fund the purchase of a mobile unit and the modifications needed. On May 14, 2010 an agreement was signed with the TDF Foundation for the computers and technology for a computer lab in Lac qui Parle County. On June 3, 2010 official notification from the Blandin Foundation was received that our grant request was approved.

Today the “computer lab committee” is working to find a unit to modify for the LqP Computer Commuter. The process to find a coordinator for this lab is also in the works and we hope to hire someone before the end of June.

Watch for more details on when the LqP Computer Commuter will be coming to your area!

Blandin Foundation Lightspeed Grant Update from Minnesota West Community & Technical College and South Central College

This is posted on behalf of Duane Krueger, SBM Program Instructor, at the Minnesota West Community & Technical College and South Central College. I love the idea of the regular webinars on the quick hit topics!

The Business to Business Networking & Training Lightspeed Grant from the Blandin Foundation to the Small Business Management Programs of Minnesota West Community & Technical College and South Central College. has enabled participants to see how Business to Business Networking can bring small business owners together for online training, discussion, and the of sharing ideas. These sessions began in September of 2009 and finished in March of 2010. Small business owners were able to obtain additional tools and ideas they could implement immediately in their business.

The semi-monthly presentations, which were also recorded to allow participants to go back and review any session or view a session that they might have missed, covered topics that gave participants tools and ideas to improve the profitability of their business immediately. The first sessions had 25 participants from various communities in Southwest Minnesota. The program used Web-Ex Software which allowed the participants to access the Business to Business Networking and Training from their home, office, or business. Many participants reported they often accessed the training session recordings over and over again. Taking part in the real time discussion seems to be the biggest obstacle for participants. A second session of training topics will be run this fall. The web site for the project is http://www.southcentral.edu/lightspeed.

Session Topics:

Getting Comfortable with Online Workshops
Coping in a Recession
Business Planning in a Day
Marketing on a Shoestring
Is you Dislike Sales, This is for You!
There’s an Elephant in Your Financial Living Room
What You and Your Banker Need to Know About Financial Analysis
I Made a Profit, So Why Don’t I have Any Cash
How to Develop Winning HR Practices
Five Things Every Employer Should Know
How to Be On the Winning Side of the Marketing Revolution
Using Social Networks to Market Your Business
Business to Business Networking
Mentorship
Case Study: Admiral Byrd Bed & Breakfast

Bonus Series
Marketing Your Retail Store
How to Bring New Customers Back Again
Get You Customers to Shop More Often
Keep Your Customers for Life
Introduction to Quickbooks® Accounting Software
Special Question and Answer Session on Quickbooks® Accounting Software

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.

The Blandin Foundation Assists in Restoring a Vital Service to Adrian, MN

I am posting the following on behalf of Bruce A. Heitkamp, the Administrator/Clerk-Treasurer of the City of Adrian.

The City of Adrian, MN had uninterrupted pharmaceutical services provided to its residents for nearly all of its 131 years of existence. In March of 2008, everything changed as the door to Adrian’s only pharmacy closed. The closing had an adverse affect on the entire community and left residents scrambling for a way to take care of their prescription drug needs. As the City considered a pharmacy vital to the community’s health and well-being, the City Council directed City staff to quickly find a replacement. That is when the idea of a tele-pharmacy using video and two-way interactive communication entered the picture as a viable option.

At that point, the City’s mission was to restore a vital service to the community by means of broadband technology. The goal was to have a tele-pharmacy operational in Adrian. Although this business model was a rather new approach to the delivery of pharmaceutical services, it seemed one of the few viable options to provide the services to small rural communities.

The State of Minnesota is projected to lose at least fifteen rural pharmacies in 2009 and those communities will most likely face the same situation Adrian faced in 2008. One of the problems is newly graduated pharmacists are in high demand. The opportunities for pharmacists are so great that owning and operating a fully-staffed small-town pharmacy has little or no attraction. And with margins being cut, the risk doesn’t outweigh the rewards. With that in mind, the concept of a tele-pharmacy made sense. Without a doubt, the tele-pharmacy worked into the City of Adrian vision.

A tele-pharmacy serves the public in the same capacity of other pharmacies. The only difference is the Pharmacist resides in a remote location. Customers can still consult with a Pharmacist in a tele-pharmacy. The consult is provided through video and broadband technology.

The City of Adrian decided to search a partner to provide tele-pharmacy services to its residents. Sterling Drug, from Worthington, MN, answered the City of Adrian’s call. A new dilemma soon arose though as Adrian and Sterling Drug started to investigate the process of implementing a tele-pharmacy. The video conferencing and supportive equipment cost in excess of one hundred thousand dollars. Upon that discovery, Sterling Drug requested financial assistance from the City of Adrian.

City staff started the search for assistance. After a few phone calls, staff discovered the Light Speed Grant Program, sponsored by the Blandin Foundation. It seemed to be a perfect fit for the City’s dilemma. City staff attended an application meeting and was soon off to enter their application. It wasn’t too long and the Blandin Foundation notified the City with their willingness to assist. The City of Adrian obtained a grant for $50,000.00. This was exactly the amount of money Sterling Drug felt they needed to get the tele-pharmacy running.

It’s been a few months since the award and Sterling Drug-Adrian is fully operational. Clients are joining the pharmacy on a daily basis. This project could prove to be a new standard for pharmacy services in small communities.

The City of Adrian would like to thank the Blandin Foundation for their willingness to assist with this project. We’d also like to thank Bill Coleman, Community Technology Advisors, for getting us started on this endeavor. The project could have been in peril without the Blandin Foundation and Bill Coleman’s assistance.

The City of Adrian recommends working with the Blandin Foundation and Bill Coleman on projects like this. I, Bruce A. Heitkamp, would offer to assist communities by sharing our story and our path to getting assistance. We at the City of Adrian wishes everyone well. If you’re stopping through Adrian and need pharmacy services, we’re proud to announce that Adrian is again offering these services.

Sincerely,

Bruce A. Heitkamp
Administrator/Clerk-Treasurer
City of Adrian

Cook County ready for the Jackpot

cook-county-bbEarlier this week, the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran an article about Minnesota communities and the potential for the stimulus funding jackpot. As the article said, there’s a lot of money to be had – and so far not a lot of details about how funding decisions will be made. The Daily Yonder ran a similar article, mentioning that the communities that are already prepared for projects should be in the best position to receive money.

One Minnesota community that has been preparing for broadband and was featured in the Star Tribune article is Grand Marais – up on the North Shore. (Grand Marais received matching grant funds from Blandin Foundation to perform a market analysis and preliminary sustainable network, governance and financial models for this broadband network.) Danna MacKenzie, the Cook County information systems director in Grand Marais was good enough to follow up with me on the comments she made in the Star Tribune article.

As mentioned in the STrib article, we do truly believe that broadband is the next household utility. We also believe the network does not achieve its full value until everyone is connected. Broadband is necessary to maintain public safety systems and deliver next gen government and health services.

We also believe it is the most fiscally and environmentally responsible approach for diversifying and strengthening our economy. Economic improvements will initially be realized through longer tourism stays, families moving in with telecommuting jobs (we get calls all the time!) and the expansion of existing local business opportunities through improved online access. This is just a fraction of what we see as benefits of building this network. More can be found at http://cookcountybroadband.com

We know that it is not feasible for the current market to come in and build a next generation network in this area. However, it doesn’t benefit anyone, resident or visitor, to let our community fall off the map when it comes to modern services. Just as it took public involvement to get roads, telephone and electricity out to places like ours; the same can be said for broadband capabilities.

The ability for small local entities to raise the capital for a project like this is very close to impossible in this economy. The stimulus money would allow us to build a long-term solution, not just a band-aid. From my understanding, our location and our goals align well with the original intent and purpose of the rural broadband stimulus funds.

The ROI for our local taxpayers is obvious with access to choices for television, telephone and internet services at prices they can afford. It will also provide tools for the schools, public safety, healthcare and government systems to move with the rest of the state and country to continually more network dependent delivery mechanisms. The ROI for state and federal taxpayers gets back to Metcalf’s law: the value of the network increases proportionally to the number of users that are using it. Not until everyone has access can the federal and state governments start eliminating many of their redundant, paper-based, now inefficient systems of providing services and move to all-electronic delivery modes.

Adrian MN looks at telepharmacy options

The Worthington Daily Globe recently reported that the Nobles County Commissioners appear to be looking favorably on plans for a pharmacy that would allow a pharmacist to provide adequate consultation to clientele via video and teleconferencing equipment. Plans are to have a pharmacy technician on staff at the Adrian location.

The project has already been approved for a $50,000 Light Speed grant from the Blandin Foundation, and it was approved for a $25,000 loan from the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. They are looking for funding from the County Commissioners to help reach the estimated $100,000 budget.

The Commissioners voiced support for the telepharmacy and directed the county administrator to work with the WREDC and the City of Adrian to finalize the funding plan.

February Blandin eNews

Blandin Get Broadband CommunitiesHere’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.

Broadband News from around Minnesota

Carver County
The Carver County board approved a fiber optic project linking the county’s cities, schools and libraries, and ultimately businesses and homeowners. http://tinyurl.com/d4lxs2

Duluth
Verizon Wireless launched its high-speed wireless broadband Internet service in northern Minnesota. http://tinyurl.com/apt83p

Grand Rapids
Bill Coleman and Ann Treacy on behalf of the Blandin Foundation have been working with nonprofit executive directors in Grand Rapids to assess shared technology needs and collaborate on solutions. They are also working specifically with arts organizations in Grand Rapids to create a community arts blog, which should be unveiled later this month.

Kandiyohi
The Willmar Economic Development Commission is extending their Blandin-sponsored Get Broadband grant by offering a second ground of grants and more classes to local business working on their web sites. http://tinyurl.com/borafd

Minneapolis
Forbes names Minneapolis number 7 of their top 30 Most Wired Cities. http://tinyurl.com/btfsqn

Monticello
The NATOA (National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors) recently filed an Amicus brief in support of the City of Monticello and their quest for FTTH. http://tinyurl.com/d3r46f

North St Paul
On February 24, North St Paul will hold a special election on an $18.5 million bond to build a fiber-optic network to provide high-speed Internet, telephone and cable services. http://tinyurl.com/c5cure

Olmsted County
Olmsted County supports 140 telecommuters. http://tinyurl.com/d43ehh

St Cloud
A St Cloud man has come up with a better wireless solution based on light, not radio waves. http://tinyurl.com/dbmwrr

Windom
The Windom Schools have benefitted greatly from broadband technology enhanced by funding from the Blandin Foundation’s Light Speed program. http://tinyurl.com/dak23k

(Many stories are gathered from local online newspaper. Unfortunately each newspaper has a different policy in regards to archive news and therefore we cannot guarantee access to all articles cited.)

Coleman’s Corner

As a big Bruce Springsteen fan, last night’s Super Bowl halftime show was a bonus for me. I am now watching the clock so I can go online and purchase tickets for his upcoming St. Paul show. I have seen Springsteen shows many times over the years and through the usual three hour shows, Bruce orchestrates the band and the crowd through a well choreographed outpouring of energy and emotion. Watching him play a 12 minute set was fun, but a bit unreal. When his set was over, I wondered how many attendees would have voted to skip the second half just to have the E Street Band keep playing. Luckily for the NFL, the game turned into a thriller.

In a pre-game interview, Bob Costas asked Bruce why, after all these years of being asked, the band agreed to play at the Super Bowl. Springsteen laughed and said “’Cause I have a record to promote!” The title song of the album is “Working on a Dream.”

Communities pursuing a better future through broadband might well adopt “Working on a Dream” as their theme song. The opening lyrics, “Out here the nights are long, the days are lonely” and later, “I am working on a dream, though sometimes it feels so far away” and finally “My hands are rough from working on a dream” capture the challenge of community transformation whether pursuing a fiber to the home network or stimulating technology adoption by hesitant or budget stretched community organizations. As with many Springsteen songs that speak to challenge, “Working on a Dream” has a hopeful conclusion that is the outcome of hard work and perseverance. So keep up the good work and the benefits of technology transformation will emerge!

Featured Article – Minnesota broadband mapping unveiled

This is a big week for Minnesota broadband for two reasons. First, Connected Nation will be unveiling a preview of their maps this week. Second, the Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force is holding a special meeting to look at the mapping and shovel-ready broadband projects around the state.

Over the past few months, Connected Nation (http://tinyurl.com/d92x93) has been working with broadband providers across the state to create a map of broadband availability and speed. They primarily use the information supplied by the providers to create the maps.

To double check the speeds supplied by providers, Connected Nation has created a speed test and they are asking everyone in Minnesota to test and record their speeds by visiting the site.

Unfortunately, one of our local ISPs (ipHouse) found a hiccup in the Speed Test (http://tinyurl.com/c6cs37).  Apparently the test is skewed for any connections other than DSL or cable, it’s limited to 10mpbs connection and the tests are run out of Texas. Connected Nation has been criticized for their strong relationship to providers in the past (http://tinyurl.com/dkqhh7). The speed tests are a way to balance provider-supplied data so I look forward to hearing how this can be rectified and/or how this affects the results.

Also I’m anxious to see the maps. I suspect we’ll see holes up North and I wonder if we’ll see patchy areas closer to the Twin Cities. I’m curious to see how areas where the large businesses can pay top dollar for broadband but homes and small businesses cannot get access are represented on the map.

Even in their preliminary state, I suspect these maps will be put to work immediately to gauge which areas in Minnesota might be most in need of shovel-ready projects. The Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force will be discussing shovel-ready projects and the mapping on February 6, 2009.

There are three ways to add your two cents to the mapping project and the economic stimulus proposals:

  1. Visit the Connected Minnesota site to test and record the speed of your connection. (http://www.connectmn.org/)
  2. Submit a shovel-ready project idea to the Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force. (http://www.ultra-high-speed-mn.org/)
  3. Come to view the meeting on February 6, 2009 (http://tinyurl.com/d953zk)

The broadband maps will also be unveiled to Senate on February 5 at 3:00 (http://tinyurl.com/blftea) and the House at 8:30 am on February 6 (http://tinyurl.com/d2kevk).