Stirring the Pot: Life after MN Legislative Session

Originally posted in Blandin eNews…

I hope that the screeching halt to the legislative session does not bring an equally painful pause to community efforts to improve Minnesota’s broadband progress.  Those areas with quality broadband are moving fast ahead of the unconnected places.  Economic developers forced to work on improving broadband are left at the starting gate while developers in connected communities are supporting creative entrepreneurs, transforming their workforce to meet tomorrow’s needs and creating a place in the global economy for their community.

The loss of $15 million to the Border to Border grant is a huge blow to the many rural places – counties, cities and townships – that have been organizing, strategizing and perfecting broadband implementation plans.  The lack of state funding will put more onus on local resources to fill the gap the provider partners need to make their business case – whether their ROI hurdle is 36, 60 or 120 months.  Communities will have to be smart in how they participate in these projects.  If the funding balance swings too far to the public side, public ownership of networks will require serious consideration.  Communities can then decide whether to partner with a single or with multiple operators to offer services over the public infrastructure.  There are excellent working models for this framework around the country and elsewhere.

 

Stirring the Pot: What makes your town special

Originally posted in Blandin eNews

I’m in Austin TX for the Broadband Communities Conference.  Austin is widely noted for talent attraction.  Minnesotans remember Austin grabbing a big 3M expansion in the Perpich years.  Seemingly, decades ago, locals started the “keep Austin weird” movement. Now with corporate campuses, condo towers and traffic everywhere, I expect that few of those locals still live here.  Or, if they do, feel that they have lost the battle. As Joni Mitchell sang, “tear down paradise and put up a parking lot.”

Most rural communities now put talent attraction high on the economic development priority list.   I advise that your team think about what makes your town special and work to build on and preserve that essence, that unique weirdness.  You can look to the Strong Towns movement for more thoughts on this topic.  Welcome the newcomers; keep what brought them (and you) to your community.

Bill Coleman speaks to Arrowhead Regional Development Commission

Today Bill Coleman talked about broadband with local officials serving on the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC) about their options for better broadband for the whole region. (Learn more.)

Broadband in the Arrowhead Region (MN)

Stirring the Pot: How to become a Blandin Broadband Community (BBC)

Originally posted in Blandin eNews…

Earlier in this E-news blast, you should have seen some details about applying to become a Blandin Broadband Community (BBC).  I would like to fill in more details about why you should consider this intensive initiative for your community.

In rural communities, great broadband infrastructure is an essential element of community competitiveness, but building infrastructure is not enough.  Becoming a BBC will create a lasting platform for ongoing community innovation and investment.

I highly recommend it!

CTAC presents at Connect Rural Broadband Summit in Region 9

Today Bill Coleman presented to the Connect Rural Broadband Summit in Region 9. It was a good opportunity for folks in the area to learn about broadband needs and roads to possible solutions.

Broadband 101 for Rural Connect Broadband Summer 

Stirring the Pot: What is your broadband story?

Originally posted in Blandin eNews

Over the past weeks, I have been privileged to participate in a number of events hosted by regional development commissions and an Initiative Foundation.  Attendees have included county commissioners, town board members, legislators, tribal government staff, Internet service providers, economic developers, school technologists, bankers and residents.  When we start these sessions with introductions and a “what is your broadband story?” icebreaker, the rural voice is clear.  Local officials are clearly ready to partner to bring quality, ubiquitous broadband services to their residents so identifying quality provider partners is a top priority.

It is great to hear the success stories where broadband has recently been deployed or where solid plans are in place for the next 24 months.  These efforts will turn their county from unserved red to well-served green on the DEED broadband maps.  It is fun to hear these project champions give Blandin Foundation a measure of credit for the assistance received from either or both of Blandin’s Community Broadband Resources and Robust Network Feasibility Fund programs.   Details on these programs can be found here: https://blandinfoundation.org/programs/expanding-opportunity/broadband/  Both programs help communities be better prepared to attract a private sector partner and to access state or federal broadband funding programs. We often see countywide initiatives through these programs, but the determination of the best geography is a local decision.

Contact us to discuss how we can help!

Stirring the Pot: Superbowl, super broadband – what’s the best investment for your community?

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:

Stirring the Pot: Broadband Resolutions

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.

Economic development

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?

 

Stirring the Pot: Broadband as important as ice to ice fishing

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!

 

 

Stirring the Pot: The Future is Now

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.