As originally posted in Blandin on Broadband blog…
I am faced with two contradictory observations about broadband right now. First, the intensity of desire for and the impatience for improvement of broadband has never been higher if our Blandin Broadband Communities are representative of rural Minnesota.
Infrastructure and service discussions are dominating our recently completed vision and project development meetings. Over the years, I have told countless communities that the lack of high-speed broadband was going to be a significant detriment to their community’s economic competitiveness and quality of life. That day is here.
Community leaders now tell me how the lack of quality broadband is having negative effects on business recruitment efforts and business retention programs. School superintendents talk of the haves and have-nots of connected students and that impact on homework and curriculum. Throughout the community, negative impacts are felt. Interest in Blandin Foundation’s Robust Network Feasibility Fund is stronger than ever with many communities gearing up to examine market, costs, business models and finance in preparation for an expected round two of DEED broadband grants.
That contrasts with my observation that broadband is not the hot topic at the Capitol that it was last session. Last year, it seemed that the Senator Schmit tour, the task force recommendation for $100 million combined with the excitement for the creation of the Office of Broadband that the broadband topic was near the top of everyone’s priority list. That enthusiasm now seems to be a bit on auto-pilot. Although I am not actively engaged in the nitty-gritty of the legislative session, I do know that the rewards go to those who show up and make their voices heard. With many new legislators, broadband backers must reach out and make sure that your own legislators know what a priority broadband is for your community.
My advice – Do not just expect that DEED’s broadband grant fund will be renewed or increased to higher levels of spending. Broadband is competing with more traditional uses of state dollars with very organized constituencies – roads and bridges, human services, bike paths, k12 and higher education – the list is long and the interest groups well practiced in the legislative arts. Turn your lone voice into a strong and clear community broadband voice.
As originally posted in the Blandin on Broadband blog…
Since the New Year, Community Technology Advisors has been working with the ten new Blandin Broadband Communities. We are helping them move from Steering Team formation to Vision creation and the resulting project development. Participation has been fantastic with strong cross-sector attendance and leadership. Mayors, school superintendents, librarians, community education, chambers of commerce, citizen activists have brought their enthusiasm to the table. There is no shortage of project ideas. While some groan at the idea of a three-hour meeting, we have found the “after-meeting meetings” to be robust. We have already seen promise of problem solving, new resources and collaboration.
This is our third round of MIRC/BBC communities. More than ever, the gap between those who are connected at speeds that meet the state broadband goal or higher and those who lack anything but slow DSL (1 – 3 Mb), cellular or satellite is growing larger – in both absolute bandwidth speeds and in perception of capability. The un-connected struggle to do homework, work from home and all of the other common practice applications that the connected think are so easy. As most of our “communities” are counties or even larger, large areas of rural countryside fit into the unserved and underserved broadband category. Local leaders are fierce in their determination to solve this puzzle, but are challenged to see the path forward. The recent DEED grant awards are encouraging, but sobering. The path towards a positive partnership and affordable finance alternative seems steep and rocky.
One of the strengths of the Blandin Broadband Communities program is that it provides a platform for communities to build knowledge and momentum on the infrastructure challenge while still driving adoption and use as the program’s main goal. This dual path requires strong understanding within community leadership that infrastructure initiatives may take considerable time to come to fruition. In the meantime, they need to continue to build on their existing infrastructure, institutional and people assets to improve their tech vitality. These ten communities have started down this path. It is our privilege to guide them as they make connections, learn new things, set priorities, create teams and make good things happen in the places that they call home.
As originally posted in the Blandin on Broadband blog…
So much going on with broadband these days. It is hard to keep up!
Ten new Blandin Broadband Communities have jumped in with enthusiasm and commitment over the past month of activities. Our kick-off meeting in Willmar opened the eyes of their coordinators and teams to the results that their community efforts might yield over the next two years in better broadband access and use. Several communities brought multiple steering team members and I think that this served as a multiplier effect on their thinking. With seven of ten initial steering team meetings held last week and three more upcoming, communities better understand that broadband is only the infrastructure that a more vital community will utilize rather than the end itself. Up next are our Community Vision Meetings. We are also lining up meetings in thirteen BBC Alumni communities to help them maintain their community broadband efforts.
As I write this, it is exciting to see the grant announcements for the DEED Office of Broadband Border to Border Grants. It is especially fun to see funding provided to communities that I have worked with over the years. Congratulations to all of those funded!
Finally, the policy discussion is fast and furious. The new MN Governor’s Broadband Task Force report, the call for new members of the task force, the new FCC definition of broadband of 25/3 Mbps, President Obama talking community broadband and net neutrality. A key task of community broadband leaders is to become informed and pass on your thoughtful opinions to local, state and federal elected officials.
As originally posted on Blandin on Broadband eNews…
Stirring the Pot
I’m a big MN Gopher football fan, suffering through some pretty bad teams over the years. But this year, the team has played better and has won some big games. Four years into his stay, Coach Kill has emphasized building a program “Brick by Brick” and it seems that they are doing just that. The bricks are skill, strength and determination. Progress comes fast or slow, or in bursts. Sometimes there are setbacks.
Community broadband initiatives are similar long-term initiatives requiring a strong foundation. The bricks are leadership, educated consumers, feasible alternatives and trusted partnerships. A community cannot just purchase these items off the shelf. Like the Gophers, progress is achieved only through hard work led by smart leaders and guided by a plan. If your community wants to start building your broadband initiative, consider seeking assistance through Blandin Foundation’s Community Broadband Resources program. Click here for more information: http://broadband.blandinfoundation.org/programs/community-broadband-resources-program
Originally posted in Blandin Foundation eNews…
This morning, I saw a picture of one of the famous Wallenda family crossing between Chicago skyscrapers. So routine was the crossing that Nik Wallenda wore a blindfold. One of the crossings was downhill at a steep 15% grade. Obviously that shows great talent and lots of repetitive practice. Even so, the Wallenda’s have had disastrous events in their history.
Many communities and broadband providers are now out on the wire of public-private partnerships. Available funding from the FCC and MN DEED have pushed both providers and communities out onto the wire in relatively large numbers for the first time. It remains to be seen of the program rules and regulations will be safety nets to prevent disaster or tall barriers blocking otherwise safe implementation. I expect that these first rounds of funding will give us examples of the full range of partnership experience, from smooth stepping to swaying in the wind to severe difficulties. I give a lot of credit to all of the prospective partners for their courage and determination to move ahead on these projects!
We will learn about some of these partnerships at the Border to Border Conference! Attending and learning will give participants to a bit of a safety net as you consider your own partnerships!
I was pleased to speak at the Association of MN Counties Fall Policy Conference…
As originally posted in the Blandin eNews…
Stirring the Pot
Over the past two weeks and in the near term future, our Blandin team gets the pleasure of hearing our Blandin Broadband Communities’ teams “Strut Their Stuff.” These presentations are a chance for them to reflect and report on their activities of the past twenty months. From team formation, planning, project development and implementation, they all have great stories to tell and results to show. A common phrase that we love to hear “We are not done yet!” The accomplishment list and the to-do list seem to grow in tandem, possibly with the to-do lists growing a bit faster as the communities see an expanding list of possibilities. These teams are implementing projects that have real impact on their communities with both old and new leadership. When one person is given accolades, their response is to always point to others who deserve the credit. The Blandin on Broadband Blog has been reporting on these meetings so I encourage you to check out the details on their accomplishments. http://blandinonbroadband.org
Our Blandin team looks forward to even more fun in the upcoming months; that is, selecting our new Blandin Broadband Communities. We hope that it is a difficult task to choose among many communities that are ready to pursue this type of initiative. Your community could be a city, a county, a tribe, a region, a telecom provider service area – whatever makes sense to you and your team. Be ready to make a commitment to making things happen. With a quick organizational and planning phase, our Blandin Broadband Communities quickly move into project development, funding and implementation. One extremely positive aspect of the work that our communities have accomplished is silo-busting. Even in smaller communities, our BBC’s are partnering in new and exciting ways with organizations down the street and across the state. http://broadband.blandinfoundation.org/programs/programs-detail.php?intResourceID=3168
For our BBC and MIRC alumni, we will be expanding opportunities to continue in partnership. I am very much looking forward to that!
More program and application details are included in this newsletter and online so check out the details there.
I have been a fan of the Intelligent Community forum for quite a while now. I have attended their annual conference many times and led Dakota County’s Intelligent Communities’ initiative that led to three consecutive years recognition as a Smart 21 Intelligent Community. I also brought the Intelligent Community concept to the Blandin Foundation to serve as the framework for their Minnesota Intelligent Rural Community project. Most recently, I worked with ICF co-founder Robert Bell on a project with three rural Louisiana communities. I provide all of this background to let readers know that I have a favorable bias towards the ICF concept and team.
I recently read Brain Gain: How Innovative cities create job growth in an age of disruption. The authors, ICF co-founders Robert Bell, John Jung and Louis Zacharilla, provide numerous interesting stories about communities creating their own positive future. The stories are quite varied, but share common threads woven together into the quilt of the Intelligent Community elements – broadband, innovation, knowledge work, digital inclusion and marketing/advocacy.
The stories are from great urban centers, suburbs and rural regional center communities. The common element is smart and sometimes heroic leadership, often shared across business, government and education sectors. Shared vision, collaborative strategy, long-term commitment-these are at the heart of the all of these success stories. All involve creating an environment that can support business development and entrepreneurship. The themes are similar to those expressed in the book “The Rain Forest” by Hwang and Horrowitt.
With a visit today to the FDR and MLK memorials, it reminded me that the ICF founders have always had a strong commitment to social equity as expressed through the Digital Inclusion ICF element. In fact, this book makes the case that creating and supporting an inclusive, innovative, well-skilled and well-connected workforce may be the most important strategy that any community, large or small, should prioritize.
I recommend this book for a number of audiences- for community leaders wanting to learn about success stories; for community economic developers who want to know how broadband and digital inclusion fit with more traditional economic development elements of innovation, workforce and marketing; and for community broadband advocates who know that broadband is important, but not sure how the full benefits of current and prospective fiber networks can be realized.
Earlier this week, Broadband was a hot topic on Minnesota Public Radio’s Daily Circuit. I was honored to be a guest on the show with Margaret Anderson Kelliher, president of the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA). It was interesting to hear questions and stories from the call-in listeners. People are looking for answers.
You can hear the archive on the MPR News site.
Bill Coleman will be a guest on Minnesota Public Radio’s The Daily Circuit tomorrow morning (August 14, 2014) from 11 am to noon. He and Margaret Anderson Kelliher, president of the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) are going to talk with Tom Weber about broadband access in Minnesota – what’s the situation right now, what progress has been made, and what’s left to do.