Minnesota broadband grants a model for Ohio

The (Ohio) Tribune Chronicle reports…

A new bill introduced Wednesday in the Ohio Senate would set aside $50 million a year for grants to expand broadband internet access to rural parts of the state.

Sound familiar to Minnesota readers? There’s a good reason…

The program is modeled after one in Minnesota and companion legislation is expected to be introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives.

It’s great to see that we’re onto something so great other states want to replicate it! It’s also worth sharing that Ohio is looking to invest $50 million – considerably more than Minnesota has invested in a single year. Maybe we can learn a little bit from them too.

Rep Johnson reminds citizens that Minnesota State’s cybersecurity

Representative Sheldon Johnson has an Op-Ed in MinnPost warning citizens that Legislators are not taking citizens’ online security seriously enough to invest in better protection from cybersecurity attacks…

To be frank, some of the state’s computer systems and security measures are outdated. There are dedicated public servants working around the clock to keep data safe and the vital functions of government running, but they need tools that meet the threat today’s hackers pose. That’s why Gov. Mark Dayton requested $27 million, which is 0.0001% of the state budget, to bring our state’s computers and IT infrastructure up to date.

Instead of funding that request, with a $1.65 billion surplus, the priority for legislative Republicans was not Minnesotans’ data or personal information, it was more than a billion dollars in giveaways to insurance companies and tax breaks for the rich, well-connected, and big tobacco. What’s worse is they even removed provisions stopping Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and others from selling your private data to the highest bidder. Consider that fact for a moment. Not only is the security of your data not a priority for legislative Republicans, allowing giant telecommunications companies to sell your browsing history is the priority. That’s simply mindboggling to the average Minnesotan.

It seems like he’s giving folks a nudge to give their representatives nudge if cybersecurity is important to you…

Minnesotans value the important role government plays in many areas, such as education and keeping our waters clean and air breathable. We also don’t think much about it, but we expect government to do the basic things it’s supposed to do, such as keep our sensitive information safe and protect our privacy. Abandoning those values isn’t what the people who voted for us wanted us to do; it’s what the corporate special interests wanted. We must demand that the people of Minnesota are put first, that we uphold our values, and not allow politicians to sell us out for the big businesses that donate to their campaigns.

Fond du Lac Break ground on $8.2 million FTTH Project

This summer, the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa broke ground on their fiber to the home project. Yay! Sadly, I wasn’t able to make the event. Thankfully Zachary N. Dunaiski from the Fond du Lac newspaper was willing to share notes and a picture with me.

I have done training on Fond du Lac. I have worked with entrepreneurs who run their businesses from their smartphone. I’ve worked with Elders on how to use Facebook to share (and tag) historical photos to help put names to faces. I’ve worked with people who want to use broadband to help their kids learn and help themselves earn a living. Earning a living may come from setting up an eBay shop or putting a profile on LinkedIn. In fact, one of my favorite teaching stories is the father and son duo who came to class. In class they decided to join LinkedIn – mostly on the premise that the father’s connections could be good for the son’s job search. BUT before the end of the class, the father (a pipe fitter) had a hit on his profile and a likely job lead!

In other words – this is a community that has built up demand. And now broadband supply is in the making.

The network cost is projected at $8.2 million. Two $3 million grants were secured from the USDA, Rural Development – Community Connect program. Fond du Lac Band is contributing $2.2 million to match.

Construction began last month (July 2017) and is expected to end October 2018. The project covers most of the Fond du Lac Reservation. The installation will include 160 miles of the main line fiber and 78 miles of drops or connections to the home. Also, there will be two Central offices located in Sawyer and Brookston. The project can provide connectivity to 1000 homes for both Band and Non-Band members.

Fond do Lac will benefit from this project with more than just business; it will also open up many opportunities such as Telemedicine, home health care, electronic health records, online schooling, and more. Additionally, the system is designed for voice, video, and data.

Sen. Franken Convinces FCC to Give American Families and Businesses More Time To Make Voices Heard about High-Speed Internet Needs

Here’s the latest from Senator Franken…

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said today that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has agreed to his request to give people in Minnesota and across the country additional time to comment on whether slower-speed mobile broadband can serve as a substitute forrather than a complement tohigher-speed fixed broadband.

Sen. Franken said the FCC decision to extend the comment period, which now ends on October 6, 2017, comes after he and 11 of his colleagues pushed the commission to allow more time for Americans to weigh in.

Under current policy, the FCC provides that Americans need access to both mobile and fixed broadband services. While mobile technology may one day support the same functions as fixed broadband service, that is not the case today. After the FCC signaled potential changes that could deem mobile only service sufficient for communities across the nation, Sen. Franken and his colleagues raised concerns over the potential impact the change could have on millions of Americans’ broadband access, and pressed the FCC for more time to allow Americans to weigh in on the proceeding.

“We need to make sure all Americans—including those in rural, tribal, and low income communities have access to reliable and affordable broadband.” said Sen. Franken “While I have serious concerns about the FCC considering at this time whether mobile broadband service at lower speeds could supplant, rather than supplement, fixed broadband services—and conclude that Americans’ broadband needs are being met—I’m glad that people in Minnesota and across our nation will have more time to make their voices heard.”

You can read more about the FCC’s extended comment period here.

Or get a little more info from Digital News Daily

Mobile broadband is no substitute for wireline service, a group of Democratic lawmakers say in recent comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission.

“While we recognize and welcome the possibility that technology may one day evolve to a point where mobile broadband options could be deemed equivalent to fixed broadband services, that is not the case today,” Senators Al Franken (D-Minnesota), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and 11 others write.

They add that a decision to consider mobile broadband an acceptable substitute for wireline service would mark a “striking change in policy” that would particularly hurt people in rural and low-income areas.

Sherburne County – look back at impact of being a Blandin Broadband Community

From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Sherburne County…

In 2014, 92 percent of Sherburne County had access to broadband as it was then defined (lower speeds back then). In 2016, when the definition of broadband was updated to take into account technological advances, only 75 percent of the county had access to broadband speeds of 25/3 (Mbps down/up), and 28 percent had access to Minnesota’s 2026 speed goals of 100/20.

Sherburne County is going the wrong direction; they have gone from well served to underserved as the definition of broadband changes. It’s therefore not surprising that as a Blandin Broadband Community, Sherburne County focused on improving broadband access and infrastructure. The strategy they adopted was to focus on educating the public, improving technology use in schools, and on smaller public access projects.

Jolene Foss, Community Development Director at the City of Princeton describes their journey to better broadband:

The City of Princeton is unique in that it sits on the line Between Mille Lacs County and Sherburne County. As I became more informed of the status of high speed, reliable and affordable internet in our community, I was shocked to find out how many residents are underserved, or completely unserved! Businesses were suffering economically due to high rates and lost opportunities. The students in our counties were struggling to complete assignments and do research from home, especially those who reside in rural locations. People couldn’t bank or take care of their online medical needs with poor internet service. Quality of life was being affected and some of the leaders of our community recognized a need for change. The Blandin Foundation has graciously awarded these communities the resources needed to take necessary steps in the right direction. As a member of the Broadband Steering Committee for Sherburne County, our group decided to start a Community Outreach Subcommittee to educate and inform residents and elected officials on the importance of affordable reliable high speed internet service. We would like to see people reach out to the elected officials and express the need for more funding to enhance partnerships between providers and other stakeholders. These partnerships will pave the way for economic viability and secure our place in this fast paced world. Our people deserve every advantage that anyone else gets. We need to stay competitive if we want to see future success.

The Steering Committee used grant dollars to hire a marketing firm to create a brand for their group – “SherBand.” They created a webpage, education materials, and promotional items, and wrote bi-weekly blog posts. The community team contacted their elected officials, created a Facebook page, produced an educational video, and participated at various community events and meetings.

Infrastructure improvement and access projects included installing Wi-Fi at Rivers Edge Park, Lake Side Park, and the Becker Athletic Complex; extending fiber to the Sherburne History Center, and installing fiber to connect Elk River City Hall to Zimmerman City Hall and fire department. Additionally, while not part of the BBC project, internet at the industrial park in Princeton was upgraded during the project period.

For a more recent look at Sherburne County – check out the county profiles I did earlier this year.

Resilient Region – look back at impact of being a Blandin Broadband Community

From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Resilient Region (Region 5 in north central Minnesota)…

The Resilient Region is a five county collaborative (Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena) working to create a sustainable and inclusive region through the disciplines of housing, transportation, natural environment, and economic development to improve the quality of life of all residents. Broadband connectivity is an critical component of the Resilient Region Plan; in fact, they found that broadband touched every edge of the other projects they were working on – positioning them well to begin their work as a Blandin Broadband Community.

The Region’s connectivity priorities include: improved and expanded broadband access across the region with a focus on fiber, using technology to retain businesses and encourage entrepreneurism, ensuring Internet access for all children, and identifying additional funding and service partners.

During the project period, the Resilient Region made significant progress towards improving the Internet access available to residents. A Feasibility Study commissioned by the region as part of its participation in BCBP was used to help secure a nearly $3 million DEED Border-to-Border project grant that will bring world class fiber-based Internet to Fairview Township, Fort Ripley, and a portion of northern Wadena County. Resilient Region and its Internet provider partner, Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC), maximized learning from the Fort Ripley project by utilizing Blandin Foundation grant dollars to conduct a study on the Economic Impact of Broadband Infrastructure Expansion & Subscription. Key findings of the survey include:

  • Customer service and reliability of connection are more important than cost.

  • Less than 2% of older adults surveyed do not use the internet.

  • The internet plays a critical role in enabling customers to work where they live with more than half of households using their home internet for work; and 14% reporting that they “telework.”

  • Over 20% of customers have a home-based business or farm with 36% reporting that the internet reduced their overall operating costs; and nearly 9% of customers have plans to start a home-based business in the next 1-3 years.

  • Two-thirds of customers stated that the internet is very important for their family with almost 40% saying that they could not live in home without a reliable high-speed internet connection.

These study findings were shared with the Governor’s Broadband Task Force and elected officials.

Using technology to improve learning was another priority for the Steering Committee. One of the Blandin grants was used to purchase SMART boards which are enhancing educational opportunities for the youngest learners in ISD 181 Brainerd Public Schools. Eight teachers were trained on the use of the four SMART boards and projectors that were installed for the Early Childhood Family Education program.

ECFE coordinator, Tahnee Flowers relayed a story: One preschool room spent time learning the “3 little pigs” story. … They developed the props and practiced acting out the play. The teachers were able to record the students acting out the play using the iPad from the Blandin grant and email it to the parents. They also had a “movie showing” on their classroom SMART board so that the class could watch themselves acting out the play. The children and parents loved it!

Other Resilient Region BBC projects focused on healthcare, teaching young people to refurbish and redistribute computers, introducing state-of-the-art videoconferencing facilities to the community, and using technology to attract and retain businesses.

For a more recent look at Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena Counties – check out the county profiles I did earlier this year.

RS Fiber – look back at impact of being a Blandin Broadband Community

From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from RS Fiber…

RS Fiber is the name of the new, home-grown broadband cooperative serving ten cities and 17 townships in Renville and Sibley Counties in southwestern Minnesota. They are in the process of building their fiber-to-the-home network, and offer plans of up to 50 Mbsp, 100 Mbsp, and 1 Gbps symmetrical. Therefore, happily, broadband isn’t an issue for folks in the RS Fiber service area. The challenge is getting people to use it to its fullest potential, and stimulating economic growth.

The Steering Committee determined that many of the area residents were not tech savvy. They saw their challenge as not just teaching people how to use computers, but helping them see the almost limitless ways technology can improve their lives. To address the former, they offered well attended computer basics and more specialized classes and distributed 50 computers through BCBP’s partnership with PCs for People. To address the latter, they are creating a number of innovation centers with Internet hotspots in towns throughout the region. The Innovation Centers will house things like 3D printers, and one will have a drone obstacle course.

Engaging youth is another area of focus. They offered 4-H programming at the Innovation Centers being established throughout the county, established public hotspots at schools, and implemented Wi-Fi on busses. They made available low-cost devices to student riders who didn’t have their own to use and targeted bus routes that were experiencing a high number of behavioral incidences. Schools reported that the number of incidences of adverse behavior went down dramatically, and there was no longer a need for an extra adult supervisor on these routes.

For a more recent look at Renville and Sibley Counties – check out the county profiles I did earlier this year.