As originally posted in the Blandin Foundation eNews…
Bernadine is fond of the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia classic quote: “Somebody has to do something and isn’t it pathetic that it has to be us?” While this is true no matter where you live or work, I find it especially true in rural communities. During meeting introductions as we ask attendees to list their community connections, we find that some folks have quite a long list of volunteer, leadership, and probably financial, commitments. These folks are true community champions and this is a strength for Greater Minnesota.
As for “us” having to do something, I am asking you to support the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, the unified voice on rural broadband. The coalition provides that unified rural voice necessary to convince legislators to do the right thing for greater Minnesota broadband. While in January and February, there are many public policy groups willing to speak up for broadband, we know that as the session winds down, organizational lobbyists narrow their focus to their own highest priority bills. Funding this unified, full-time voice means raising money. We believe that the coalition has been successful in its work to build a bipartisan consensus around the need to spur rural broadband deployment, but we cannot ever rest until that last gavel comes down in May.
We need you, our rural broadband champions to join the coalition and to recruit others in your community or industry segment as well. Prospective members range from school districts to banks to health care providers to chambers of commerce to cities and counties. We have members in each of these categories, so join your colleagues and peer organizations by becoming members. Those local units of government and telecom providers who hope to apply for Border to Border Grant Funds should especially consider a commitment since investing in the coalition will improve the odds of a significant border to border broadband grant appropriation. Those contributing $500 or more earn a voice in how the coalition operates and in our policy platform.
We all know that fundraising can be a particularly pathetic task and our broadband coalition team is working hard on it, but we need your help to succeed! A call to a personal or professional connection does wonders. We have raised about two-thirds of our goal, but need to raise an additional $20,000 before the session ends in May.
Check out the coalition website, our upcoming activities and the benefits of membership information at http://mnbroadbandcoalition.com. Join us!
As originally posted on Blandin eNews…
The big game will have come and gone by the time you read this post. A week from now, most of the event and marketing glitz will be removed – zip lines, ice sculptures, event stages and tents. But some things will remain in place, especially newly installed telecommunications infrastructure. At the next Broadband Task Force meeting, Minnesota’s largest ISPs will share details of their recent investments in a super-connected environment that I imagine encompasses most of downtown Minneapolis, the Mall of America and 494 strip, US Bank Stadium, the airport and other key sites.
This is a preview of the future that raises all kinds of question about the future. For rural community leaders, key questions include:
- Who is going to bring this level of connectivity to your community?
- If yes, when will they do it?
- Will you leave these decisions to others?
As originally posted on Blandin eNews…
While I have my own set of personal resolutions again this year, I have also created a short list around my broadband work. Here they are:
Get smarter about broadband co-ops
RS Fiber has shown that it is possible to create a new broadband cooperative and the citizens in their area are experiencing the benefits of ubiquitous high-speed broadband. Meanwhile, other communities are talking about the co-op model, but have not yet followed on this complex path. My resolution is to dig in on co-op formation and share what I learn.
Public policy advocacy
Broadband has moved from a “someday this will be important to your community” consideration to a “no one is coming to a place without quality broadband” crisis for rural Minnesota. It is clear that no provider, whether publicly traded, co-op or government utility, can conventionally finance 100% of the required investment for a quality rural broadband network. My resolution is to think and act more strategically about influencing public policy about broadband to benefit rural Minnesota.
Roberto Gallardo’s Digital Divide Index https://wp.me/p3if7-4j8 illustrates the strong relationship between rural broadband availability and enhanced economic vitality. We know from observation that access does not guarantee widespread effective use. I resolve to help rural communities design and implement strategies that directly improves business and workforce outcomes.
Resolutions are always more fun when it is a group activity. Who is in?
As originally posted on Blandin eNews...
Ice fishing is one of my favorite winter recreation activities, but this year is proving problematic. You can’t ice fish without ice and good ice is highly preferable to thin ice. We Minnesotans even have rules about ice – four inches to walk, 12 inches for a car. All of my ice fishing preparation, experience and equipment is useless without ice. It’s hard to plan for ice fishing with no ice and no one wants to fall through the ice and suffer possible deadly consequences. If there was ice, I would make a reservation at a resort or possibly purchase a better fish house or sonar flasher that would make me a more productive ice angler. This uncertainty is frustrating me and financially hurting the resort owner, the sporting goods retailer and the many others that would like to sell me stuff and experiences.
Seems that those hoping for rural broadband deployment face a similar kind of uncertainty. We have the broadband benchmarks for effective broadband use – 25 Mb/3 Mb by 2022, 100 Mb/20 Mb by 2026, with Gigabit as the endgame. Those places without quality broadband are now walking on thin ice: opportunities are falling through; businesses are stagnant praying for walk-in customers; and community leaders hoping for a reasonable provider partner solution.
Here in Minnesota, we can confidently rely on our northern climate to eventually provide real winter weather, at most, maybe a week or two late. For communities lacking quality broadband, there is no such reassurance. Dedicated community leaders need to act like the great north wind and create the necessary environment for broadband deployment. So if you want to start this conversation in a fish house or anywhere else in your community, apply for Community Broadband Resources assistance at http://broadband.blandinfoundation.org. I encourage you to get organized now to begin work early in the new year!
As originally posted on Blandin eNews…
Thanks to all who attended the broadband conference. I have been to many such conferences both here in Minnesota and elsewhere and I have to say that this was a very good event. Those who could not attend can check out the videos and PowerPoints listed above.
We had a great mix of community and regional leaders and tech vendors, especially many providers seeking community partners. Noticeably absent were some of our largest providers which was their loss. Special thanks to all of our presenters – from the pre-conference sessions to the learning stations.
For years, my presentations to community leaders were future-oriented – that broadband would be a necessity. That the future is now. Roberto Gallardo provided great data linking broadband availability and adoption to population and economic growth and also the inverse. Our Minnesota case study project, led by Ann Treacy and supported by the testimony of our case study participants, demonstrates that smart economic development strategies built on a base of great broadband is enabling a clear separation between thriving and struggling rural communities. The huge opportunity cost paid by broadband starved communities is evident as they focus on better broadband rather than marketing, workforce development, innovation and tech adoption.
My advice to those communities with great broadband: continue to partner with your providers to spur community transformation. For those still seeking better broadband: double your efforts on network deployment, but don’t forget adoption efforts. As people and investment increasingly choose well-connected communities, it will be increasingly hard to catch up.
As originally posted on Blandin eNews...
My first thought as I write this column is to offer best wishes to the Office of Broadband Development staff as they review, rank and select projects for Border-to-Border grant funding. Clearly the staff will be living in very interesting times over the next 90 days! From the outside looking in, I am happy to be on the outside.
Over the past weeks, I have done a number of presentations to rural groups and individuals thinking about broadband. The broadband grant eligibility map, with the large patches of unserved red areas, is always a great discussion starter. The scope of the challenge seems overwhelming. In contrast, most of the coverage maps supplied by the 2017 grant applicants document projects that cover very small areas – neighborhoods to townships. The small coverage area exceptions are the wireless proposals.
Border-to-border is an ambitious goal. One township at a time with wired services will take a long time. The wired solution at least brings clarity as to which addresses receive service. The wireless maps show seamless coverage, but I have heard from far too many rural residents that the wireless services “available” in their area cannot be used due to topography or tree cover. The fiber projects promise Gigabit capabilities (some only on the download side) while the wireless projects commit to symmetrical 100 Mb services.
No matter how wise the choices of the Office of Broadband Development and the DEED leaders, we know that more than half the projects will not receive funding this year leaving communities and providers hoping for future funding.
As originally posted on Blandin on Broadband
While on vacation and reading randomly on Facebook and Twitter, I read an excellent article about someone retiring from the US Department of State after a long career. The article is long gone from my news feed.
His career distilled to its essence – “Never underestimate your ability to accomplish great things based on vision and values.” As a specialist in European affairs, he marveled at the falling of the Berlin Wall and other eastern European government transformations in the 1980’s without a shot being fired. He believed that the USA had significant and positive influence by leading with our long and widely held vision and values summarized by “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Similarly, communities need to decide, “What are our broadband vision and values?” Hard questions about ubiquity, affordability, capacity, ownership and management need to be asked, discussed and determined through engagement processes that include both leaders and citizens. Failure to do this hard work allows communities to pursue projects lead to dead-ends or off of a cliff, or to nowhere at all. Vision and values can remain consistent in a dynamic broadband environment of technologies, providers, government programs and community leadership. With shared broadband vision and values, it is far easier to set the course, know if you are making progress and when you have reached your destination.
Bill Coleman is celebrating with his clients – the Chisago Lakes team in the America’s Best Communities competition. Bill has been facilitating the community participation and process over the past year in partnership with a great community leadership team. Chisago Lakes is now one of eight finalists competing for $6 million dollars in prize money to be awarded one year from now. Chisago Lakes plans include broadband and technology, energy as economic development, future workforce, branding and marketing, trails and healthy community components. Contact Bill to learn more.
As originally posted in the Blandin Broadband eNews…
Congratulations to the BBC’s, the alumni communities and their stakeholder groups for the recently awarded Blandin Foundation grants. Overall, there’s a great group of projects to be implemented across rural Minnesota. It is amazing what a relatively small grant of $10,000 or less can do in the hands of a dedicated community.
The next Grant deadline is in March. We are available to help you create a competitive application that will have a positive impact your community. Let us know what you’re thinking and we can help guide the process of creating a great project.
If you’re a BBC that has used its entire allocation from Blandin foundation, consider seeking funding from other sources, either internal to your community or from outside. We have seen many successful projects with limited (or no) budget; they are the result of good collaboration and creativity.
Let us know how we can help!
Chisago Lakes – a collaborative community just north of the Twin Cities, has been named as a semi-finalist in the America’s Best Communities program sponsored by Frontier Communications, Dish Network, the Weather Channel and Co-Bank. The community now has a one-in-five chance to win a prize work $1 million dollars or more. The effort has been led by the Chisago Lakes Chamber of Commerce and the Chisago Lakes Area Community Foundation. They have created work teams and plans in Energy, Technology, Trails, Tourism/Arts/Culture and Health. With amazing leadership and community commitment, this group has created a sense of inter-community collaboration that has been the dream of area community leaders for decades. The rewards to the community were immediate and are ongoing with or without the prize money.
Community Technology Advisors, assisted by Treacy Information Services, facilitated the community planning and promoted the effort through social media. It has been an exciting and fulfilling project to see community members work so hard and so collaboratively. Good luck to the Chisago Lakes team as they pursue their plans and design their presentation that will move them into the finalist category in April!