As originally posted in the Blandin Foundation eNews…
Congratulations to Danna MacKenzie, the director of Minnesota’s new Office of Broadband! I know Danna will be getting lots of advice about the best strategies to move Minnesota forward – tax exemptions, financing programs, new regulations and other ideas. Here is mine!
I would encourage all of us, but especially Danna, to take a look back at a set of sound principles on which to base our way forward. Danna is well-familiar with the Blandin Foundation Broadband principles – she helped to create them in 2006. These principles were adopted by a stellar group of Minnesotans, including telecom providers, community representatives and elected officials. These principles have stood the test of time. Considered individually, each principle makes sense, but recognizing the interplay of these principles is essential.
- Ubiquity - Meaning broadband availability for everyone, this is a cornerstone adopted by the first Minnesota Broadband Task Force chaired by Rick King of Thomson Reuters.
- Symmetry - Both download and upload speeds should support content users and content creators.
- Affordable - Services that are too expensive are essentially unavailable to many Minnesotans.
- Competition - Drives innovation, customer service and affordability.
- World Class – Broadband is the essential infrastructure of our time.
- Collaboration - Sometimes too focused on public-private partnerships, we also need increased collaboration between private companies and within the public sector.
- Neutrality - Neutrality does not mean not choosing technologies, it means being open to new technologies and collaborative models.
- Interoperability - Networks and applications should operate easily across systems of health care, education and government.
From my perspective, I see Ubiquity, Affordable and World-Class as the cornerstones of these principles. Achieving all three of these will be a challenge! Competition, Collaboration, Neutrality and Interoperability are supporting principles. To achieve the cornerstone principles, Danna will have to lead the way to an environment where these supporting principles become the norm of our public and private sector entities.
As first posted in the Blandin Foundation eNews…
In the community broadband world, I enjoy my work with the broadband evangelists who work very hard to promote access and use of technology in their communities and regions. Over the years, I have seen the great results that these champions have brought to their communities.
On occasion, however, I hear the tone of frustration in their voices and emails. “No one listens!” “I can’t get people to participate!” “No one is showing up!”
My advice for these champions is to take a step back and change the conversation with the following approach…
- Instead of inviting people to your meetings, ask them if you can attend their meetings.
- Instead of promoting your technology ideas, ask them for their technology plan.
- Instead of asking them for help with your project, offer assistance on theirs.
- Move your project and team members from the center of universe and start orbiting the other universes in your community and region.
- Rather than start something new, support and influence existing organizations and initiatives.
With this approach, the path may not always seem so straight-forward, but it will be forward and in the right direction. And it may turn out better than you had ever imagined!
As originally posted on the Blandin on Broadband eNews…
Just when you think that you know it all, you get new information that messes with your confident line of thinking. This morning, I saw a summary of a study by the Leichtman Research Group that claims that almost 80% of American households have a broadband connection at home and that two-thirds of those folks also have a smartphone with data plan. So I am thinking “What’s with all this talk about the need for public entities and non-profits to promote broadband adoption?” Later in the day, I answer a phone call from someone who sounds a bit like my 93 year old mom, which brings me back to my teen years – “Where are you?” she asks, probably hoping that I am not in India!
I have no idea how Janice got my phone number, but she lives in rural Minnesota. She had just purchased a computer, but had no idea how to set it up. Needing some good karma, I took her name and phone number, fired up Google and searched for her community’s library. I talked with a very nice librarian (is there any other kind?) and she gave me the name and phone number of a kindly computer guy in town. I called him, made the referral and he promised to call her. I am not sure if this would be free or fee for service, but hopefully Janice’s problem is solved!
The take rate study, Janice’s call and a meeting I attended yesterday puts several thoughts into my head.
First, we need to abandon the idea that we need broadband adoption activities to help telecom providers make their business case to invest in delivering broadband services. With the high costs of serving the remaining unserved areas with fiber to the home or fiber to the node DSL, it is impossible to make a business case for investment in these areas with an 80% or even a 100% adoption rate without some types of subsidy such as those that have enabled our rural coops to build fiber their networks or by using the long term finance capacity of government agencies.
Second, we need to continue to build support services for people like Janice who are new computer and Internet users. The public purpose in providing this assistance is clear – a well-connected citizenry is well-positioned to use online government, business and health services as well as to improve their connection to friends and family.
Finally, a concept advanced some time ago by Danna MacKenzie, Cook County IT visionary at a Blandin event, was proved true to me again yesterday – everyone has their own level of digital illiteracy. Yesterday, I was reminded of my technical shortcomings when I was at a meeting discussing hackathons and hackfests. My conception of ‘coding’ is about as advanced as Janice’s computer set-up skills. We all have lots of learning to do to keep up with our amazing world. I give Janice a lot of credit for moving forward with her new computer and I am learning about hackathons. As a side note, I am also enrolled in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) from Northwestern University School of Journalism looking at Google – with 41,000 other students from 150 countries!!
I was pleased to be selected to speak at the FTTH Council conference in Tampa. My topic was “Mobilizing Community Collaboration to Spur Demand.” There was a good crowd of providers and community people. I was able to talk about some of my work with the Blandin Foundation, such as Intelligent Community, MIRC, BBC and the efforts that Minnesota communities are making to increase their vitality.
I am now listening to Jim Baller and representatives from Danville VA and College Station TX. Sounds like an Intelligent Community presentation – Broadband, Innovation, Knowledge Workers and Marketing. Nothing on Digital Inclusion …yet! Broadband is the essential infrastructure especially for multinational entities.
Danville is an open access fiber network. The city provides service to the public sector; private sector providers serve business customers.
College Station is more focused on using the private sector to make through significant public incentives – Tax Increment Financing, regulatory speeding and cost-reduction.
Earlier this month Bill Coleman visited Trout Lake Township to talk to them about broadband and economic development. He partnered with Mark Zimmerman of Itasca Economic Development Corporation to give a brief presentation. where he discussed the various types of broadband with their associated strengths and weaknesses as well as costs. Mark Zimmerman talked about the three projects at the center of the Itasca Blandin Broadband Community effort. Using the town’s satellite broadband account through Exede, Bill was able to demonstrate several national applications like Pandora and WebMd as well as the school district and local hospital web sites.
As originally posted on Blandin on Broadband blog…
As the timeless Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played “I won’t back down,” at their Minneapolis concert this weekend – I thought good things about all our community champions in greater Minnesota that keep plugging away on their efforts to improve broadband in their communities and the rural countryside. (On reflection, that is a bit scary, isn’t it!)
Eighteen months ago at the Blandin Broadband Conference, audience members helped to write a MN broadband song when we could have just claimed ownership of this great song. The crowd had no trouble singling along to this song on Saturday night! Some of the lyrics¦
Well I won’t back down, no I won’t back down Gonna stand my ground, won’t be turned around There ain’t no easy way out Well I know what’s right, I got just one life (substitute – “I got just one byte!) And I won’t back down!”
The 4th of July is here and a reason to revisit another set of great and inspiring words, definitely more important and written by another Tom – slightly more important, the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson wrote of unalienable rights, among them are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. As a rural farmer, scientist, voracious reader and writer, Jefferson is likely to have been an advocate for rural broadband! And we know that Tom and the other founders, did not back down!
As originally posted in Blandin Foundation’s Broadband e-News…
Stirring the Pot
The nine Blandin Broadband Communities http://tinyurl.com/8d78g5g have now received approvals for the projects that they prioritized and developed through a good community process – good in that it involved lots of community folks and moved from needs assessment to project planning to project funding in a relatively short period of time. Now onto coordinated implementation tasks that will create great events that attract strong participation. Thanks to these community teams for their great work!
One of the challenges these small teams of community leaders presented is the abundant and different opportunities to improve their community. Should a community work on achieving the state broadband goal across their entire community, rural areas and all? Or should infrastructure discussions focus on bringing Gigabit service to schools, hospitals, large businesses and government entities? Or both?
On the adoption side, similar questions emerge. Should efforts focus on getting the slowest adopters online for the first time or should a community implement strategies that will move those already online, both as content providers and consumers, towards significantly higher levels of sophistication? Or both?
As community broadband leaders feel a bit overwhelmed, they should consider who benefits from successful broadband projects. Getting more community residents online certainly benefits the local Internet Service Providers so getting them involved makes sense. But other organizations also benefit – more people online increases the opportunities by local institutions to deliver cost-effective e-solutions in health care, education, government and business. I have been a part of recent discussions that are focusing on the increased costs to health care and education of their clientele not being connected, either through lack of a capable network or because of digital inclusion considerations.
Having a great network spurs adoption. Valued applications drive adoption. Reach deep into your community leadership to spur their engagement in your broadband promotion efforts. Help them to understand their value proposition of better connectivity and more sophisticated users.
More users + more uses = more value for everyone. The net result is a better community for all.
As originally posted on Blandin on Broadband…
Question: What does our extended cold and snowy weather have in common with broadband?
Answer: The promise of 10-20 Mb ubiquitous broadband and 70 degrees and sunny weather both seem like they will never come!
We do know that 70 and sunny will be here sometime in the next 90 days, but the path to meeting the state broadband goal is much less certain. The areas that lack wired broadband solutions that meet state broadband goals are clearly not easy to serve; densities and terrain ensure that private sector companies cannot invest in these areas and reach their ROI hurdles. We know from the feasibility studies recently completed in some areas that the business case for these areas is marginal even with much longer public sector financing horizons and 100% adoption. These areas with broadband are the same areas that needed significant subsidies to get telephone and electric utilities as those technologies emerged as standard requirements for quality of life and economic competitiveness.
The legislative session is almost over and once again, there are no signs of any new tools, financing programs or incentives to stimulate private or public sector investment, or a more defined or enabled public sector authority to stimulate broadband investments at the local or county level.
Even as we fail to reach the current state broadband goals, those very goals seem increasingly inadequate as Gb broadband is fast emerging as the new global standard.
What’s more, in Minnesota we still have health care, education, public safety all doing their own thing with no coordination in sight and not even on the task force agenda.
I am encouraged to see some regional planning emerging and hope that they can push their way forward to some new solutions – kudos to the east central broadband initiative and to the new group in Region Five!
Earlier this month, Bill Coleman was on the on Digital Inclusion at the Broadband Communities Summit in Dallas.
Other panelists included
- Debra Berlyn – Executive Director, Project GOAL
- Geoff Daily – Executive Director, FiberCorps
- Nicol Turner-Lee, Ph.D. – President and CEO, NAMIC, Inc.
Here’s the presentation:
You can also see the archived session on the BroadbandUS.TV website.
As originally posted in the Blandin Foundation April 2013 eNews…
Good planning, collaboration and action! Seems to be the recipe for success.
A regional broadband event, a draft feasibility report and an email from a newly satisfied broadband consumer have me thinking about the path to achieving the Minnesota broadband goal.
Congratulations to the organizers of the East Central Broadband Summit. With 80 attendees and the active participation of many broadband providers, it was an exciting day of active conversation. The organizers are now following up on at least a couple of the priorities identified at the event and it will be interesting to see if the conversations begun at the Summit can lead to broadband solutions – wired, wireless or hybrid – in these five underserved communities.
Redwood County is now reviewing the feasibility study partially funded through the Blandin Foundation Robust Broadband Networks Feasibility Fund program. The study examines a couple of options for bringing Redwood County up to the state broadband standard. The study is unique in its significant assumption about the role of the area incumbent providers. Again, it will be interesting to see if study and discussion can lead to a broadband solution.
The email that I received was from a health professional who had contacted me more than a year ago about her frustration with a lack of broadband at her home in northeastern Minnesota. Thanks to the entrepreneurial folks at Laurentian Wireless, her situation has greatly improved.