Broadband isn’t just about doing things faster – it’s about things like driverless cars but only where there is broadband

Broadband used to just help us do things faster. We could send files faster. Maybe it saved us a trip to Target when we could order online. But now, broadband lets us do different things – like work from home, take classes online or remotely check in on health issues. But the differences are about to take an even greater leap forward.

Smart Cities Dive reccently wrote about the potentnial (and different) impact of driverless cars in urban and rural areas…

But unless things change dramatically, this polarization is not at its zenith; it’s just beginning. The next step in this digital and economic evolution is the coming autonomous vehicle (AV) economy, where in the coming decades the combination of sharing, electrification and autonomous driving technologies will be genuinely transformational, affecting all aspects of the economy from transportation to real estate prices, taxation, education and future employment.

For cities, the business case and transformation path for the AV economy is easy enough to see. Driving and parking is expensive and difficult. Commuting from the suburbs is time-consuming and often dangerous. High density urban areas have a growing number of young and elderly happy to ride share and forgo having cars altogether.

Supported by powerful and reliable gigabyte-level broadband services and a plethora of high-quality fixed wireless and mobile phone providers, cities are scrambling to embrace the AV movement, with more than 50 metropolitan areas already hosting AV pilot programs.

The business and use case for small town and rural communities is obviously different, but in many ways stronger. After all, one major advantage of autonomous vehicles is that they are safer.

Rural drivers struggle with high speeds, longer distances and poorer roads and signage — with a crash fatality rate nearly three times as high as that in cities. And as rural populations continue to age, many of the critical services – shopping, visiting the doctor, or simply getting out of the house to visit friends and family — can all be enhanced with shared use and self-driving vehicles.

Possibly the most important benefit of AV technologies in rural areas is that they maintain a connection — an economic lifeline — through extended corridors of AV service to large cities and enterprise zones and transportation hubs. And it works both ways. Consumers will want their autonomous cars to travel beyond the city borders, and the idea of AVs being limited exclusively to our cities and suburbs only increases the urban vs. rural economic and political divide.

In short, smart towns are just as important as smart cities, and the transitional nature of the AV economy could go a long way to including “flyover” America in the growing economic prosperity of our booming cities and enterprise zones.

Supreme Court says States can tax online purchases

USA Today  reports…

A closely divided Supreme Court upended the  nation’s Internet marketplace Thursday, ruling that states can collect sales taxes from online retailers.

The decision, which overturns an Supreme Court precedent, will boost state revenues at the expense of consumers and sellers who have avoided sales taxes in the past. But the justices did not specify what types of exceptions states may impose to limit the burden on small businesses.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 5-4 decision, jettisoning the court’s longstanding rule that states cannot require companies without a physical presence to collect sales taxes. He was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.

Reactions were mixed…

Reaction to the high court’s ruling was mixed. State government groups hailed it as a boon for their revenue base, as well as a playing-field equalizer. But some lawmakers in Congress vowed revenge.

“The Supreme Court has given the green light for states to establish an underground, nationwide, privatized tax-collecting bureaucracy,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat whose state of Oregon has no sales tax.

Although it seems small businesses may feel it most…

“The burden will fall disproportionately on small businesses,” Roberts said. “The court’s decision today will surely have the effect of dampening opportunities for commerce in a broad range of new markets.”

How do you get a business to rural Main Street? Broadband!

Minn Post recently ran an article on a new 3D printer business in Gibbon. It’s a great example of what happens in a rural area when they have broadband. (Gibbon is in Sibley County – one of the areas we featured in our report about the Community ROI of public investment in broadband.)…

“Our downtown is really struggling and has been for a while,” she [City Administrator Dana Lietzau] said. “The question is: ‘How do you find businesses to come here?’ ”

The answer that landed one entrepreneur is clear: high-speed internet access.

Like many rural towns in Minnesota, this village of 750 people in Sibley County has the standard fare of small businesses: a hardware store, a bank, an auto repair shop, an insurance agency, two bars. Also, like many small towns, it has few retail outlets. The grocery store closed years ago.

So when Adam Stegeman, an engineer with a background in 3D printing technology – a growing form of manufacturing – opened a 3D printing business in an old bank building here, residents took notice. “Any employment in this city is huge,” Lietzau said.

They talk about how they got broadband…

In 2015, Gibbon joined nine other cities and 17 townships in creating a cooperative that promised to bring broadband Internet access to 6,200 residents across both Renville and Sibley counties. RS Fiber Cooperative laid fiber optic cable through Gibbon in 2016 – about the time Stegeman began thinking seriously about striking out on his own. Each of the cities involved in the cooperative now has fiber optic cable, with speeds of up to 1 gigabyte; the second phase of the project – to bring broadband to the countryside – should begin in 2020, according to a spokesman for RS Fiber.

The cost to bring broadband to the cities involved in the project was about $15 million; Gibbon sold bonds to raise its share, which was $813,000. Lietzau, the city manager, said civic leaders pitched broadband access as at least one way to encourage businesses to locate in Gibbon. The Stegeman venture has helped to validate that hope.

And details the need for high speed broadband…

To fill orders, Stegeman must download large files of designs over his broadband connection. He can download 10 gigabytes in an afternoon, which he said was a major factor in his decision to locate in Gibbon.

“It really speeds things up,” he said. Without a connection that can transport huge digital files, he would need thumb drives sent through the mail – a much slower and more inefficient way to do business, he said.

Stegeman hopes his business will grow so that he can eventually employ some people who live in the area. He looks 10 years ahead and sees stability, three or four employees and profits. That is the plan, anyway.

Broadband makes short list of DevelopMN goals of Regional Development organizations in Minnesota

The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently ran a letter from Cheryal Lee Hills and Dane Smith outlining the role (and importance) of the regional development organizations (RDOs) in Minnesota…

The RDOs still are very much in service to employers, present and would-be, in the local economy. They swing deals and find capital, public money or tax breaks. But Region Five and all 10 of the entities allied as the Minnesota Association of Development Organizations are also broadly concerned these days about all the pieces crucial to healthy community development, which in turn foster more sustainable and equitable business growth.

This broader vision was recently distilled in a remarkable document, “DevelopMN 2016: Comprehensive Development Strategy for Greater Minnesota.”

We believe that this document can make a positive and constructive difference and that it can be of great value to candidates and voters during this year’s election season. More than ever, the so-called urban-rural divide and in particular the future of greater Minnesota will be front-and-center, as voters assess an unusually large number of candidates for governor and other offices, to determine who casts the most credible vision for a statewide economic growth formula that appeals to Minnesotans in every region.

And explaining DevelopMN, a framework for the future (a framework that recognizes the role of broadband)…

The DevelopMN framework, based on decades of local hands-on experience, pinpoints 17 goals and 58 strategies for growth. Those include: improving local and vocational employment training; building affordable housing; addressing a child-care-shortage crisis; accelerating our statewide transition to renewable and local energy; protecting water quality and natural resources (a huge asset that makes rural living attractive in the first place); building out broadband and high-speed internet access; bringing many more arts and cultural amenities to Main Street; supporting existing local businesses; and all the while emphasizing the need to welcome and be more attractive to newcomers and immigrants, whether from Minneapolis or Myanmar.

Importantly, DevelopMN does not throw shade on the Twin Cities as a competitor and says nothing, for instance, about stopping transit investment in St. Paul to pay for roads and highways in St. Peter. The new framework and the tone of DevelopMN turn out to be similar to that of Greater MSP, the large and well-funded organization launched almost a decade ago by large corporations and Twin Cities governmental leaders to promote metro growth and attract new employers.

If you’re interested in more discussion of future plans and the interconnections between rural and urban, I might suggest attending the Thrive by Design conference happening in Granite Falls next week.

Lack of rural broadband is hurting business – reprinted letter from Inter-County Leader

Thank you to the Inter-County Leader for permission to re-post a letter to the editor from someone who had experience with fiber in Minnesota and is talking about what life is like without broadband…

Rural Internet service

When I recently volunteered at Forts Folle Avoine during a fundraising event, their credit card machine stopped working. This was eventually fixed but staff said it happens quite often, especially when they have events where there are lots of people wanting to charge. The staff indicated that internet service in that area was poor.

The previous year, during Gandy Dancer Days, the credit card machine in the coffee shop in Webster did not work. They lost business as people didn’t have cash and most don’t use checks. On a recent visit to the coffee shop, the credit card machine was working but they had no internet. A customer said she was looking for a job and relies on using the internet at places like the coffee shop to apply for jobs. She stated that the school where she previously worked had iPads for students, but they often couldn’t connect due to slow internet speed. So she used her cell phone hot spot which cost her around $200 a month for unlimited data.She stated that this lack of access to the internet does not give local students an equal opportunity in education when compared with other locations in more populated areas.

About two years ago the school where I worked in rural Minnesota, a small town of 500, was getting up-to-date fiber optic cable for better internet access. I believe this was partly funded by the state of Minnesota.

With a population of 15,000 for the whole county of Burnett, the internet provider doesn’t seem to be concerned about the poor internet service. What the company doesn’t realize is that many “lakers,” some coming from the Twin Cities, want good internet service and they are at their cabins regularly. I would recommend that people interested in improving the internet connection in Northwest Wisconsin contact their legislators and their internet service providers asking for better up-to-date internet.

Pam Girtz


Unfortunately the state funding she mentions above was not funded in the last legislative session – it was part of the Supplemental Budget that was vetoed.


NBC draws from Lake County for story of broadband success and cites recent Blandin report

NBC recently wrote about the impact of broadband in rural America. They make the point that with better broadband, rural communities can see greater economic impact and they use Lake County as the example…

A contractor building high-end houses in Minneapolis swung by Greg Hull’s sawmill on Friday, a timber operation located in deeply rural Lake County, Minnesota. The builder had seen Hull’s website and driven nearly 250 miles to the mill to inspect Hull’s high-end lumber as potential building material for his homes.

These days that’s not unusual. In the past year-and-a-half, Hull has seen orders balloon and interest grow, and a significant factor is his recent ability to gain access to high-speed internet. That’s made a huge difference for the saw mill, located at the end of a power line in an area that knows only gravel roads and limited cellphone coverage.

“Before, if you wanted to download or do anything on the internet, back when it was a phone line system, you couldn’t do anything,” said Hull, who lives and works on 100 acres of Minnesota woodland. “I had to go to the library or hire someone to do stuff, but now we can do it all. We have an improved website. It’s made the whole internet presence a lot more viable, which has in turn opened the exposure.”

That’s something largely new to Lake County, an area that covers 3,000 square miles and stretches from the shores of Lake Superior to the Canadian border. About 10,000 people call this area home. But local leaders there decided they needed high-speed internet, and after nearly eight years and the investment of more than $80 million — much of it coming from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as former President Barack Obama’s stimulus bill) — access to the internet is beginning to boost the local economy.

That could mean a long-term impact of tens of millions of dollars in household economic benefit and residential real estate value, a report by the Blandin Foundation claimed.

The economic upside of internet access is being pushed by rural broadband advocates across the country who say that there isn’t enough being done to connect rural communities. Building out the necessary infrastructure, they argue, could function as an economic and informational driver for some of the country’s most cash-strapped regions.

Ely uses first fiber connection to connect a coworking space

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Just off the main drag in the North Woods town of Ely, often described as the “end of the road,” a side door to a brick building offers locals and visitors a little haven of modern technology.

The new Ten Below Coworking space — a basement office with desk seats for a dozen people — boasts the city’s first fiber-optic broadband-connection available to the public.

The city and the nonprofit group Incredible Ely used a $15,000 grant from the Blandin Foundation to create the open floor plan office as well as a couple of meeting rooms in the Klun Law Firm building. The money was used to furnish the space and should be enough to keep the lights on and the internet working for a year, officials said.

The coworking space is just a first step…

Ely Mayor Chuck Novak said he’s enthused about the energetic people who are working to make the space viable, including advertising it so people are aware of it. It’s part of a larger plan to bring internet fiber to the rest of downtown and get high-speed internet out to the entire school district, in some places using wireless access points, Novak said.

“We’re tired of legislators at the state and federal level always talking about broadband and not providing a sufficient amount of support for it. … It’s one of the most important things for economic development in greater Minnesota,” Novak said. “We’re going to have to take care of this ourselves. … We’re going to start getting creative here. We will find a way.”

The space in Ely will serve as a pilot project for getting local people exposed to working with truly high speed internet, officials said.