Yesterday’s Broadband Stimulus Pre-Planning discussion started with the following presentation on the Blandin Foundation (brief), an update on the what’s going on with the stimulus funding (what little we know) and info on Blandin’s interest in helping to draw broadband money to Minnesota.
I took dictation-type notes at the meeting – and if you want it I can send them to you. I thought the meeting went very well. It was clear that people were interested in meeting to talk about opportunities – but the meeting was more brainstorm than agenda so I thought it might be more helpful for me to try to organize and summarize what happened.
I’ll start with who was there. The group was pretty diverse and included broadband service providers and consultants, applications folks, community organizations, local government folks, people from health care and more. (If you want to get on the invitation list, one way is to join the Minnesota Broadband Coalition.
Who wasn’t there? Leadership from the State. Folks were there from various State organizations but people noted that getting support and leadership from key positions in the State would be helpful.
Several organizations mentioned an interest in funds but were either waiting to hear more or wanted to learn more. (Note for readers: no one knows that much. The criteria for funding have not been unveiled; indications are that criteria haven’t been developed yet. So if you feel as if you don’t know enough – you’re right but you’re not alone.)
Here are comments related to the funding programs:
The funds that we are talking about are for implementation – not ongoing costs. So how do we maintain and sustain any systems we put into place?
There are many buckets of money. States that can engage in a cooperation effort will look best.
NTIA traditionally gives a shorter time to compete the applications than is required. It sure seems as if there will be a benefit in getting in on the first round. The pool of applicants is only going to get larger.
Here are comments related to getting State leadership involved:
There isn’t any leadership at the State taking this on. But we need to talk to them to leverage existing and future State efforts.
Maybe the Minnesota Broadband Coalition should take folks into the Governor’s office to talk about how to be smart with prepping the ground for broadband. For example – maybe we could talk to the Governor about laying fiber when they are building roads.
U-reka Broadband is talking to MNDOT about these issues. The opportunity to collaborate is the opportunity to turn the $4.7 billion into more, sustainable funds.
The state network is the key provider to maybe people (starting with MNSCU). OET has not taken a lead but there might be an opportunity there. Adequate staffing might be an issue for them.
What projects or plans folks have in place (Note: some people mentioned their own programs, some volunteered programs of others. I didn’t distinguish between the two here.):
MNSCU is has campuses everywhere. Maybe that’s a place to start.
There is an interest in funding in the libraries. There are a lot of people without broadband and the library fills the gap. But the libraries are waiting to get the details. Even keeping libraries open longer would help.
There’s been an effort to connect libraries with City Hall with fiber – such as done in Roseville. But now we need to get clusters of communities connected. How can we capitalize on the work that’s been done? We have the expertise but not the staff that others have talked about.
SISU Health Network is working with 70+ institutes now but hoping to work with 200+. The goal is to create a tele-health network across the region. They need a private network – secure, encrypted and stable. Match funds are an issue for the various sites (regional health care, not-so-regional health care centers).
Extension Services are on the ground but they are in transition due to staff changes. They do well when the community is ready to go – but staffing is an issue (to help communities that aren’t ready). And they are waiting to hear what’s coming up.
Native Star Network from the White Earth Community wants to build a network that provides access to the community, provide training, teach people how to access broadband at home, access for healthcare.
The Greater Minnesota Telehealth Collaboration went through a process a bit like this a couple of years ago. They collaborated quickly (whoever was ready was welcome) to pursue funding. Lesson learned from healthcare – You need to pay for statewide collaboration. Funding from the top down is a better way to get people to collaborate than to fund locally and then trying to collate those funds into a sustainable network.
Advice for working together:
Referencing others’ work is a good way to demonstrate cooperation.
We need to look at everyone’s interest – the common ground is transport. If we can create a common transport – that helps. Everyone carves out a niche and doesn’t want to give ground – but collaboration would offer a bigger benefit. So maybe sharing the pipes opens us up.
We need leadership. Telecommunications connects communities. Then we can worry about how to do what we need. The biggest players (schools, hospitals, governments) need to recognize that a pipe is a pipe.
Technology isn’t the only barrier. Dealing with so many entities has set up legislative (and other seemingly arbitrary) barriers. The FCC (with previous funding) has set up a situation where sectors cannot work together – and that is closing doors for rural areas.
There’s probably 20 percent savings on everyone’s project is they collaborate.
Empowering community members is an important aspect. But it takes a strong community. Can we do a social network map that might help forecast which communities will succeed? The League of Minnesota Women Voters is another group with grassroots connection. We need to make sure that the tie is made between the tech details and the impact on community members.
Minneapolis Wireless had a community component – led by AmeriCorps workers. Maybe that can be replicated on a statewide basis. Does that fit the rule making?
Blandin is a good impartial convener – we need to get State folks to the table.