$7.72 million invested in Region Five broadband – more info from their 5 year study

Region Five (aka the Resilient Region) recently released a 5 year study. Very interesting to see the rise and impact of broadband. (Spoiler alert: they raised $7.72 million for broadband in the area.)

I think things got serious when they expanded their vision to explicitly include broadband (and several other topics). If you want it to get done, I think you have to name it – explicitly…

Theme areas include:

  1. housing and affordable housing
  2. connectivity/broadband
  3. energy
  4. natural resources & development patterns
  5. education & workforce development
  6. transportation
  7. economic engines
  8. health care
  9. changing population
  10. government efficiency and effectiveness

The report goes on to outline the broadband work…

Broadband Adoption and Connectivity Initiatives In 2011, R5DC was invited to participate as a Minnesota Intelligent Rural Community (MIRC) and to partner with the Blandin Foundation to provide public engagement and outreach for the Foundation’s $4.7 million Broadband grant, intended to increase levels of adoption and connectivity in rural Minnesota.  As a MIRC member, R5DC launched broadband initiatives such as

PC’s for People  is a 501C3 that recycles and refurbishes used computers and donates them to low income individuals and families throughout Minnesota.   These services are located in both Crow Wing and Cass counties.

Lightspeed Grant  – As a result of a Blandin Lightspeed grant, R5DC was able to equip 11  rural fire departments with the technology to live stream training events resulting in increased efficiency and cost savings for rural fire departments in administering training.

And detail one story…

Expanding Broadband Access to the Last Rural Mile

The Resilient Region Plan prioritized the need for increased connectivity to adequate, affordable broadband as crucial for retaining and attracting both businesses and residents, improving efficiencies and quality in education and health care, and alleviating problems of workforce shortage.

“People are interested in staying and/or moving to the rural communities in the region. This includes millennials staying in their hometowns or moving in for the small-town way of life for themselves and their children, and baby boomers making their lake homes permanent residences. A crucial factor is that they need to have broadband,” echoed Brainerd hometown millennial, Staci Headley, R5DC Transportation Planner.

Many R5DC’s residents live in “last rural mile” communities and farming communities that are “underserved” and “unserved” due to factors that go into making broadband both technically and economically feasible for those who provide it and those who buy it. Multiple organizations have supported broadband expansion. The Blandin Foundation supported the Resilient Region’s Virtual Highway Task Force as a Blandin Broadband Community. National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA) regional purchasing alliance cooperative invested over $200,000 in the past years in engineering needed for grant applications and coordination of other activities by the Virtual Highway Task Force, a subgroup within the Resilient Region Connectivity theme area.

With the initial $4.2 million investments (2014 – 2015) from grants R5DC co-wrote with CTC and West Central Telephone Association (WCTA), along with the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development Investment of $3 million, a total of $7.72 million has been invested in the region to expand broadband infrastructure.  Connectivity to the last rural mile initiatives (January, 2016) have expanded broadband high speed access to 891 households, giving residents the ability to connect for telework, telehealth, and online learning, and strengthening broadband infrastructure for future growth. One hundred twenty-two low income families also have improved computer and internet skills.

Minnesota company making websites and apps accessible to people with disabilities

Hands up – how many of your bought at least half of your holiday presents online? Me too! Some site were easy to use; some where not. I had kid sending me empty shopping carts or texting me links I had to convert to my laptop if I needed to see shipping options. My fingers are crossed that everything arrives on time.

Now imagine the ups and downs of online holiday shopping if you had visual, physical or other impairments that made it even more difficult to complete a purchase online. Or imagine that you sell your wares online and you don’t even know if you’re losing sales because your site is not accessible – there’s a local company that can help with that. They were recently featured in The Line

While wheelchair ramps, closed captioning and wider doorways have become commonplace, the digital realm still lags behind.

Accessible360, founded by entrepreneur Mark Lacek, seeks to fix that oversight. The company’s purpose is to make websites and digital apps fully functional for those impaired by blindness, deafness, or physical or cognitive restrictions. The company was launched this April and began promotion last month, just in time to help businesses comply with a rollout of new regulations from the Department of Justice in 2018.

It’s something to think about – maybe not today, but next month when the rush is over and you have time to regroup and think about sales for 2017…

Checkout screens are a notorious problem for blind users, he explains, which alienates disabled users and decreases potential sales. Studies show that disabled Americans spend more time online than their non-disabled counterparts, so it’s essential for companies to adapt to their needs. “Up to 85 percent of websites are not compliant based on what the current ADA guidelines are,” says Lacek.

One added bonus – generally what’s good for accessibility is also good for search engine optimization!

Rural Minnesota needs broadband to diversify: Heard on MPR

Today I’m thankful for archived radio shows. Yesterday on MPR, Marianne Combs spoke about rural Minnesota and the economy. On the show she had Aaron Brown, author of “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range,”  the website “Minnesota Brown: Modern Life in Northern Minnesota, ‘ and host of The Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. Larry Cuffe Jr., mayor of Virginia and Ben Winchester, research fellow in the Extension Center for Community Vitality at the University of Minnesota.

It was great to hear from three experts with deep seeded roots in rural areas. The show is definitely worth a listen if you missed it too. I’m going to pare my notes down to what was explicitly said about broadband.

Several people noted that broadband is necessary for economic diversification. Not everyone wants to work for the Mining or to farm, broadband opens the door to other opportunities. Entrepreneurs need broadband to work with people around the world or across the street. And you can’t attract new businesses without broadband.

Upload speed matters. Ben pointed out that download is the speed of consumption; upload is the speed of production. He moved from Hancock to St Cloud only to find his broadband worsened in the move. He compared his experience uploading documents to the old dialup days when you’d click to send, to go bed, wake up and hope nothing broke. People cannot do business that way.

Broadband isn’t just for hipsters, Aaron noted. He has attended broadband meetings on the Iron Range and attendees include a broadband cross section of the community. People need broadband for work, family and education. Three things that matter a lot in rural areas.

I believe all three speakers spoke about the power of the cooperative to meet the broadband need in rural areas, especially where the market has failed. The cooperative is in a unique position to invest in the community because the shareholders are in or of the community.

Apply for MHTA’s 2017 ACE Leadership Program

A great opportunity from MHTA for the right person…

Now entering its 10th year, the purpose of the ACE Leadership Program is to develop and connect our region’s next generation technology leaders, and to assist them in preparing for the important roles that they will play in making and keeping our region globally competitive. Through teamwork, mentorship and action learning, the ACE Leadership Program provides invaluable experience and develops our next generation leaders as they move into their leadership roles of tomorrow.

Beginning in January, the program consists of seven day-long sessions over the course of the year. Senior executives from technology, government and education sectors will share lessons learned in their areas of expertise. Participants will discuss ideas and apply them in their own organizations and collaborate with other next generation leaders. MHTA has a strong ACE Alumni group whose graduates meet regularly and continue to work on leadership development as well as community outreach focused on technology.

Investment: The program is $2,850 for MHTA members, $3,850 for non-MHTA members. This includes all meals and one night hotel accommodation for the kickoff session. It includes breakfast, lunch and parking at all sessions and one ticket to MHTA’s Spring Conference.

Applications for the 2017 ACE Leadership Program are now open. Apply here. Applications will close on January 27, 2017.

If you have any question about the program, please contact Claire Ayling at 952-230-4553 or cayling@mhta.org.

Top reasons for great connectivity in the parks in Dakota County (or any place!)

campingDakota County has great wireless broadband in their parks. They just installed fiber at the Whitetail Woods Park and three wireless ports that support speeds from 40-60Mbps. It’s out near UMORE Park.

I’ve told a few folks and the common response seems to be why? So I’m going to do something different and just post my top ten reasons I think it’s great to have good, wireless broadband in the park.

  1. In case you get lost or injured. If you have a smartphone and can access the network, you can get help.
  2. Got community space to rent – having good access makes it much more attractive for a business retreat.
  3. Got a cabin to rent – having good access makes it possible for more people to stay longer. Yes, being off the gird can be nice but many people simply can’t leave work unattended for that long. Being able to check in a couple times a day can help many people extend a visit.
  4. Snap and post those pictures in real time. It makes a vacation with teens a lot easier! If it’s Instagram-worthy, it’s a vacation. (And great promotion for the park.)
  5. Look it up – find out what tree that is or what that rash could mean.
  6. Bring in the students – bring in their one-to-one iPads and make use of some fun outdoor adventure apps.
  7. Broadcast nature to the cubed masses. Several parks have webcams that broadband the nature to us – such as the Ely International Wolf Cam. They are popular, they build an interest and demand for the park.
  8. Internet of Thing can means remotely monitoring and managing park stuff from afar – turn on air conditioning, monitoring fire risk, warn for dangers.
  9. Apps for everyone. There are lake finder apps, star gazer apps, fishing and hunting license apps and more.

Want to be a gamer when you grow up? Here’s a MN resource to help.

It feels like “I want to be a gamer when I grow up” is a little bit like “I want to be an actor, firefighter or astronaut.” Yes – someone does grow up to become those things but for most, it’s impractical. Unless you have the support to help you hone the skills and lead the way.

Well, Minnesota has such a resource, a nonprofit called Glitch and they were recently featured in Duluth New Tribune

Headquartered on the University of Minnesota’s west bank, Glitch helps incipient game designers create, develop and publish games. The organization has helped designers throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas.

They have a number of opportunities to learn…

Glitch offers weekly events and has larger educational programs throughout the year. Its two-week Immersion program, occurring in January, takes a group of 20 people and asks them to stay awhile and listen — a joke any gamer should instantly get — as professionals educate them on a game development topic from start to finish. A past program resulted in an augmented reality game for the Minnesota Historical Society called Play the Past.

And they have the number indicating that there’s work to be had…

And there’s certainly money to be made. Video games have become a $16.8 billion revenue industry in the U.S. and generated $79.7 billion worldwide last year, according to the International Trade Administration. U.S. revenues are projected to increase by another $3 billion by 2019.

And Minnesota has at least a toehold in the industry…

Though the U.S. video game industry is generally established in California, Minnesota makes notable contributions. Game Informer magazine, a monthly video game publication, is based in Minneapolis and has a circulation of 6.3 million, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

Got community WiFi? Facebook help promote that in the future!

According to VentureBeat, Facebook is testing a feature that will highlight nearby public WiFi hotspots…

Facebook has begun early testing of a feature designed to highlight places where you can access free and public Wi-Fi near you. The social networking company confirmed that its Wi-Fi discovery feature is being rolled out now, though it appears to only be in select countries.

“To help people stay connected to the friends and experiences they care about, we are rolling out a new feature that surfaces open Wi-Fi networks associated with nearby places,” a Facebook spokesperson shared with VentureBeat.

It seems like a feature that would be useful enough (and a way to hone advertising, so profitable to Facebook) to get traction. It also seems like easy marketing for businesses and communities that have hotspots.

Several of the Blandin Broadband Communities have built public hot spots for the community to help people without broadband at home to get access. Many have done clever advertising locally to promote the WiFi and the businesses that host it – this might be a way to spread the word to travelers who might choose to stop based on access.

Maybe it seems like a great idea because tomorrow I’ll be driving home from Chicago – but all things being equal I will always choose a pit stop with WiFi so that my kids can quickly download whatever videos they want and I can upload whatever work I’m doing without pushing our data cap fee to four digits. And part what I save on the data cap gets spent on lunch or treat or headphones or other road trip emergencies.