Stirring the Pot: Broadband end user resources

As originally posted on the Blandin on Broadband blog

Today, I find myself relatively speechless.  In this time of high social anxiety, the Internet is showcasing its power to both support and stress our communities and country.  Rather than personally blathering on, I thought that I would provide a few great sources of information for your thoughtful consideration.

Privacy
Electronic Frontier Foundation (www.eff.org)
Electronic Privacy Information Center (www.Epic.org)

Digital Inclusion
National Digital Inclusion Alliance (www.digitalinclusion.org)

Internet
Berkman Klein Center – Harvard (cyber.harvard.edu)
Benton Institute for Broadband and Society (www.Benton.org)

Stirring the Pot : Eye on the Broadband Prize

As originally posted on the Blandin on Broadband blog

Community broadband leaders need to keep their eyes on the prize – broadband money!  “To the Victors belongs the Spoils.”  In Andrew Jackson’s day, that meant political patronage.  Today, the spoils are fiber optics!

In addition to the $20 million (with an additional $10 million in play) of Border to Border Broadband grant funds, there is a whopping $20 billion on the table via the FCC’s Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF) coming in October.  Large areas of Minnesota are eligible for funding to be allocated via a reverse auction. https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/maps/auction-904-preliminary-eligible-areas/

The state’s broadband fund is designed to give communities input on provider proposals.  A community can choose to support applications via a single letter of support, by rallying multiple letters of community support and/or by providing direct funding.  A community could choose to write a letter of protest to the state if the service to be delivered was deemed in adequate or if the funded project would be a barrier to future fiber infrastructure investment.

The RDOF program incents fiber providers but allows fixed wireless, DSL and even satellite.  While the RDOF program offers no formal role for community engagement, there are important ways for governments to influence the results.  The community need to find a provider who will bid and, preferably, someone ready to deploy fiber optics.    At a minimum, community broadband activists should be in contact with prospective providers to see if they plan to bid and with what technology in mind.  A community could also work with a provider to get adjacent areas deployed via some combination of state, local or provider funds.  Finally, documenting the demand for broadband will help a provider to appropriately bid for the RDOF funds.

The RDOF eligibility map is a patchwork based on claims of existing services by incumbent providers.  If a provider claims one house in a census block to be served with 25 Mb/3 Mb, the entire area is deemed served making them ineligible for RDOF.  CenturyLink and Frontier are now claiming thousands of census blocks as served taking them out of the program.

Communities should work with GIS mapping experts, either consultants or their own county planning staff, to see the impact of these new service claims and to test the reality of those claims.  While there is no formal way to refute the data, communities can act by working through state and federal staff and elected officials to ensure accuracy.

Clearly these RDOF dollars will have a huge influence on broadband deployment; I believe that what a community has for infrastructure and services for the next generation will be determined by this auction.  Don’t just sit and watch.  Make this program work for your area or suffer the long-term consequences.

Stirring the Pot: Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF)

As originally posted on the Blandin on Broadband blog

Community broadband advocates need to take a look at the Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF) funding that will be made available via the latest FCC’s funding program for rural broadband.  Communities should engage with their preferred provider partners now to encourage them to bid for this available funding.  A preferred partner is one whose deployment plans line up with your community’s vision for future broadband service rather than a provider using these funds to meet today’s minimum broadband standards similar to the CAF II 10 Mb/1 Mb debacle.

Over $20 billion is available and only areas that lack 25 Mb/3 Mb funding, using the current FCC maps, are eligible.   Eligible areas can be found here: https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/maps/auction-904-preliminary-eligible-areas/ along with GIS data tables.  There are large blocks of eligible areas in northeast, east central, southeast and southcentral Minnesota.  One interesting aspect of the reverse auction process will be to reward providers who commit to providing higher speeds and lower latencies.  Frankly, this whole process is very complicated.

A significant barrier to effectively using these funds is the patchwork of eligibility.  The funds would be a great building block in a collaborative funding plan, combining provider, local and state funds with federal funding to cover a wide geographic area.  County and regional broadband planners would do well to commit local funding to their preferred provide partner which would increase their ability to bid confidently on these federal funds.

Smart legislators would empower the DEED Office of Broadband to reserve some of their funds supporting providers chasing RDOF funds.  I hope that they are talking about this.  With a prospective DEED application window in September and the October FCC auction, the timing seems compatible.  Combined, these funds could be used to ensure widespread deployment of fiber to the home networks, especially since so many of the eligible areas are not idea for wireless deployment.  This would be a great opportunity to push the “Minnesota Model” to a new level of innovation.

Stirring the Pot: Community Broadband Leadership

As originally posted on the Blandin on Broadband blog

Community broadband leadership is front and center for me right now, stimulated by a recent orientation session for five new Blandin Broadband Communities and the task of creating content for an upcoming Community Broadband Leadership Workshop.  To clarify my thinking on the topic I have been online reviewing definitions of leaders and leadership.  The lists are all well and good and include many admirable qualities.   In my experience, teams of leaders are significantly more effective in community broadband development than lone rangers.  We also know that on every leadership team, there are extraordinary individuals that are instrumental to the success of the group.

Ultimately, it all comes down to people who are willing to do the hard work to move their community forward.  Our community broadband leaders do the investigations and learning to understand the challenge, then recruit and inform others to the issue.  They convince organizations to devote resources for finding and funding solutions.  They devote the time to going door-to-door to boost community survey completion. They join regional and state efforts that may or may not pay dividends for the local effort.  They recognize others’ contributions to the effort.  As Edison said, “success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

When meeting new community teams, I often try to anticipate who will step up into leadership.  I am often wrong and many times surprised.  Established community leadership needs to be open to these emerging leaders but that can be harder than it seems.  Some of the most effective leaders have no title or position or broadband expertise. You will recognize them over time – they show up, ask questions, volunteer for and complete tasks.

I was with one such leader this morning at

the Cherry Township hall where happy residents were signing up for new fiber to the home broadband service.  It was fun to see area residents shaking his hand and thanking him for his efforts while he deflected the praise onto others.  For a while my new favorite saying was that “every community needs a Kippy!” In retrospect, I think that every community already has one or more Kippy’s.  The leadership trick is to find them and allow them to serve your community.

Stirring the Pot: Working with communities that get State Grants

As originally posted on the Blandin on Broadband blog

Two of the three communities that participated in our Community Broadband Planning Charrette at the October 2018 Broadband Conference formed public-private partnerships that received significant state broadband grant awards announced last week.  That is a pretty good result just over one year.  Both Koochiching (w/Paul Bunyan) and Le Sueur (w/BevComm) Counties were at the very early stages of organizing their broadband efforts and their community teams spent two days with quality broadband consultants (great thanks to Cooperative Network Services and Finley Engineering, respectively) studying maps, analyzing survey results and discussing financing scenarios.  At the end of the conference, both teams understood what was possible and what local efforts would be necessary for a successful partnership.  With both Paul Bunyan and BevComm representatives at the conference, discussions commenced!

Our Blandin team has been discussing ways that we can help those who are either just beginning their broadband development efforts or those that still struggle to attract the state or federal funding necessary to implement a successful project.  We have some ideas.  If the broadband is deficient in your community or county and you think that there would be a team ready to work to solve this problem, please contact me to discuss your situation.  You can reach me at 651-491-2551 or bill@communitytechnologyadvisors.com.  You can also complete a short online form at the Community Broadband Resources Program description at www.broadband.blandinfoundation.org and we will contact you.

Stirring the Pot: Supporting Entrepreneurship

As originally posted on the Blandin on Broadband blog

Doug Dawson, in his always interesting blog “Pots and Pans”, has an informative article about Chattanooga and their efforts to support entrepreneurship, spur innovation and address digital equity (https://potsandpansbyccg.com/2020/01/06/leveraging-the-benefits-of-fiber/).  I highly recommend that you subscribe to this blog as well as the Blandin on Broadband (blandinonbroadband.org) blog for daily updates on all things important to community broadband and economic development leaders.

Minnesota is lucky to have fiber networks like Chattanooga’s in many rural communities and counties.  When you look at the DEED broadband maps, these areas shine bright green as having at least 100 Mb/20 Mb broadband service that includes all of the Fiber to the Home (FTTH) networks and most cable modem services.  The 100% FTTH areas are likely have a minimum of symmetrical 100 Mb/100 Mb service and probably symmetrical Gigabit services available not only in the community, but also in the rural countryside.  It is interesting, maybe even disturbing, that Chattanooga has established a national brand as a tech-centric, fiber-connected community while Minnesota’s thousands of square miles of fiber networks are virtually invisible on the national economic development scene.

Why?  I think that while some Minnesota communities and regions are active in promoting some elements of technology-based economic development, it seems to me that they are too few in number, too limited in scope, and certainly, too limited in self-promotion.  This is a missed opportunity for collaboration between communities and broadband providers, individually and collectively!  If you think that I am wrong on this, let’s hear about it so we can promote it on the Blandin Blog!

If you think that your area has unrealized potential for technology-focused community vitality, you should know Blandin will soon be selecting four Blandin Broadband Communities shortly after the January 24th application deadline.  In addition to community facilitation using the six element Intelligent Community framework (www.intelligentcommunity.org), the Foundation provides financial resources to implement projects to spur community vitality.  The Blandin team is happy to help your cross-sector leadership team fully consider this program as an option for your community.   Check out the program details at broadband.blandinfoundation.org.

Even if you decide to pass on the Blandin Broadband Communities opportunity, you should know that thirty-two hours of ad hoc community technical assistance is always easily available via Blandin’s Community Broadband Resources Program to help spur either broadband infrastructure, adoption and/or economic development initiatives.

Chattanooga’s municipal network ownership enables easy integration with other city initiatives.  With private and even co-op ownership of most Minnesota’s broadband networks, it takes some additional effort for collaborative provider partnerships. More and more sophisticated broadband users are good for providers; they should be interested in helping your community to thrive via technology. I urge you to contact your broadband provider(s) to discuss partnership opportunities. In addition to the Blandin Broadband Communities Program, a good starting point would be completion of DEED’s new Telecommuter Ready (https://mn.gov/deed/programs-services/broadband/telecommuter-forward/) certification program.

Stirring the Pot: Thankful for community leaders

As originally posted on the Blandin on Broadband blog

In this season of gratitude, I am grateful to be able to work with the great team at Blandin Foundation and the many community leaders working to improve broadband across greater Minnesota.  The Leadership Awards presented at the fall broadband conference recognized only the tip of the iceberg of rural broadband leaders.  In almost every successful local initiative, there are multiple leaders working together to bring positive change to their community.  Sometimes one person is honored as the leader, but all good leaders know that this is a limited view of reality.

It takes multiple leaders and many followers to build the momentum necessary to overcome fears, objections and interference from both inside and outside the community.  At a recent meeting of current Blandin Broadband Communities, we heard all the good things happening in these communities, with some credit to the momentum created via the BBC program.  Isaac Newton’s theories in action!  These communities are moving in the right direction led by many cooperating leaders.

If you are looking for a fun way to illustrate this concept at your next broadband meeting, check out one of my favorite TED Talks:

If you want to start a movement in your community, get organized, and apply to be a Blandin Broadband Community.  Look for that application soon.  Call us for assistance!

Stirring the Pot: Maximizing community broadband

As originally posted on Blandin on Broadband

It is so interesting to review the Blandin on Broadband blog reports on county connectivity.  Many counties are making great progress on achieving the 100 Mb/20 Mb state goal.  The next big community challenge will be to maximize the value derived from this combination of significant investment by private and public sector partnerships. The question is how to move from being able to tell stories of individual people, businesses and institutions that are making great use of technology to a bigger story of widespread sophisticated use of the network for work, school, entrepreneurship, health care and social life; in essence, creating a world-class environment that retains and attracts people and investments.  It will take a major shift in mindset for community leaders to focus on this even more complex task.

The Intelligent Community framework provides a guide to measure this shift.  The six elements of Intelligent Community are: Broadband; Knowledge Workforce; Innovation; Digital Equality; Sustainability and Advocacy.  It is interesting to note that the MN Department of Economic Development now has key staff devoted to several of these topics.  The beauty of the Intelligent Community framework is that it helps break down the silos between these topic priorities.  Done right, there can be great synergies between these topics though it is sometimes difficult to knock down those institutional barriers.

Great thanks to those folks who attended one of Blandin Foundation’s Intelligent Community workshops this fall and special kudos to those who followed up with a submitted application to ICF.  Minnesota applications jumped from two to five.  Special recognition to Alexandria Lakes Area; Brainerd Lakes Area; East Central Minnesota – GPS 45:93; Koochiching County; and City of Winthrop. Communities can still submit the benchmarking questionnaire at any time and receive their benchmarking report shortly after. When you do so, you will see how your community stacks up compared to 400 other communities around the world.

We all know that broadband does not get deployed in rural places with strong community effort.  It will take that same level of effort to achieve the full benefits of the network.

 

Stirring the Pot: Celebrating community broadband volunteers

As originally posted on Blandin on Broadband

Minnesota’s communities are full of great citizen volunteers working to improve both broadband access and use as an essential component of community vitality.  In every community that I visit, there is one or more volunteers putting in hundreds of hours for the betterment of their community. Through their efforts, schools and community centers become more active technology centers, broadband demand surveys are collected via online, mail and door-to-door surveys and elected officials learn that broadband investment is smart investment.

I doubt that many local folks know the depth of commitment and level of effort required to move these broadband projects forward.  While many of these folks do not have an official title, I think that they are heroes!  You have my admiration!

Stirring the Pot: MN Broadband Maps

As originally posted on Blandin on Broadband

As I prepare to go on a nice vacation, I am looking at the calendar of upcoming meetings and presentations for which I need to prepare before getting on the airplane.  Right when I return, I need to do a Broadband 101 for a county board in south central Minnesota.  The first place I look to prepare is the Office of Broadband Development maps.  This is a rich source of information with various ways to display the data.  The question “How well are we connected?” is not as simple as it once was.  The maps, in their various forms, should be used as conversation starters, not as a place to find definitive answers.

I first look at the maps, then go to provider websites to get more detailed information.  The DEED provider database shows 13 wired and fixed wireless providers.  Speeds vary from symmetrical gigabit over fiber to 500 Mb symmetrical via fixed wireless to 100 Mb/40 Mb over DSL.  Three different fixed wireless providers show complete to partial coverage of the county.  Seems like this county is well served, yet when I look at the Border to Border Broadband grant eligibility map, the vast majority of the county is shown as unserved and grant eligible.  According to provider information, 82% of households have wired connections of 25 Mb/3 Mb while 78% have wired 100 Mb/20 Mb.  Ten percent have symmetrical gigabit coverage.

As I talk with county commissioners, I will be asking them the following:

These questions always stimulate interesting conversations.