Category Archives: Tech News

Stirring the Pot

First published in Blandin Foundation’s eNews

Several folks from Google were on the agenda at last week’s NATOA conference. I have to say that the more I heard from the Googlers, the less I liked them! Smugness filled the room whenever Google was talking. We learned that Google people are really smart. And that they work really fast. And that their new network will be the model of best practices despite never having built a network before. And that they are really, really smart.

All of which may be true. On the other hand, one Googler stated that satellite broadband was “good enough” for rural consumers, so maybe not so smart after all. That remark brought boos and hisses from my corner of the room.

Another Google representative bragged aggressively about Google Speed – which describes their fast pace of action at Google. Based on their implementation so far, I am skeptical. Google announced their community fiber project in February 2010 and took more than a year to announce Kansas City, Kansas as their partner. Seven months after the announcement, they have yet to break ground. NTIA and RUS and hundreds of project partners around the country are moving at least as fast in a much more complex financial, legal and regulatory environment.

Regulation and permitting was a point of emphasis for Google. Interestingly, Google estimates that they can save 3 – 5% of fiber network construction costs by working with the local government to efficiently permit and inspect the project. They did not give much detail on how the savings might be accomplished or whether Google’s savings are simply costs transferred to Kansas City. Google emphasized Kansas City’s single layer of regulation as a key factor in their selection. Heads seemed to be nodding in agreement around the room.

This contrasted to an earlier discussion at the conference over the wireless industry’s complaints about tower siting and permitting processes. The industry’s testimony to the FCC brought howls of protests from local representatives. “We are not the problem” was the consensus of the attendees. Considering the importance of broadband deployment to communities, I do wonder about the minimum goal of the regulators and whether their goal should move from “not the problem” to “infrastructure investment enabler”. When Google came a calling, we all jumped as high and as fast as possible. I wonder how we treat our local providers.

Speed and ease of implementation can be a competitive advantage. Clearly, Google considers it to be an important factor in its business. How does it work in your community?

Notes from the National Rural Telecon Congress

The National Rural Telecon Congress met last week in Mesa, AZ and the meeting was a very interesting gathering of folks discussing how to promote access and use of broadband in rural communities. I have been involved with the Congress for about 10 years and it was good to renew acquaintances with some of the other old-times. Many of the old-timers are affiliated with either land grant colleges or small non-profits. An infusion of new faces also occurred as the Congress made a strong effort to recruit those engaged with broadband mapping; these are mostly state government officials who shared their introductory language of “I have only been in this job for x months.”

The format of the Congress was very participatory. Over the three days, people could choose to join in on discussions on five topics dealing with converged technology, collaborative engagement, governance, anchor institutions and mapping. I was a subject expert in the collaborative engagement group. Our group was the largest to begin with and grew over the two days of discussion.

Key themes emerged – collaboration and messaging were two that rose to the top. We talked both about infrastructure deployment and building demand/community education.

One of the goals at the beginning of the conference was to build a best practices toolkit for rural broadband advocates. By the end of the conference, that goal had been modified to develop a tool that would point people to the various existing toolkits. Some of the toolkits identified as best practice were the Blandin Foundation’s and resources created by E-North Carolina and the State of California.

Learn more at

Tele-worker promotion ideas

Yesterday I attended MTA’s Telework seminar. It provided a foundation on which to build some local or statewide efforts by MTA members. I could see a number of economic developers wanting to join in a collaborative effort. As I listened to the presentation, I came up with some ideas that might help community leaders to get a local teleworker program started:

  1. Survey non-homestead property owners for business owners and flexible workers for teleworking promotion opportunities.
  2. Create a space for co-working to host teleworking residents and visitors; provide bandwidth, professional networking and tech support.
  3. Offer and promote advanced services to your teleworker customers – data back-up, IT support.
  4. Open provider networks (within exchanges or groups of exchanges) to very high speed networking to connect collaborating creative home-workers. (For example, within all Federated or CTC exchanges, thereby avoiding off-network transport).
  5. Harvest statewide remote worker job openings from the DEED database or on an ongoing basis and promote these opportunities to local job seekers.
  6. Implement joint marketing efforts by local telcos and economic development authorities to Twin Cities and very large regional center companies about capabilities of rural telecommunications and workforce. Bring metro companies to rural regions for job fairs. Host them in nice places!
  7. Create a local fact sheet on local telecommunications capabilities that job seekers can take to job interviews to show telework capabilities. Distribute from local workforce centers through job counselors and on display racks.
  8. Work with DEED to create a telework class offered at Workforce Centers.

Telework is a great focus for local telcos and EDA folks – because we share the same goal – rural economic vitality. If would be great to see some of these folsk get together next week at the Blandin Broadband Conference next week (Oct 13-14) in Baxter. There will be time and space for attendees to address ideas such as telework.

Coleman’s Corner June

Here’s Coleman’s Corner, a monthly article written for the Blandin Foundation Broadband Initiative

Coleman’s Corner

Last week, I was lucky to attend the Intelligent Community Conference in New York City. This conference attracted community leaders from Asia, Europe, Canada and the USA. I co-facilitated a session about the challenges facing rural communities in their efforts to revitalize their communities using the Intelligent Community framework. Creating a community, a region and a state that can compete globally is an incredible challenge. It is clear that my new friends around the world are working hard and working smart to align their resources in the best possible ways to create an economic environment with world-class infrastructure, workforce and business support mechanisms. The competition is rocking. We better get going!

2010 Intelligent Community – Suwon, South Korea

Suwon, South Korea was named the Intelligent Community of the Year last Friday. They won over the other six finalists, including some of my favorites – Dublin, Ohio; Tallinn, Estonia; and Eindhoven, Netherlands. Stockholm, Sweden was the 2009 Intelligent Community of the Year. Suwon is just 15 miles from Seoul. South Korea has now produced three of the last five Intelligent Community winners.

What I find most fascinating about this competition and these communities is how it reveals the culture of the participating communities and countries. “Happy Suwon” is the marketing tagline for the winning community. “Fast-fast” is their operating style. They get input from the people, make decisions, do things, measure results, move on. Always fast-fast. Eindhoven and Tallinn are fiercely strategic and highly encouraging of collaboration and innovation. The US communities seem more haphazard and free-flowing. In the European and Asian communities, there seems less conflict about the proper government role in moving a community forward. They seem to talk more about what should be done rather than to argue the proper approach to getting it done.

All of these communities put a strong emphasis on world class infrastructure – telecommunications, transportation, and education systems. They are working hard to put these in place and to make use of them to increase their economic competitiveness.

Breakfast with Adelstein

Given a chance, what would you say to a top federal policy maker about rural broadband? I had my chance at the Broadband Properties Summit this week in Dallas with USDA Rural Utilities Services Administrator Jonathan Adelstein. I first saw him in the elevator and he asked me what I wanted to hear from him during his keynote. I asked him how we will get broadband to the countryside surrounding RBOC-served communities that have been CLEC’d by smaller independent companies who have cherry-picked the significant customer base in the town but are unable to overbuild the countryside. He told me that this was too hard of a question! As we got off the elevator, I saw that he was heading to the restaurant for breakfast alone. I overcame my natural shyness and asked him if I could join him and he welcomed me to his table. What followed was a very interesting discussion (at least for me!).

He was a very good questioner. We talked about the marvel of cooperatives as a model for rural broadband development. We talked about the appropriate scale for this type of cooperative development and whether new cooperatives could make it economically today as start-ups. Necessary scale versus local control – how does one find that balance. As Minnesota’s telecommunications providers get larger through acquisitions (CenturyLink purchasing Embarq and Qwest, growing independent telcos like ACS, Iowa Telecom and New Ulm Telephone), will the connection to the local community remain a priority?

The Broadband Properties Summit includes a focus on the business linkages between real estate development and telecom services. Telecom providers like ATT and Verizon pay real estate developers commission when tenants sign on with these providers. This got me thinking about if there was any real differences between an apartment building and a community? If communities are actively working to boost broadband adoption and subscriptions for community economic vitality, what is the proper role between communities and their providers on broadband promotion initiatives? I will be meeting with Minnesota’s telecom providers to discuss this very topic as we prepare to implement the Blandin Foundation’s MN Intelligent Community NTIA BTOP program.

Minnesota broadband bill passes

Today the Minnesota Legislature passed the Minnesota Broadband Bill. Here are the highlights:

Universal access and high-speed goal. It is the goal of this state that, no later than 2015, all state residents and businesses have access to broadband that provides download speeds of no less than ten megabits per second and upload speeds of no less than five megabits per second.

State broadband leadership position. It is the goal of this state that by 2015, and continuing thereafter: (1) the proportion of Minnesota residents and businesses having access to broadband ranks among the five states in the United States and the 15 nations globally that have the highest proportion of that measure; and (2) Minnesota ranks among the five states in the United States with the highest broadband speed that is universally accessible to state residents and businesses.

Annual reports. By February 10, 2011, and each year thereafter, the commissioner of commerce shall submit a report to the chairs and ranking minority members of the house of representatives and senate committees with primary jurisdiction over telecommunications policy measuring the progress made towards achieving the goals under subdivisions 1 and 2. The report must identify any barriers impeding the achievement of the goals, suggest strategies to overcome those barriers, and estimate the cost of implementing those strategies.

Advisory group. By July 1, 2010, the commissioner of commerce shall appoint and convene a broadband advisory group consisting of no more than 15 members representing suppliers and users of broadband goods and services. Members serve without compensation at the pleasure of the commissioner. The broadband advisory group shall meet at the call of the chair, and shall seek public input. The broadband advisory group shall advise the commissioner of commerce and the house of representatives and senate committees with primary jurisdiction over telecommunications policy regarding strategies to achieve the goals under subdivision 1. This subdivision expires June 30, 2015.

Bill Coleman quoted on MPR

CTAC President Bill Coleman was recently quoted on Minnesota Public Radio for a story on Google’s Network competition. Here is what he said about the benefits of a ultra high speed broadband connection, such as the one Google is proposing…

The network would be 10 times faster than today’s state-of-the-art networks, such as a 100-megabit system in Lafayette, La. It could dramatically expand the way people communicate, said Bill Coleman, director of Community Technology Advisors in Mahtomedi, which advised Duluth.

“That kind of network would allow a teacher to be in a classroom, really anywhere, and have high-definition broadcast out to students sitting in their homes doing that kind of work,” Coleman said. “So, it could really transform a community. And I think the companies that create those applications would flock to the winning community, to roll out those applications in kind of a test laboratory.”

ARRA Fever

Here is an article by Bill Coleman recently printed in Blandin’s eNews:

While the H1N1 virus seems to be in remission, we are now witnessing the renewal of RUS BIP and NTIA BTOP fever. The NTIA BTOP CCI is especially contagious. The prescribed medication is demand aggregation, a concept that has driven community broadband planning for more than the past decade.

As people read the federal notice, they think, “This is written just for us!” It is written for them and almost everyone else who reads it. Who wouldn’t want an I-Net connecting government, health care, and education partners at 70% off retail price? Find a private sector provider who will come up with the 30% match and you get the public sector side for free! This concept works equally well at the municipal, county or regional levels – for rural, urban or suburban places. That is going to be one big stack of applications!

Before you submit an application that looks just like this, get your team together and ask some questions. First, what are we going to do with this network that will make us stand out from the others? What new ideas or collaborative behavior are we going to implement over this network? Ideas like merging ten rural counties into one unit of government would definitely get some attention. Merging ten rural county IT departments gets you part way there. Or creating a unified health care system linking hospitals (even competing ones), clinics, nursing homes and pharmacies together with shared records. Obviously, all of these big ideas require more than six weeks of discussion (Have you started yet?). These networks support all kinds of transformation, but are only one piece of the puzzle; the network is probably the easy part.

Another question revolves around existing networks and providers. Could one or a collaboration of existing providers provide this network? What is it that you are really seeking from such a network? While 144 strands of fiber in your own conduit sounds sweet, what if you had two, four or six multiplexed strands to connect to your partners and stakeholders? The MN High Speed Task Force called for more partnerships between communities and providers with the providers strongly endorsing this approach. Let’s give it a test.

Unlike the H1N1, the NTIA BTOP fever is guaranteed to pass in six weeks. For some, it will pass very quickly with early decisions not to apply. For others, the fever will intensify as the March 15 deadline gets closer, causing severe discomfort resulting from too many meetings, lost text revisions and partnership hurdles. All followed by a recuperation period of four to six months waiting for news from Washington D.C.
Smart communities will use this time to keep working on solutions rather than betting that their 1 in 20 long shot will come home.

Star Tribune promotes broadband

CTAC Founder Bill Coleman is featured in a recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on broadband, The Net has a few Holes in Minnesota. The article promotes broadband in rural area by highlighting communities and residents who have benefited from broadband.

But as Bill pointed out in the article, “Making Internet available is just part of the equation when it comes to rural Minnesota, especially in less affluent, aging communities.”

The article featured a number of communities who have benefited from the Blandin Foundation and consulting from Bill such as Benton County, Adrian and Staples Minnesota.