Grassroots effort to improve broadband maps – give it a try

The National Association of Counties (NACo), Rural LISC and Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) have created a tool that might create better maps…

National Association of Counties (NACo), Rural LISC and Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) have partnered to address the critical need for high-speed internet for rural communities across the country. Currently, data indicating broadband availability and speed is reported twice a year by Internet Service Providers. However, there is no mechanism to verify the accuracy of the data, and anecdotal evidence suggests an entire ZIP code is oftentimes marked as “served” with broadband if just one home in the census block has coverage. Outdated broadband mapping techniques limit Congress’ ability to accurately identify and allocate broadband resources across much of America.

In response, NACo, Rural LISC and RCAP developed a mobile app that harnesses grassroots advocacy by empowering individual users to accurately identify areas with low or no internet connectivity. The data will be aggregated to identify gaps in broadband coverage. This information will help guide advocacy for adequate funding and inform decision-making at federal, state and local levels.

Join us in advocating for a stronger and more connected future for small towns everywhere. Follow these four short steps to join the movement!

Step 1:  Locate the iOS/Android App Store on your phone.

iOS App Store

Android App Store

Step 2:  Search for “TestIT” in your mobile app store (see icon below).

Step 3:  Download TestIT mobile app.

Step 4:  Open TestIT mobile app and click “Test Speed Here!”

(Repeat Step 4 as frequently as possible)

That’s it!  For further info, see the press release here, and NACo’s flyer: “Bridging the Economic Divide.”

P.S.  Help spread the word by encouraging friends, family and constituents to join in the effort!

NTIA Partners with MN and 7 other states on improvements to Broadband Map

From National Telecommunications and Information Administration

Today, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced that it is collaborating with eight states to broaden and update the national broadband availability map. The eight states – California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia – will contribute data and other inputs to the map.

“In order to ensure that all Americans have access to broadband, we need a more precise picture of the current services and infrastructure that are available,” said David Redl, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator. “NTIA’s work on an updated map, in partnership with these initial states, will help policymakers around the country make better decisions as they devise broadband expansion plans.”

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 directed NTIA to update the national broadband availability map using its previously developed state partnerships. The initial eight state partners were chosen because they reflect geographic diversity, participate in NTIA’s State Broadband Leaders Network, have active state broadband plans or programs, and were willing to contribute data that can be combined with nationwide data sources to give policymakers a deeper understanding of broadband availability.

NTIA expects to seek participation from additional states, territories and federally recognized tribes that have broadband programs or related data-collection efforts. The initial map will include available nationwide data for every state combined with state-level data from the eight states.

I can’t say for sure, but it seems like having an Office of Broadband Development helps Minnesota take advantage of opportunities like this. Luck favors the prepared.

Le Sueur County moves forward with broadband plan – starting with feasibility support by Blandin Foundation

Le Sueur County News posts a letter to the editor from Barbara Dröher Kline…

Last year, while meeting residents of Minnesota House District 20A as a candidate, I heard numerous complaints about access to high speed broadband.

Also during the campaign, I attended a Region Nine Broadband Summit, learned where there are significant issues in each township as well as learning about solutions. I met with Dr. John King, my Le Sueur County commissioner, to discuss how to move ahead locally.

An expert from the Blandin Foundation presented at the May 15, 2018, Le Sueur County Board meeting, where the board unanimously approved applying for planning resources from Blandin. That application was approved. A group of county residents and county staff met with providers, took a survey, attended an intensive planning conference last fall.

As a result of these efforts, last December, the commissioners approved a contract for a professional feasibility study and we submitted another Blandin application for a $25,000 grant to support the study. On Jan. 29, the grant was approved! I am so proud of how many county residents stepped up to work in the planning process, the responsiveness of county staff and board, and the timeliness of this process. We are now poised to apply for state funding this fall. This IS rural economic development.

If you haven’t, we invite you to complete the survey of your home or business internet capabilities. Find the survey at www.lesueurcounty.org. Put your home and/or business on the planning map to help the consultants identify local needs.

USDA Launches High-Speed Broadband e-Connectivity Resource Guide

The USDA announces a new tool…

Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett today announced the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched a new toolkit to help support the deployment of high-speed broadband e-Connectivity in rural communities. “High-speed broadband e-Connectivity is becoming more and more essential to doing business, delivering health care, and, for schoolchildren, doing homework in rural communities,” Hazlett said. “This user-friendly tool will help rural customers find the many resources USDA has available to support the expansion and use of e-Connectivity in rural America.” The e-Connectivity Toolkit features 27 USDA programs that support broadband deployment. The easy-to-use resource is a simple guide that allows customers to identify their type of eConnectivity project and locate resources the federal government offers for planning, equipment, construction, research and other e-Connectivity projects. Resources such as grants, loans and technical assistance are available from multiple Mission Areas at USDA, including Rural Development, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Farm Service Agency, National Resources Conservation Service, and Forest Service. The toolkit highlights examples of how e-Connectivity resources are being used to increase access to broadband services in rural communities. It is free and available to the public online, and can be easily printed for offline use. USDA’s launch of the e-Connectivity Toolkit closely follows Secretary Sonny Perdue’s unveiling of the ReConnect Program, a pilot program authorized by the Consolidated Budget Act of 2018, to facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas that lack sufficient access to broadband.

The meat of the tool seems to fall on page 10, where resources are listed by potential user.

Broadband expansion happening in rural areas of Region Five

The Wadena Pioneer Journal reports…

Two area internet providers plan to hit the ground running this spring with expansion projects that will get folks in Todd and Wadena counties within reach of high-speed internet.

They’re able to lay fiber optic technology in these unserved and under-served areas thanks to millions of dollars in grant funding.

The projects are a cooperative effort involving regional telecommunications companies Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) and West Central Telephone Association (WCTA), with assistance from the Region Five Development Commission (R5DC) and Sourcewell.

CTC is involved in a $2.5 million project that will give about 500 residential homes the opportunity to tap into 1 gig speeds. This project area covers homes in the Sylvan Shores area south of Staples including homes around Philbrook, Fawn Lake, Moran Township and surrounding areas. It includes about 130 route miles of fiber.

WCTA is also working…

Meanwhile West Central Telephone Association is continuing work to the west and south of Wadena and southwest of Staples.

“We’ve completed the construction phase for the year, other than the final splicing crews,” WCTA marketing director Geri Salmela said of the Wadena project. “Our teams are following the splicing crews to connect customers now, and our office staff is busy scheduling installations for roughly 130 customers. When complete, these customers will have access to 1,000 Mbps broadband, also known as Gigabit service. …

The WCTA project comes at a cost of about $9,000 per premise or $26,000 a mile. It enters into areas that were not served before by high-speed internet.

Deployment started with a feasibility study…

Since 2015, Sourcewell has made a combined total of $500,000 of investments to complete feasibility and engineering for regional broadband projects. In partnership with CTC and WCTA, these substantial outlays have leveraged funding through the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Office of Broadband. R5DC’s Executive Director Cheryal Lee Hills stated in a news release, “Our region is extremely fortunate to have a partner like Sourcewell who offers unparalleled contract purchasing solutions, services to our schools; local units of government and communities, then continues above and beyond to invest in critical issues that make a difference in our quality of life.”

Next Century Cities Launches Resource to Help Communities Become Broadband Ready

Sharing the resources from yesterday…

Today, January 16, 2019, Next Century Cities launched Becoming Broadband Ready: A Toolkit for Communities. This new resource is a guide for communities that are seeking solutions to connect residents to broadband. The launch event took place at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. from 1:00 – 3:00pm ET. 

A panel of community leaders, including Dr. Robert Wack, City Council President, Westminster, Maryland; Don Patten, General Manager, MINET; and McClain Bryant Macklin, former Director of Policy, Office of Mayor Sly James, Kansas City, Missouri, discussed their work to improve connectivity for their constituents and the potential of the toolkit to help similar efforts in other communities.

Across the country, mayors and community leaders are looking for solutions to connect residents to fast, affordable, and reliable internet access. Becoming Broadband Ready was developed with input from Next Century Cities’ member communities and features best practices and strategies from a diverse array of successful projects.

The toolkit acts as a comprehensive first-stop resource for community leaders by outlining the most important considerations and action steps for communities beginning broadband expansion projects. These “building blocks” for a successful project are broken down into clear, concise sections that are presented in chronological order, with the most fundamental ingredients first and more nuanced considerations later. Next Century Cities will continually update this resource to address evolving technology and new challenges that may arise.

View Becoming Broadband Ready in full here: 

https://nextcenturycities.org/becoming-broadband-ready/

Watch a recording of the launch event here:

https://livestream.com/internetsociety/broadbandready

New Toolkit to Answer Your Library’s Tech Questions

There’s a new toolkit to help rural and tribal librarians work with technology. It includes things like:

  • Technology Inventory
  • Types of broadband services and activities they support
  • Technical staff and support required
  • Broadband funding (E-rate and more)
  • Best practices – including training, acceptable use policies and filtering
  • Technology planning templates

Some parts are pretty library-specific but many could spur conversations with other community institutions or communities in general. You can learn more from this handy video…