Category Archives: Events

Invitation to talk public ownership models at Blandin Lunch Bunch on March 10

As originally posted on the Blandin on Broadband blog

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Part One

For rural community broadband champions, pursuing better broadband has never been more complicated.  Factors that currently have me thinking, if not stumped include:

  • RDOF
    • Will the winning RDOF bidder be approved by the FCC?
    • If yes, what will their buildout schedule look like till 2027?
    • Will they build-out the adjacent non-RDOF areas?
  • Starlink
    • Will Starlink maintain the 100 Mb+ speeds once they move from beta to large customer numbers?
    • Will they be able to deliver, as promised, to 300 Mb and beyond?
    • How will low-income households afford $500 or more in upfront costs?
  • DSL
    • Will other DSL providers follow ATT’s lead and phase out DSL services?
    • Will the majority of rural DSL customers ever see widespread speeds that support multiple users?

We should know more about some of these questions soon; other will emerge more slowly.

Part Two

The 1996 Telecom Act was supposed to spur competition, but we are going backwards. In many communities, from affluent suburbs to small rural communities, residents are effectively subject to the services, pricing and responsiveness of an unregulated monopoly provider.  Community leaders need to decide whether this is that a good thing.

The costs to build a fiber infrastructure in a community are low for a 30-year asset.  Community broadband advocates should analyze the multiple options for creating community-owned networks and promote them to elected officials.  Locally-owned networks serve the community as their first priority.

We are going to talk public ownership models at our Blandin Lunch Bunch on March 10 at noon.  Sign up here: .  We will discuss at least a couple models.  Chris Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance will join the conversation.

Ammon ID ( is building and maintaining its own fiber network where residents now have their choice of Gigabit providers for $49.50 per month.  Chattanooga TN ( offers a Gb for $68 per month and solved its pandemic-magnified digital divide issue by simply providing free 100 Mb Internet to 28,000 students.  A new study documented a $2.69 billion long-term benefit from Chattanooga’s fiber network.

We will also talk about the mixed experience of Minnesota’s publicly owned broadband networks (wonders and warts!), including Southwest MN Broadband, the Cities of Windom and Monticello and Scott and Lake Counties.  And, maybe a bit on how new and expanded cooperatives might accomplish the same goals.  Join us!

Stirring the Pot: Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch Jan 13

As originally posted on Blandin on Broadband eNews…’

In any other time, I would be starting this column with a breezy Happy New Year and offering platitudes for sunny skies ahead.  Instead, uncertainty tending towards gloom fills the air in my office and over Zoom.

My hope for clear broadband skies has been crushed by the unexpected results of the FCC’s RDOF auction.  Like many, I expected that many, locally-oriented ISPs would win the majority of eligible areas adjacent to their existing fiber-served areas, thus guaranteeing a timely and smooth deployment of affordable and reliable service for a generation. Non-RDOF eligible areas would be reached through provider investment supplemented by the state’s Border to Border grant program and local public dollars.  We would achieve the Minnesota Broadband Vision – rural areas having the broadband infrastructure necessary to attract people and investment.  Communities could then focus on broadband utilization for economic competitiveness and quality of life.

Instead of this expected certainty, we must all now wait for clarity to emerge from the next steps of the FCC process.  Unfortunately, there are many questions, but few answers:

  • Will the FCC approve the engineering and financial plans of winning bidders?
  • What technology will be deployed to achieve the promised Gigabit service?
  • What is the build-out timeline?
  • What about adjacent underserved areas?
  • How will incumbent providers respond?
  • How will state and federal funders adapt their broadband programs?
  • Has the community role changed?

What are your thoughts on the implications of RDOF?  Maybe we can shred some clouds and see some sunshine.  No presentations, just shared conversation.  All are welcome!

Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch
January 13 ~  Noon to 1:00pm
Register Here (for 2nd Wednesdays on infrastructure)


A report from the Gigabit Highway Conference in Austin TX hosted by the FTTH Council…

Some very interesting presentations at this conference earlier this week.  Here are some highlights…

Federal news

  • The FCC USF fund rules are still in development.  With the new chairman, previous decision and priorities may change, including the rules for competitive bidding.  Speaker Tom Cohen suggests that communities and providers need to be ready to jump if the incumbent ILECs reject the funding as offered, though these same companies can compete in the bidding process as well.
  • Mary Campanola of the RUS Telecom program talked about the increased flexibility of the Community Connect fund – you can now draw the lines to the service area.  Currently, you are ineligible if you receive 3 Mb broadband which the feds come out to verify.  The new service must be at least 5 Mb with the current rules.  15% cash match is required.

Patricia Shorter of federal EDA in Commerce and her colleague talked about how EDA can fund fiber infrastructure development and pointed to the Economic Development Districts (MN RDC’s plus the West Central Initiative) as the gateway to those funds – job creation and retention are important in these projects.  They have funds for strategy development and implementation.  Depending on demographic and economic indicators, grant funds range from 50% to 80%.  It seems like these dollars might be used for funding lateral fiber runs off of middle mile networks.  Key phrases – Collaborative Regional Innovation, public-private partnerships, global competitiveness, economic distress and underserved communities.

A panel that included US Ignite, CISCO and a game developer has very interesting conversation around the sustainable business model for broadband development.  The US Ignite speaker talked about why health and education are such important drivers of broadband – a limited number of experts to whom many people want to connect.  The question on this was whether this would drive revenue to the providers adequate to fund network development.  The CISCO speaker talked about video and mobile as two drivers of innovation and that residential style applications are now driving development of business applications, gaming as an example.  With the game developer, the elimination of latency was noted as equal or more important than bandwidth availability.  High quality applications will drive them from niche to mainstream.  In justifying Gigabit networks, they will now do the same things, but faster.  In the future, there will be new things.

There was also a panel of expanding Gb providers.  One provider in Mississippi, C Spire, was planning to expand their business and wanted to check community interest so they published an RFP.  52 communities submitted responses with nine finalists selected.  They noted that their expected payback for business networks was two- three years, with longer paybacks on residential investments.  While residential ARPU (average revenue per unit) is $105 for residential, the business ARPU was two – three times that.

I facilitated a panel with Sharon Strover of the University of Texas-Austin, Doug Sicker of University of Colorado-Boulder and John Horrigan, a noted broadband researcher.

Sharon talked about the her research which points to increased broadband adoption as a driver of economic activity.  There is a clear difference between similar counties that are either above 60% adoption versus below 40% adoption.  The higher adoption counties had greater economic growth as measured in income and employment and attracted more “creative class” residents.

Doug Sicker supervised graduate student research that shows that a fiber connection adds between $3,000 and $7,000 in value to a home using three communities in New York as a study area.  He suggested that communities get their realtors to start listing fiber optics as an asset on the MLS listing page.

John Horrigan talked about digital readiness, which is a more flexible indicator the digital literacy as it can be used to measure a more complete range of knowledge rather than just being able to log on to a computer, send and email and surf the web.    His studies show that only 20% are making full use of technology.

It was a fun conference.  An entertaining highlight was watching representatives of Google and ATT engage in word play over their soon to be competing services in Austin, deployment plans, pole attachment battles, marketing plans, etc.

Finally, I want to say that you can see that the boom in knowledge work is on in Austin.  Similar to Minneapolis, there was lots of construction, live music, restaurants and bicycles.  While waiting for my coffee at a local shop, the server acknowledged my Surly Beer shirt and said that he had just moved from Minneapolis within the past 90 days.  The next customer in line had just moved from New York City.  Both looked to be in their 20’s.  My Minneapolis friend moved there just to see what was happening there; the New Yorker had moved for a job in the tech industry. There is definite competition for the talent of the future.  I also met an entrepreneur who is planning to open three to four new, for-profit engineering schools in what he sees as tech hubs.  Palo Alto, Austin, Brooklyn and Columbus.  We have our work cut out here in MN!

Presentation in Trout Lake Township

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.

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Dakota Future hosts Minnesota Broadband Task Force Monthly Meeting

Yesterday Bill Coleman led the hosting team at Dakota County, welcoming the Minnesota Broadband Task Force, who held their monthly meeting in Dakota County. It was an opportunity for CTAC client Dakota Future to showcase much of the work that Dakota County has done in terms of promoting and facilitating better broadband for better business.

Bill Coleman spoke about the Dakota Future Intelligent Community Initiative
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You can get the full notes from the session from the Blandin on Broadband blog.

CTAC leads discussion at 2011 MN Broadband Conference

CTAC Founder Bill Coleman was on the planning committee for the 2011 Policy & Progress: Border to Border Broadband conference. The conference was a great success and Bill moderated one of the top sessions: Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities; Demonstration Community Project Coordinators. It was a lively discussion highlighting the broadband adoption projects happening around the state, often with the guidance and support of CTAC staff.

Here is a highlight from the session:

Or you can check out other video updates:

Free webinar on Public-Private Partnership in Broadband

On Tuesday CTAC founder Bill Coleman will be presenting a free webinar for the Blandin Foundation as a lead up to the 2011 Fall Broadband Conference (Policy & Progress: Border to Border Broadband).

Pre-Broadband Conference Webinar – Public-private partnerships in broadband
Date:Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Time:12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

With stimulus funds allocated and clear understanding of the difficulties in obtaining strictly market-based funding, how can underserved areas reach their broadband goals? What are some successful models of public private partnerships?

Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors will present this topic.

This webinar is free but registration is required at:

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