Ely is doing a broadband feasibility – if you’re in Ely you can help

Ely is looking to get input from local residents and businesses about their broadband use and need. I wanted to share to help spread the word to folks in Ely. But also it’s a good model for any community that might be looking to do the same.


The Ely Echo reports…

Ely area residents and business owners, your input is needed.
In the quest to create a broadband fiber loop downtown and improve high-speed internet service in the city limits and into the surrounding townships, area leaders have commissioned a pair of public surveys.
One is for residents and the other is for business owners, and both come as part of an ongoing area broadband feasibility study that encompasses the boundaries of the Ely School District.

A little background on the project…

Earlier in the year, Ely was named one of six Blandin Broadband Communities in northeastern Minnesota, and a $25,000 grant from the Grand Rapids-based foundation will help fund the feasibility study.
The study is the next step in what could be an effort to improve internet service in the Ely area.
City officials have talked about establishing a fiber loop downtown and expanding the network outward, and Langowski said efforts aren’t limited to the city limits.
In a nod to those who live outside of town and have wrestled with slow internet speeds, Langowski said the project could involve towers for improved wireless service in the outlying areas.

And a link to the survey…

The survey is already up on the city’s website (www.ely.mn.us) and has been distributed via e-mail to some interested parties.
The residential survey includes questions about demographics, satisfaction with and the level of current internet service, current internet speed, how respondents use the internet, reliability of current internet service. Respondents are also asked how much they’d be willing to pay for faster, higher quality internet service.
Business owners are asked similar questions, as well as specific questions about how their business might use faster service and the importance of redundancy – which provides additional protection and network availability in case of technical failure.

Feasibility study in Pipestone County find wireless more affordable broadband option

The Pipestone County Star reports…

The most viable way to provide broadband internet service to under-served parts of Pipestone County is with a wireless system, and even that is not feasible without a grant.

Those were the findings of a broadband internet study Pipestone County commissioned earlier this year to find out what it would take to provide broadband access to the under-served parts of the county. Doug Dawson, President of CCG Consulting, and Mark Mrla, business unit manager with Finley Engineering, presented the results of the study Sept. 12 to the Pipestone County Board.

The study examined three scenarios to bring broadband to 1,747 homes where it is not currently available: Build a complete fiber system; build a hybrid fiber and wireless system; or an all wireless system. An all-fiber system requiring 458 miles of fiber was estimated to cost $12,359,445, a hybrid system $5,327,253, and an all wireless system $1,002,809.

A factor on the table…

Meanwhile, Woodstock Communications expects to find out before the end of the year if it will receive a $363,000 Minnesota Border to Border Broadband grant to build a hybrid fiber/wireless system estimated to cost $967,000.

The company’s plan differs from the $5,327,253 hybrid plan in the feasibility study because Woodstock would use existing infrastructure and less fiber, relying more heavily on wireless service.

So they are waiting to figure out what to do…

Sharon Hanson, Pipestone County administrator, said the county plans to wait and see if Woodstock Communications receives the grant it has applied for and will share the broadband study with other internet providers if requested.

Pipestone County undertook the study in collaboration with five other counties. Its share of the $252,500 total cost of the study was $39,798, half of which was paid by a grant.

But the feasibility study contractors think that info will remain pertinent…

Dawson said the cost of fiber construction has remained steady over the last decade, so the costs in the report will probably be reliable for quite a while.

Ely prepares for a feasibility study

The Ely Echo reports on a recent Rotary Club meeting where they seemed to discuss broadband in great details. (What a smart place to spread the word!) The article is informative; I’ll try to pull out some of the highlights.

They Ely Area Broadband Coalition met recently…

The group has hired a consultant to complete a feasibility study in the Ely area to develop options for improved internet speed.
Jack Maytum, Senior Broadband Analyst with Design Nine, was at the meeting taking input and discussing opportunities.
Only a few minutes into the meeting stories of poor internet service surfaced.

The future of Lake Connections has had an impact on the area…

Lake Connections has provided high speed connections to a number of people south of Ely, including to residents in Babbitt and Embarrass. However the company managing the project scaled back when funds dried up.
Lake County hired CTC to manage Lake Connections and is now trying to sell the business.
“We’re connecting customers with the resources we have. With Lake County selling Lake Connections it will be another six months before there’s any real movement on selling the network. At that time whoever purchases Lake Connections is who you need to talk to,” said Joseph Buttweiler of Connect CTC out of Brainerd.
He added that of the 13,500 homes listed on the original federal funding application, Lake Connections has just 2,600 subscribers.

The project is assessing needs and assets…

Maytum said the first step will be an inventory of assets in the area, including towers, fiber, and other elements of a network. There will be a survey sent out to residential and business owners in the Ely area.
Surveys can be filled out on paper and mailed in or filled out online.
Maytum said he could see Ely with a fiber “core” (rather than copper or wireless) that could be built around the city limits.
He said the core could be used to connect to towers that would provide wireless broadband in the townships.
The 180-foot towers could serve clusters of homes and could be built in as little as six months. Maytum said that cost could be as low as $135,000 for construction.

The will look at financing…

A detailed financial analysis will be performed, including where to get the funding. The study will recommend who should run the network. The city will be the owner, but a non-profit should probably manage it.

And a glimpse at expectations from incumbent providers…

“We’ve seen a change in the cable and telephone industries,” said Maytum. Their business model focuses more on content than infrastructure.
“Here, in Ely, we’ll be looking at Frontier poles and pole access closely,” said Maytum.

Got a broadband tool to share?

We are looking to collect tools, templates, instructions that folks in Minnesota have created that would be useful to other communities as they try to get/use better broadband. Things like curriculum for a class, instructions on how to put wifi on a bus or in a public space, your to-do list (or project management spreadsheet) for your tech fair, press releases, RFP (for feasibility study, community portal, anything)…

If you don’t mind sharing – please send anything you think might be helpful to me (Ann Treacy atreacy@treacyinfo.com). We are going to create a space for resources on the Blandin on Broadband blog and then share with a wider audience through different channels.

Need an example?

I know this isn’t from Minnesota – but here’s a great example from North Carolina all about Community WiFi. (Your submission doesn’t have to be this polished!)

Next Century Cities Offers Playbook for Tech-Powered Civic Engagement

Looks like a great resource!

Next Century Cities Offers Playbook for Tech-Powered Civic Engagement
Playbook Shares Key Lessons from Benton Next Generation Engagement Award Winners and Checklist for Future City Projects

Washington, DC (September 7, 2017) — Next Century Cities released 5 Lessons for Tech-Powered Civic Engagement: The Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award Playbook today, sharing key lessons for communities that want to leverage technology to better engage their residents in civic life. The Playbook is attached to this release and can be found at this link.

The Playbook includes learning from the three Benton Next Generation Engagement Award winning cities as well as other best practices and city models. It is geared towards local government leaders and practitioners as they work to more effectively empower residents and increase citizens’ access to democratic decision making using high-speed broadband and technological tools.

The Playbook was released at an event at Google’s Washington, DC headquarters that highlighted how cities are leading the way in tapping technology to connect and hear from their residents. The release event featured representatives from the three inaugural Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award winning cities — Austin, Texas; Louisville, Kentucky; Raleigh, North Carolina — who spoke about the work they have accomplished in the past year.

“Next-generation broadband is a valuable tool for empowering citizens to be actively engaged in their communities, which is why we awarded funding for three exciting new civic tech projects and why we’re releasing this Playbook for more cities to use,” said Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities. “The Benton Next Generation Engagement Playbook that we released today explores lessons our three winning cities learned in their first year of project implementation, and will help more communities nationwide tap the power of high-speed broadband connectivity to offer better access to democracy and civic life.”

The accomplishments of the three Benton Award-winning cities and innovative projects implemented by other cities across the country are highlighted in depth in the Playbook. The Playbook also includes five key lessons from projects that have successfully leveraged technology for civic engagement and a Civic Engagement Checklist that community leaders can use as they plan and implement their own future civic tech efforts.

The five main lessons explored in the new Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Playbook are as follows:

  1. Build With, Not For – Each community knows its own needs best, so engaging stakeholders across the impacted area during the project’s initial phase is key.
  2. Partnership Breeds Results – Cross-sector collaboration brings expertise to the table, and promotes buy-in.
  3. Civic Technology Is a Spectrum – A city’s approach should match its goal, and there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to engaging citizens.
  4. The Multiplier Effect – Effective civic technology programs yield benefits far beyond their immediate goals.
  5. Changing Communities for the Better – Well-executed digital civic engagement projects ensure citizens’ voices are heard in new and interactive ways, which can lead to increased feelings of empowerment, a greater level of ownership and attachment to the community.

“Next Century Cities hopes that this Playbook will provide community leaders with a roadmap and tested set of best practices to aid them as they leverage innovative technologies to create and implement civic engagement projects,” Deb Socia continued.

A video of this event can be accessed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdpV2ny24K0

Pipestone County is surveying users about broadband speed for possible grant application

It looks Woodstock Communications is interested in applying for a Minnesota broadband grant in Pipestone Stone. They are asking folks in rural Pipestone if they are interested in better broadband service. And similar to the survey I recently posted from the Iron Range, I’m sharing for two reasons. First to help get folks from Pipestone to respond. Second to share the survey as a model to other communities. You’ll see that Pipestone is really focused on residents current broadband connection – advertised speeds, actual speeds and cost.

Here’s the info from their website

Woodstock Communications is considering applying for a Minnesota Border to Border Broadband grant to bring high speed broadband services to your area. Many of the internet providers are claiming to offer speeds much higher then what they can provide. To help receive the grant from the state, we need your help. We ask if you would perform a speed test to document the current providers speed offerings. This would help us determine the need for affordable and reliable broadband service in your area.

Residents in the following areas are encouraged to run our speed test and fill out the survey below to help Woodstock Communications compile needed data.
If you’re paying for 25mbps but receiving 4-5mbps we’d like to hear from you! Please share with your neighbors and friends!

Iron Range Broadband Communities survey – good model for others

I just wrote about the IRBCs (Iron Range Broadband Communities) yesterday. I wanted to follow up by sharing their broadband feasibility study survey – and the email invitation they used to share it. If you are in a target community – please take the time to fill it out. (Only 21 questions!) If you aren’t in the community, you still might check it out as a model for your own area…

Take the Iron Range Broadband Communities survey

Survey targeted to residents of Hibbing, Mountain Iron–Buhl, and Chisholm school districts and Cherry Township
Not everyone on the Iron Range has access to high-speed internet, and local communities are working together to improve that access and to provide faster speeds. The Iron Range Broadband Communities project area includes all residents that live within the Hibbing, Mountain Iron–Buhl, and Chisholm school districts and Cherry Township.

The group has been supported by a grant from the Blandin Foundation, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation, and Saint Louis County to work toward improving internet access for everyone in the area. Additional funding partners include: Hibbing School District, Hibbing EDA, Cherry Township, French Township, Chisholm School District, Chisholm EDA, Balkan Township, Mountain Iron-Buhl School District, City of Mountain Iron, City of Buhl, City of Kinney, and Great Scott Township.
The first step in that effort is to determine what areas of the project area are lacking access and speed and what residents would like to see improved. To measure the current level of interest in higher speed internet access, the team is conducting a survey, which is available to every household in the project area.
The survey is designed to get opinions on current and needed internet access and seeks responses. By pinpointing clusters where rural residents have a strong desire for broadband, we will be better positioned to attract partners to invest in infrastructure. Your voice matters! The survey deadline is Aug. 31, 2017.
Residents have two ways to complete this brief survey:
• Stop by the Cherry Town Hall or the Hibbing, Chisholm, Mountain Iron, Buhl or Kinney public libraries to fill out a paper copy
Complete the survey online
The group would like to get a high percentage of residents within the project area to complete the survey. The survey will help the Iron Range Broadband Communities in its efforts to ultimately seek state or federal funding to increase access and internet speeds for the entire project area.