Southwest MN Broadband Services Going Strong

Thanks to John Shepard for sharing a story in Windom News (article not available online) on Southwest Minnesota Broadband Service’s progress installing fiber through eight communities SW Minnesota. John and I joked that there really isn’t much new in the article – except that no news is good news. SMBS reported hooking up their first customer just before the first snow fell in December. Since then they’ve connected another 40 in Lakefield.

The article reports…

In fact, he [SMBS General Manager Dan Olsen] says the pace will run at 250 hook-ups per month until the project is finished at the end of 2012.

They are also doing a wireless trial in Bingham Lake. So while it’s not earth shattering – I feel like hearing that the ARRA funded project is going well is worth repeating.

More on SMBS’ plan to add wireless to their FTTH network

Last week I got to speak with John Schultz from U-reka Broadband about Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services and their plans to add wireless to their FTTH network in Southwest Minnesota. I think it’s a great example of where a community wasn’t asked to choose between the two but recognized the inherent strengths in each platform. You can hear how it came about, what it will mean to the communities served and advice for others thinking about how to provide broadband access.

I have to pull out one of the highlights. John points out the advantaged of adding wireless. In the short term wireless is a good way to provide service to hard to reach areas; in the long term it will offer mobility, which opens the door to more applications especially for folks who are in the field.

And by “in the field” we mean literally in the field. I found a fun article written by a dairy farmer (in California) that highlights the top mobile Apps for Farmers. Truthfully most of the apps would be helpful to anyone, which sort of makes the case that most of us are in the field at least part of our day.

Southwest MN FTTP project gets new logo

Yesterday I was discouraged by the news that Wisconsin was returning their ARRA funding. Such a wasted opportunity no matter how you look at it. Today I’m encouraged by an ARRA-funded project in Minnesota that seems to be going much better.

Last week I reported that Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services (SMBS) is adding wireless to their box of tricks. That’s been big news and I’m hoping to speak to them more about that soon. Today’s news is much smaller, but makes the point that sometimes it’s the little things that matter.

SMBS recently unveiled their new logo. It was designed by high school student, David Reyes from Southwest Star Concept High School in Okabena. It’s no accident that the designer was a high school student. SMBS held a logo design contest open to area middle and high school students. The winner not only receives the accolades and a bullet point on a résumé, he also received an iPad. According to the Jackson County Pilot, there were about 50 submissions.

This is the logo that SMBS will use to market their upcoming FTTH services. It’s fantastic that they were will able to use community resources and build some community capacity and pride along the way.

What if I don’t want fiber?

Fiber may be a utlity, but it’s not mandaotry – not in Jackson, Minnesota. According to the Jackson County Pilot

“We are going to make freely available a connection to every home, every business, every building in the city of Jackson,” said [Jackson Mayor] Jasper, a longtime fiber proponent and the city’s representative on the Southwest Minnesota Broadband Project Board of Directors. “But if you don’t want this on your land, we will not put it there.”

Now if you decide later (or the next owner decides) that you do want fiber the installation cost will be on you.

It’s an interesting notice reflecting a viewpoint I almost forget exists. Also it makes the case for broadband adoption programs. I assume there are situations I cannot imagine where fiber may not be attractive – but for most folks I think it’s just a matter of explaining what broadband can do for them and failing that, what access to fiber can do for resale values.

Stimulus wait continues in SW Minnesota

The Southwest Minnesota Broadband Group found out that they received ARRA funding in February, but they’re still waiting for the check to arrive. At least that what it sounds like from the Jackson County Pilot (April 1, 2010 – Fiber: Coming to a Farm Near You; not currently online but kindly sent to me by John Shepard) and Cottonwood County Citizen Online.

The Cottonwood County Citizen Online reports that according to Windomnet Manager Dan Olsen parts of the project are in a holding pattern but some parts progress; specifically they have finalized the joint powers agreement and started some preliminary engineering.

So it’s kind of a bummer for the communities that are waiting. I suppose Minnesota hadn’t had such a beautiful March they might be in a holding pattern waiting for the ground to thaw. Hopefully the check will arrive soon. Waiting seems to be a recurring theme with the entire ARRA broadband funding initiative.

Blandin eNews September 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 Get Broadband CommunitiesNTIA/RUS Funding
The NTIA/RUS received 2,200 applications requesting $28 billion in response to the broadband stimulus NOFA. http://tinyurl.com/la98sv Specifics on the applications should be published in the upcoming weeks. Reviewers have begun to look at the applications. You can follow the review process on the blog of the BTOP Reviewer. http://tinyurl.com/mv8ykp  

Broadband Task Force in Fergus Falls
The Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force met in Fergus Falls in August. http://tinyurl.com/nk75mu They talked about speed, symmetry, policies and actions required to achieve ubiquitous broadband, role of government, public and private partnerships and costs. They heard from community members, many of whom had attended Blandin’s Broadband Policy Seminar held the day before. http://tinyurl.com/nktvv5 The audio from the Task Force meeting is available online. http://tinyurl.com/l45hfd  

Research on Rural Broadband
The USDA released a report that found that rural communities with better broadband access had greater economic growth than areas with less access. http://tinyurl.com/mp2ybe  

Rural Hospitals Stuck
Rural hospitals are being asked to move to electronic medical records. That will cost money. There is some federal funding available; unfortunately to qualify for that funding the hospitals are expected to do preparation but that preparation has not been specified – leaving the hospitals in a difficult position. http://tinyurl.com/kqv99c

Go for the Gig
Mark Ansboury, from the Knight Center of Digital Excellence makes the case for creating a National Broadband Policy that promote gigabit Internet speeds for all. http://tinyurl.com/mnjsm9

Local Broadband News

Adrian
Thanks to funding from the Blandin Foundation, the City of Adrian has been able to successfully install a telepharmacy solution to meet the needs of the local community. http://tinyurl.com/ndkv3h

Apple Valley
Citilink Communications (based out of Apple Valley, MN) has built the first WiMAX wireless network in Minnesota. http://tinyurl.com/mxmfmq  

Bemidji
Paul Bunyan Telephone is highlighted by Ars Technica in an article praising the work of forwarding-thinking local broadband providers. http://tinyurl.com/nn8r7j  

Chaska
Hazeltine Golf Course installed 26 hi-speed T1 fiber optic data lines, 50 DSL Internet lines and 29 ISDN lines for radio in preparation for broadcasting the PGA Major Tournament in August. http://tinyurl.com/l79qgs  

Dakota County
Frontier Communications is providing free Wi-Fi at the Dakota County Fair. http://tinyurl.com/mhdj5v  

Fergus Falls
A Fergus Falls Daily Journal editorial recognizes that residents as close as 12 miles from a community as large as Fergus Falls are only able to receive Internet access through a dial-up connection. http://tinyurl.com/ltubb5  

Jackson, Cottonwood and Nobles Counties
The SouthWest Minnesota Broadband Group (SWMBG) is planning to expand the reach of FTTP in portions of Jackson, Cottonwood and Nobles County. http://tinyurl.com/nz8tbz  

Lake County
After garnering support from local communities, Lake County moves forward with plans for a fiber network. http://tinyurl.com/nbxlrp In fact they just released a Design/Build RFP for its FTTP network. http://tinyurl.com/na2p69  

Moorhead
The Moorhead Public Service Commission approved the sale of its GoMoorhead broadband operation 702 Communications for $1.2 million. http://tinyurl.com/mfzg4w  

St Cloud
An editorial in the local paper asks, are we disqualifying an entire population because of Internet access? http://tinyurl.com/nvtljg

Bill ColemanColeman’s Corner

The first stimulus grants have been submitted and now applicants are waiting to hear whether they made the first cut in the review process. Those who do will need to respond to requests for more information about their projects. As someone who worked on two projects, I have to ask myself what more they could possibly want to know?! The stimulus application required submittal of in-depth engineering, financial and marketplace information. Government servers ground to a halt under the deluge of documentation submitted electronically requiring that an extra week be allowed for applications.

While I have not seen a comprehensive list of Minnesota applications yet, I know of several others. It will be interesting to see the full list and analyze the decisions that providers, communities and non-profits made in selecting projects and project partners. It will point to the variety of approaches that might work to increase investment in infrastructure, increase efforts to provide public access and adopt technology in business, government, education and health care.

I have seen several notices about initiatives in other states where the state government has taken the lead to coordinate applications and capitalize on shared investments, thus maximizing the amount of broadband stimulus funds received and benefits obtained from those funds. I wonder why that is not happening here in Minnesota in preparation for the upcoming second and third rounds; it is certainly not too late for that to happen and I hope that it does. I am proud of the effort that Blandin Foundation led to develop and submit an application in the Sustainable Broadband category. We have a solid set of activities and a great set of partners. If funded, there will be a flood of broadband promotion activities that communities and providers can get behind to work together to increase our broadband vitality.

Events

September 2 – Webinar: Getting the Most out of Cloud Storage http://tinyurl.com/npafhh
September 16-17 – NTEN’s Online Nonprofit Technology Conference: Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission http://tinyurl.com/l2leop
September 27 – October 1 – Fiber to the Home Conference & Expo (Houston TX) http://tinyurl.com/n4mjzn
November 12 – Talking Tech: Nonprofit Focused Solutions – Remote Access Methods http://tinyurl.com/mmkd8m
November 18-19 – Blandin Broadband Conference (Duluth MN)
December 10 – Talking Tech: Nonprofit Focused Solutions – Supercharge Your Work With MAPS http://tinyurl.com/ntbjm3

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.