Ely MN Broadband Efforts – Feasibility study, community portal and helping local businesses do online marketing

This month I am traveling with the Blandin crew to visit various Iron Range Broadband Communities – communities that have been making a concerted effort to improve broadband access in their area. Here are some of the highlights from Ely…

Feasibility Study – still in process with Design Nine. We’ve had some pole ownership issues and we have some pre-engineering work done. We’re looking at wireless in remote areas, such as YMCA camp. Now – how do we go from study to doing? We will be meeting with Frontier soon. The Timber Jay New had an article on the provider lately – that helped start a conversation.

PCs for People – distributed 50 PCs to families. Everyone loved them. No problem solving was involved. The project has helped the school talk about using more technology. It’s making parents happy. We selected the families not only by first come, first serve so that folks with perceived needs had a greater opportunity. We still have more folks who could use a PC. We are looking at bringing computers to older folks. In fact we’ve had school kids working with seniors to help them get on Facebook, email and use other tools that keep them engaged. The PCs for People folks are really nice.

We’ve got money from the Northland Foundation to continue on with the high schoolers working with seniors.

Ely Portal – http://elyite.com/ for tourism and recruitment. Includes videos with Ely community members. We’re hoping to be done March 1. We won’t be doing a community calendar because we already have several in the area. Mission is to recruit people to visit as tourists, as new community members and drawing from retired community.

Tech Center – newest project. There is a site established. Space has been donated by a local law firm. We have local hardware and software experts – to help us get started. There’s a committee and we’re starting this like a business. Hope to open April 1. There is fiber to the building – but it’s 15 years old. We have a new Executive Director at Incredible Ely.

Helping Local Business Better Use technology – funding for 7 businesses; got 31 applications. Created a website for online applications. Half the people who visited the site went to apply. Hoping to grow revenue through

Businesses in the area spend about $1400/month on digital marketing. That’s more than other areas so we could help get them smarter. Each business will get about 20 hours or consulting.

E-marketing training changed this Hibbing business completely

Broadband can help businesses but two things need to happen. First, you have to have adequate broadband. Two, you have to know what to do with it. I spend more time talking about getting broadband here, but I enjoy the stories of using it too.

The Hibbing Daily Tribune recent posted a story of seven businesses in Hibbing that received digital marketing…

Businesses were selected through a contest. In addition to Cobb Cook Grocery, small business assisted in round one included: Range Steel Fabricators, Pink Tie Design, Andy’s Auto Sales, Benders Shoes, Range Floral and Sunrise Bakery.

All combined, the businesses received $20,500 worth of consulting hours, according to Lory Fedo, president of the Chamber and co-chair of the Hibbing Broadband Steering Committee.

“Consultant Molly Solberg did an incredible job providing about 20 hours of time to each business, training them to bring their technology to the next level,” said Fedo. “Our goal was not to do the upgrade for them, but to teach them how to do it themselves so that they can continue to improve and grow after Molly is done.”

Andy Koschak of Andy’s Auto Sales said the training changed his business completely.

The project was part of the Iron Range Broadband Community project…

The consulting was a broadband project funded through the Blandin Foundation and the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources, according to the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce. Early December marked the completion of round one of the customized small business digital marketing consulting.

As one of six Iron Range Broadband Communities, Hibbing leaders have completed a process to identify the community’s top technology priorities and create projects to address them.

The Hibbing Broadband Steering Committee submitted these customized consulting and several other projects for funding in 2017.

MN Literacy Council looking for Computer Skills Tutors

I wanted to share this post from the Minnesota Literacy Council – because if you’re reading this you’re probably pretty proficient with a computer and interested in making sure everyone has equal access to technology. Part of that is making sure everyone knows how to use it. It could make a good New Year’s Resolution…

Can you point, click, type and send an email?  If so, we need you!  Minnesota Literacy Council is seeking volunteer tutors and teachers to help adult learners build the vital computer skills they’ll need for a career and in daily life.

Experience:  Basic computer skills, patience, and the ability & desire to work with learners from diverse backgrounds.  No previous teaching experience required.  Volunteers must be 18 years old, or 16 if volunteering alongside a parent or guardian.

For more information and next steps, contact Wendy: wroberts@mnliteracy.org or fill out a volunteer interest form and we’ll contact you with next steps: http://mnliteracy.org/volunteers/volunteer-interest-form

The Ojibwe Netflix – great idea but viewers need broadband

MPR reports

The new “Ojibway TV” app is the first ever video streaming service for indigenous Ojibwe speakers. (The app uses an alternative spelling of Ojibwe.) It’s available now on Apple TV and Apple’s app store.

To keep an indigenous language vital, it has to be passed on to young people, Baxter said, and right now, that requires streaming video.

“Young people want to consume that content,” he said. “My 13-year-old son is more likely to recognize someone from Netflix, let’s say ‘Stranger Things,’ than a regular TV star.”

I love this idea. I’m a fan of keeping languages alive. (So much so I used to take Irish language lessons.) A language is so integral to a culture.

The MPR article goes on to talk about the need for more content. I might also mention the need for broadband access to download the videos. A federal report last year details the discrepancy between access in tribal areas and the rest of the US…

Until recently, data on tribal broadband deployment had been scarce. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) have begun to collect and compile data on tribal broadband deployment. The most recent data show that, as of December 31, 2014, approximately 41% of Americans living on tribal lands lacked access to broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload. This compares unfavorably to 10% of all Americans lacking access to broadband at those speeds. Tribal areas that are the most lacking in broadband service are rural Alaskan villages and rural tribal lands in the lower 48 states.

10-week summer program for underrepresented coding undergrads – with stipend- at NCSA

This will be an awesome opportunity for 10 undergraduate students. I’m happy to help spread the word…

Incubating a New Community of Leaders Using Software, Inclusion, Innovation, Interdisciplinary and OpeN-Science (INCLUSION) is a 10-week summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’sNational Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). INCLUSION is an opportunity for 10 undergraduate students from underrepresented communities and Minority Serving Institutions to work in pairs with pairs of mentors on interdisciplinary socially-impactful INCLUSION research projects that develop and use open source software (OSS). The program will begin with a two-day Software Carpentry workshop where students can study existing OSS. As students learn to make better software, they will document and test software, and share with others including their home institutions, an undergraduate research symposium on the University of Illinois campus, and the science and engineering research community.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • 10-week summer program offers opportunities:
    • to develop and master research skills
    • to apply open source software technologies to real-world problems
    • to work closely with NCSA researchers and faculty affiliates
    • to work on interdisciplinary and socially-impactful research projects
    • to participate in social activities, networking and professional development events
  • $500/week stipend
  • Room and board
  • One round-trip for out-of-state students

ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA

All students who apply to INCLUSION must be:

  • Citizens of the United States or permanent residents
  • Enrolled in a degree program (part-time or full-time) leading to a baccalaureate or associate degree
  • In good academic standing at their college or university
  • Enrolled in any major and in any year of undergraduate studies are eligible to apply

Priority is given to minority students applying from outside of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Through the personal statement letters and letters of recommendation, more junior students (typically in their first two years of college) need to demonstrate:

  • Interest in conducting open software research
  • Desire to learn and actively collaborate as a part of a team
  • Some professional work or volunteer experience that demonstrates the applicant’s understanding of professional working environments
  • Some software experience is a plus, but not required

Through the personal statement letters and letters of recommendation, more senior students (typically in their last two years of college) need to demonstrate:

  • Interest or experience in conducting open software research
  • Desire to learn and actively collaborate as a part of a team
  • Some professional work or volunteer experience in a university or similar research organization that demonstrates the applicant’s understanding of academic working environments
  • Software programming experience, for example in classes or through work on software projects

IMPORTANT DATES

  • Online Application: November 1, 2017 – February 10, 2018
  • Program Session: May 21 – July 27, 2018

Learn more

St Louis County experiencing problems with Frontier Communications

The TimberJay published a long article on the problems local residents and businesses are having with Frontier Communications. Internet access to not reliable, billing is unpredictable and hard to understand, there are high surcharges to drop their service and often few options when you look for alternatives.

There are a couple of stories here. One is the frustration of the customers…

While most Frontier customers can’t recite the full litany of woe experienced by Wilson, for many residents of Frontier’s service territory here in northeastern Minnesota it sounds all too familiar.

“This has been the worst service experience of my life,” said Melissa Holmes, of Embarrass, who responded to a recent story in the Timberjay asking readers to send in their concerns about Frontier. That story prompted dozens of responses, all with similar stories of overcharges, long waits on hold for billing or technical assistance, and regular outages, some lasting for days.

Holmes said her phone service regularly goes out, particularly when conditions are wet. “My whole neighborhood here on Wahlsten Road in Embarrass has had service issues with Frontier for decades,” she said. “Repeated calls to the company go nowhere.”

It’s a story of a company that is having trouble keeping up with technology…

Prospects for an improvement in Frontier’s service quality appear unlikely given the increasingly tenuous financial condition of the company. Frontier went deeply in debt in early 2016, when it completed an $11 billion purchase of landline infrastructure formerly owned by Verizon in California, Texas, and Florida. The acquisition more than doubled the size of the company, but also prompted a major restructuring, which included significant layoffs.

Frontier officials had touted the acquisition at the time, arguing that the company knew how to make money from traditional landline infrastructure even as the industry is rapidly transitioning to wireless. But the company has yet to demonstrate it is up to the challenge and as complaints over poor service have mounted, the company has hemorrhaged customers, particularly in more populated regions, where customers often have viable alternatives.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Frontier lost 102,000 landline dependent customers in just the first quarter of 2017. The company lost $373 million last year and a whopping $737 million through the first half of 2017, much of it as the company writes off overdue bills from the customers it acquired in the Verizon acquisition. Earlier this year, the company announced that it was cutting its dividend by more than 60 percent and would engineer a 1-for-15 reverse stock split (exchanging one share for every 15 shares outstanding) in a move to boost its sagging stock price. It hasn’t helped, as the company’s share price has slid from a high of $56 at the beginning of the year, to just over $11 this week. The company’s slide prompted the S&P 500 to recently drop the company from its index.

Finally it’s a story that is held captive by their broadband provider…

Brenda Winkelaar, who operates SuLu’s Espresso Café in Tower with her sister Linda, can attest to that personally. She said the majority of their customers rely on credit or debit cards for the coffee and treats they buy. But completing those transactions is only possible when the Internet is working— and outages are all too frequent, said Winkelaar. “We lose significant business because of it,” she said, since more and more people don’t carry cash. Rather than turn away customers, they routinely just give things away or ask regular customers to pay next time.

While that might not be a disaster if the Internet outage is a matter of minutes, operations at SuLu’s were thrown into chaos in late September when their Internet disappeared for three full days.

And the service impacts many…

State Rep. Rob Ecklund said he hears concerns about Frontier all the time. “Funny you should ask,” said Ecklund when he was contacted by the Timberjay earlier this month. “I just checked my voicemails from yesterday afternoon, and two of them were about problems with Frontier,” he said.

Ecklund contacted both state and company officials in the wake of the calls, and issued a press release (See sidebar) earlier this month informing residents of District 3A how to file a complaint with the Public Utilities Commission against the company.

FCC proposes changes to Lifeline that will impact users and potential users

Broadcasting & Cable reports on decisions made by the FCC that will impact Lifeline programs (the programs that provide broadband/phone subsidies to low income households). Hereis what they decided last week…

The multipart item, which was circulated last month, includes an order, a proposed order and an inquiry. The FCC, in the order part, “clarifies” that premium WiFi and other similar services do not qualify as mobile broadband under the subsidy; increases the portability of Lifeline service among carriers; and targets support for rural areas on tribal lands only to those lands.

The FCC also issued an accompanying notice of proposed rulemaking (a proposed order) that seeks comment on, among other things, a self-enforcing budget mechanism, or cap (it suggests $820 million), which was the most contentious issue in the previous Lifeline revamp. It also proposes ending pre-emption of states’ role in eligible telecommunications carrier designations, targeting Lifeline to facilities-based broadband capable networks offering voice and broadband (the FCC has been migrating its telecom subsidies from voice to broadband over the past several years).

It also seeks comment on improving the Lifeline program’s eligibility verification and recertification process. One of the things FCC chair Ajit Pai did early on in his tenure was to revoke the most recent round of certifications until the FCC addresses the verification issue. Pai’s stated goal is to prevent waste, fraud and abuse, something he has long targeted in the program, though critics of the deal suggested it was a draconian hit on lower-income residents denied service.

Finally, the order includes a notice of inquiry — sort of a fact-finding prelude to a possible rulemaking proposal – -seeking comment on better targeting the funds to areas and people most in need of the money.

Back in June, the Government Accountability Office released a report that identified big problems with the Lifeline program. For example, GAO was unable to confirm whether 36% of the 3.5 million individuals it reviewed (or some 1.2 million) actually participated in any of the qualifying programs, like Medicaid, that they stated on their applications for the subsidy.

There were differing opinions on the decisions. Some felt id deepened the digital divide…

“This is not real reform,” Rosenworcel said. “This is cruelty. It is at odds with our statutory duty. It will do little more than consign too many communities to the wrong side of the digital divide.

“Instead of thinking about the future and doing something modern, today the FCC sets out to slash this program from front to back,” she added. “Instead of honoring our statutory duty to support low-income consumers, we cast them aside and cut them off.”

Some were concerned about taxpayers…

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said the reforms were vital and “necessary fixes” to bring the program back in line with statute. He said the FCC had to do better to protect taxpayer money, including instituting a real budget, which would deter oversubscription and abuse. O’Rielly said all federal programs should be targeted, and that Lifeline fails miserably in that regard.

He said Lifeline was meant to be a discount program, not a free program. He said some portion of users are destitute and can’t afford to pay anything, but many others can and should pay. He said there should be some way of requiring a minimum contribution.