SW Minnesota: the Ups & Downs of ARRA

I’ve been tracking progress of fiber deployment by the Southwest Minnesota Broadband Group (SMBG). It is an ARRA-funded project that is bringing fiber to homes in the following communities:

  • Bingham Lake,
  • Brewster
  • Heron Lake
  • Jackson
  • Lakefield
  • Okabena
  • Round Lake
  • Wilder

The project has been going very well – and even hooked up their first customer in December. So that part of Southwest Minnesota is going strong.

Unfortunately, according to Watch Dog, not all of Southwestern Minnesota is faring as well..

The recipient of a major federal stimulus grant and loan in southwestern Minnesota appears to be having second thoughts about proceeding with a broadband project spread out over three counties. The $15 million project which planned to expand broadband service in 15 communities may be in danger of going into the financial red zone, apparently due at least in part to the escalating costs of fiber optic cable.

Woodstock Telephone Company was approved by the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to receive a $10.6 million grant and a $4.5 million loan from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to expand its fiber network by installing Fiber-to-the-Premise (FTTP) to an additional 3,600 premises in Lyon, Pipestone and Rock counties.

While there’s evidently been no formal announcement, the Minneota city administrator told the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota (FFM) that Woodstock Telephone informed her the company no longer intends to build a key facility in their community to house equipment for the network. FFM calls to Woodstock Telephone had not been returned at the time of this post.

I haven’t spoken to Woodstock, but I spoke to others who also indicated that Woodstock seemed as if it was running into some roadblocks.

MIRC Broadband Success: Dawson Boyd High School

On the MIRC tour last month, we stopped in to see the Dawson Boyd High School. They received funding through the UMRVDC as part of the MIRC project.

Here is a quick summary of their project:

Community Digital Literacy will connect businesses, community members and students to support the creation of a digitally literate community through a Multimedia Collaboration Center, a Student Tech Team, and a hybrid (online and classroom) Teacher/Community Training Academy.

It was great to hear the teachers, principal and tech coordinator talk about how the projects has been going. It was particularly interesting to hear that they recently upgraded their broadband connection from 100 Mbps to a Gig! The National Broadband Plan calls for 1 Gbps of affordable broadband to all community anchor institutions. It’s great to see we’re there in the Dawson Boyd school district – but makes me wonder if that goal is going to suffice too far into the future.

You can also hear from some of the teachers: Continue reading

Broadband Access Project at Sabathani

There’s a nice update to the University of Minnesota’s BTOP (ARRA-funded) project in the online Southside Pride newspaper.

You can read the article to learn more about a successful project they hosted this summer, but I thought the following snippet would be most interesting to readers as it gets to the root of the collaborative benefits of the BAP project; something we’ve seen with the MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) initiative as well…

When the University of Minnesota upgraded Sabathani’s third-floor computer lab with new computers last year to launch a Broadband Access Project (BAP) center in the South Minneapolis community, the relationship also gave staff the chance to close the curriculum hole.

According to Cheryl Vanacora, training and curriculum coordinator for the BAP, the University collaborated with HYP to provide instruction to the teens in publishing, online photo-editing and photography basics. They used programs including Adobe Illustrator, Pixelar and Microsoft Publisher.

Sabathani is one of 10 community organizations in Minneapolis and St. Paul participating in the University-sponsored BAP, which brings internet access and computer skills training to urban communities.

Northern Regional Broadband Networks Forum Notes & Presentations

Today I attended the Northern Regional Broadband Networks Forum in Duluth. The interest in broadband in the business community in Duluth is clearly high – as demonstrated by the standing room only situation in the room.

It was a nice look at all aspects of broadband of the community and a nice eye opener for folks who may not be using broadband, cloud computing or social media as often (or maybe as well) as the speakers. I think it will spur folks to go home and look at how they can implement broadband tools in work, home and community.

Below are the presentations. [Added 10/5/2011 – you can access materials from the event online too. http://www.northlandconnection.com/uploads/BroadbandNetworkForumPacket2.pdf]

(Danna used a great tool called Prezi – fun to see, great for the presentation but tougher to embed in the blog. Please click to view her presentation.)

And here are the questions, which I think are always valuable. (As fun to see what folks ask as to hear the answers.)

Continue reading

Free Software Training for Stevens County Businesses

I like to post periodic updates on what’s happening in various communities due to the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) project. It’s great to see that the project has spurred a partnership between Stevens County Economic Improvement Commission, Inc. (SCEIC) and Atomic Training (out of Little Falls, MN). According to the Morris Sun Tribune

The Stevens County Economic Improvement Commission, Inc. (SCEIC) is offering free one-year subscriptions to Atomic Training.com to businesses in Stevens County. Any business in Stevens County is eligible for a free one-year subscription to a creative and very beneficial on-line software training company (Atomic Training.com) that allows individualized and comprehensive software training for those who have no experience with 149 software programs for PC or Mac based computers or for those who just need a refresher on specific functions of a software program.

It’s the stone soup approach we wrote about last summer. If you can get a project on a successful path, others will join in.

Southwest MN is getting excited for fiber

Both the Jackson County Pilot (Aug 18, 2011) and the Cottonwood County Citizen (Aug 24, 2011) have highlighted the Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services’ (SMBS) progress in bringing fiber to Southwest Minnesota. The Pilot paints a nice picture of what broadband means to the area…

Your grandpa planted crops with a two-row planter. You Use a 36-row planter.

The same is true of information technology, said Dan Olsen, general manager of Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services, the group charged with bringing lightning-fast fiber-optic communication capabilities to Jackson County.

The potential impact on the local economic development is easy to imagine. The Cottonwood Citizen details the more direct impact of the project on local economy…

Olsen said there are roughly 40 people working full-time on the regional fiber-to-the-home project.

That number includes outside construction people, engineering staff, the sales staff, project management, vendors and others.

Again back to the Jackson Pilot, they recognize that broadband alone won’t make the difference in bringing in jobs and economic opportunity – but adoption programs will help lead to success…

In addition, SMBS officials believe that in partnership with the Blandin Foundation sustainable adoption dollars and local economic development groups, this network will make the region much more saleable for business retention and attraction efforts.

This network will not only create jobs, but also build provide a foundation for opportunities for community anchor institutions and businesses to build and implement applications that will increase the quality of life as well as improve health, education and public safety services across the region.

Senators Klobuchar & Franken attend Carver County Groundbreaking

One of the best thing about being back in Minnesota is that I’m able to attend some of the fun groundbreaking events to celebrate new broadband deployment (much of it sponsored by ARRA funding). Yesterday I was able to attend the groundbreaking in Cologne, Minnesota. They were celebrating the beginning of their new fiber optic ring, which will be over 122 miles long and will connect 86 entities at 56 sites throughout Carver County, including city, county and township governments, schools, fire departments, public safety towers and law enforcement agencies.

Both Senators Franken and Klobuchar attended. I caught some video of the event…