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

Blandin Broadband eNews: Federal and MN policymakers on broadband

MN Broadband Task Force releases annual report
The Broadband Task Force released their latest annual report. They recommend $35.7 million a year for ongoing broadband grants. Word is spreading in local media.

Minnesota Policymakers on Broadband

Federal (and International) Policy Topics

Local Broadband News

Broadband efforts in Aitkin County mean Wifi is filling the gap between the haves and have-nots

Bois Forte Band, Cook & Orr
Broadband efforts in Orr, Cook and Bois Fotre Band include digital inclusion classes, broadband upgrade and new equipment

Why is Bemidji best? Courageous conversations, Broadband and Art

Chisholm broadband efforts include wifi on buses, in parks, to check out and an upcoming coworking space

Dakota County
Dakota County shares Broadband Joint Powers Agreement

Ely broadband efforts include a feasibility study, community portal and helping local businesses do online marketing

50 Seniors in Hibbing get PCs thanks to PCs for People

Broadband efforts in Hibbing are helping businesses and students better use technology

E-marketing training changes a Hibbing business completely

Isanti County
Isanti County broadband survey indicates community needs more broadband

Lyon County
Lyon County gets results of broadband feasibility study

Mille Lacs
Mille Lacs is unhappy about not getting broadband grant

Mountain Iron
Broadband efforts in Mountain Iron take the form of lots of training and getting kids excited about technology

Northwest Minnesota
Midco acquires fixed wireless provider from NW Minnesota

Palisade works with a local provider to get wireless access in town and encourage FTTH

Sunrise Township
Public-Private Partnership is working with Sunrise Townships, CenturyLink and MN State Grant

Twin Cities
Super Bowl hype brings more wireless solutions to the Twin Cities

AT&T Boosts Minneapolis area mobile coverage for Super Bowl

Comcast is increasing Internet speeds for Twin Cities Customers

Upcoming Events & Opportunities

Looking for more events? Check out TechDotMN’s calendar Many events are based in the Twin Cities but it is a comprehensive list. (If you have an upcoming event, consider submitting it.)

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

The big game will have come and gone by the time you read this post.  A week from now, most of the event and marketing glitz will be removed – zip lines, ice sculptures, event stages and tents.  But some things will remain in place, especially newly installed telecommunications infrastructure.  At the next Broadband Task Force meeting, Minnesota’s largest ISPs will share details of their recent investments in a super-connected environment that I imagine encompasses most of downtown Minneapolis, the Mall of America and 494 strip, US Bank Stadium, the airport and other key sites.

This is a preview of the future that raises all kinds of question about the future. For rural community leaders, key questions include:

  • Who is going to bring this level of connectivity to your community?
  • If yes, when will they do it?
  • Will you leave these decisions to others?

Isanti County broadband survey indicates community needs more

The Isanti County News reports on the results of a broadband survey taken last summer. (The survey was sponsored by a grant from the Blandin Foundation, the Initiative Foundation and Isanti County.)…

“We had a 12 percent response rate which is stunning. The expected response would be four to five percent,” said Janna King with Economic Development Services. “Eighty-three percent of the people said their Internet was inadequate. Among the 44 businesses that responded, 10 said they would consider re-locating because of their Internet service. That is pretty dramatic from an economic development perspective.” …

Survey results indicate Internet service is highly important and there is a high level of dissatisfaction with current level of service.

  • Eighty-eight percent of residents say they need better Internet-data service, 92 percent said Internet access is very important and 1 percent said it is not important.
  • Eighty-three percent of businesses say they need better Internet-data service and 95 percent said the Internet is essential to their business.
  • Sixty-six percent of businesses said limited Internet access at employees’ residences impacts their business.
  • Twenty-four percent of businesses said Internet service options impact their business’ decision to relocate or stay in the county.

“Clearly, the business responses indicate this is an economic development issue. With the residents, there are multiple reasons it is highly important. It is not just about playing games and looking at Facebook. Over 30 pages of comments indicate challenges for families with students who need Internet access to complete homework, employees who need to log-in remotely to work on computers, farmers and rural small businesses who need better Internet access, and people who could telecommute part- time or full-time if they had better service. Respondents indicated that satellite and cellular service are helping them access the internet, but there are important limitations and challenges with those services for many people. Health care organizations are concerned about the lack of rural broadband, because they see tremendous opportunities to save money and improve service through existing and emerging telemedicine technologies. Realtors report that the lack of Internet access impacts home sales,” King stated.

Getting Broadband for Palisade MN

I want to thank Darrell in Aitkin County for writing up his experience getting community WiFI set up in Palisade and for Scott from SCI for sharing some added info. It’s a nice example of public-private partnership at a very local level.

The problem:

Palisade is a rural community with few options for high-speed connectivity.  The only wired internet connection is via DSL through the local telephone provider.  Satellite is available but we have found it has the propensity to go disconnect due to weather situations and has limited bandwidth to support hot-spot activity.

The solution:

After much investigation, we found an existing solution.  Savage Communications Inc. (SCI) has fiber in place near the downtown area.  After several conversations with them, we were able to negotiate the construction project to bring fiber to the City Hall.

One of the considerations was that the community of Palisade wasn’t going to provide free internet or go into business of offering internet to the downtown area businesses.

There were scheduling issues to begin with as SCI was working other larger project in the county.  By October 2017, the fiber was connected and that portion of the Wi-Fi hotspot project was complete and the rest of the process could proceed.

Talk about great connectivity, the speed for upload and download is slated at 100 Mbps.  Now the Wi-Fi hotspot and community reading room are ready for the next phases of their respective projects.

SCI currently has fiber to the business available in Palisade and they plan to have residential services available by the end of 2018. (This is a privately funded project for SCI.)

50 Seniors in Hibbing get PCs thanks to PCs for People

WDIO reports…

50 senior citizens and people with disabilities were given a refurbished computer, computer monitor, keyboard, and printer at the Access North Center on Monday.

PC’s for People teamed up with the Access North Center and the Hibbing Chamber of Commerce to give people the technology for those that need access to a home computer.

People that get PC services received a form in the mail from Access North that they filled out. They didn’t know whether they were going to be chosen or not to receive the computer until they attended a computer class.

Many people left happy…

One of the people that was chosen to receive a computer was Barbara Peternell, who says she didn’t expect to receive one until she went to the class.

“I’ve always wanted a computer, but couldn’t really afford one,” said Peternell.

The project was part of the IRBC program funded by the IRRRB and Blandin Foundation.