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The Need for World-Class Broadband Networks

The Mid-Minnesota Development Commission has endorsed the following vision statement that was created at the November, 2015 Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Conference by conference attendees:

Everyone in Minnesota will be able to use convenient, affordable, world-class broadband
networks that enable us to survive and thrive in our communities and across the globe.”

World-class broadband is essential today, and will become even more essential as time goes by for both community vitality including economic competitiveness, quality health care, equitable education and effective government. Those rural areas that are not provided the ability to access affordable and reliable high speed internet service will be sentenced to second class status and permanent decline. As it was during the 1930s and 1940s with rural electrification, local, state, and federal government must play a part in helping to finance service to rural Minnesota. Innovation and economic vitality can happen anywhere there is world-class broadband. Without broadband infrastructure, rural communities and rural economies cannot compete.

Broadband is the indispensable infrastructure of our time. Public investment in broadband infrastructure and use has a significant return for the public good. Recent studies have shown that broadband is the cheapest infrastructure investment on a per mile basis. The MMDC wants everyone to let their elected officials at all levels know that world-class broadband is an investment that you will strongly support.

Problem:

  • Absent ubiquitous access to world class broadband and the skills to use it, people in Minnesota cannot compete in a global economy nor participate fully in American social or economic life.
  • The private sector cannot make a business case for infrastructure investments in hard-to-serve areas.

Opportunity:

  • To develop broad-based support for public funding to address the needs of hard-to-serve areas in Minnesota.
  • Minnesota must invest in the indispensable infrastructure needed to ensure a vibrant future for everyone in Minnesota, especially in those years the state has a budget surplus.

Minnesota cannot afford to continue to fall behind other states that are doing more. Examples include:

  • New York is investing $500 million. Their goal: Access to broadband at speeds of at least 100 Mbps in most places, and 25 Mbps in the most remote underserved and unserved parts of the State.
  • Alaska Broadband Goal: By 2020, every Alaskan has 100 mbps broadband connectivity. (100 Mbps down and up).
  • In Connecticut, a collaboration of Connecticut municipalities issued a RFQ soliciting partnerships with providers to create Gig networks.

The need for high speed broadband networks is much more than allowing a household to download a movie to watch. Below is a snapshot on the varied uses and needs for a world-class broadband network.

Economic and Workforce Development

In the new global economy, access to broadband has become as essential to individual and community economic prosperity as electricity and roads. It is becoming ever more necessary to have world-class broadband service to attract and retain many businesses that need the service to maintain their viability. Expanded access to high speed Internet generates economic growth and job creation. High speed connections accelerate business development by providing new opportunities for innovation, expansion, and e-commerce.

Improve regional competitiveness through efficient business practices that increase revenues, reduce costs and improve customer service. In 2014, broadband consultants SNG found that for every $1 invested in broadband infrastructure and adoption in Minnesota, $10 is returned in direct and spinoff impacts to the local economy.

Healthcare

The potential for using high speed Internet technology to help expand access and quality of health care will continue to grow. The use of advanced communications technology can be used to create shared services that reduce operating costs and provide patients with a broader spectrum of enhanced services, including remote routine in-home consultations, diagnostics, administration, scheduling, and electronic patient records. Universal high speed Internet access would help bring the prospect of affordable and quality health care for all Americans closer to reality.

Education

High speed internet services is needed for educators and students to do school work at home. High speed internet enhances every level of education from kindergarten through graduate school. High speed internet has become indispensable to students preparing to enter the 21st Century workforce. Some examples of educational uses of high speed internet are:

  • Students can easily form online study groups and work on school projects both in face-to-face and virtual communities.
  • Dynamic and interactive internet applications become possible. Virtual field trips are possible to take students on tours of faraway places.
  • Students in remote locations can have access to education specialists.
  • Students can access the resources of their school libraries remotely, including digital videos and high-volume data files at home.
  • Two-way, interactive video conferences allows busy parents to confer with their students’ teachers more frequently and conveniently.
  • Distance learning allows adults to gain vital skills training to secure employment and move beyond entry-level jobs with flexibility, whether it be through getting a college degree online or completing an online worker training program.

Services for the Aging

High speed Internet can help senior citizens live independently, improve their quality of life, increase participation in economic and civic life, and reduce costs of medical care. It can create opportunities for baby-boomers and their elders to “age in place,” improving quality of life and reducing costs associated with institutionalization of senior citizens. High speed broadband also enables elderly people to share their knowledge through new, influential media and to stay in touch with loved ones. These benefits can only be realized if high speed Internet is available and accessible to everyone.

Studies have found that seniors who master computer skills have fewer depressive symptoms than those who remain technologically unconnected, and that increased integration through social support services can protect against some mortality risks and lead to better mental health. Broadband has been used in Winona to offer remote workout classes to seniors. The real-time sessions are based in the local senior center; seniors join via video conference. It’s a great way to encourage physical activity and provide a social outlet to seniors with limited mobility. ACLP Impact of Broadband on Seniors.

Public Safety and Emergency Response

High speed internet can connect response teams with vital information that improves coordinated, timely reaction to accidents and disasters, offering citizens access to the information and tools they need to make decisions and seek support. Police in Benton County have been using iPads both to take and stream video to be shared and analyzed remotely (back at the lab for example) and have ready access to information – such as an app that helps first responders deal with an improvised explosive device or a hazardous materials (hazmat) situation. It quickly calculates an evacuation radius, factors in real-time weather data, and determines needed road blocks and identifies schools and emergency centers near the area.

Enabling People with Disabilities

High speed internet empowers people with disabilities to become more independent. An internet connection with enough speed to allow two-way voice, data, and video transfer can remove barriers that keep people with disabilities from participating in everyday activities such as employment, education, civic responsibilities, and social connection.

Civic Participation and E-Government

High speed internet allows citizens to participate in civic life more fully and interact with government agencies with greater ease. E-Government solutions can make navigating government services more efficient, improve the quality of services, and increase transparency. With civic participation only a click away, high speed internet can lower the barrier between citizens and their elected representatives.

Rural Communities

Poor or no internet means that local employers cannot stay competitive, causing local economies to suffer. Attracting or retaining businesses is difficult because better internet access is available elsewhere. Citizens may move out, and potential new citizens will likely not move to communities when they cannot get the internet they need for themselves and their families. This means that property values will likely suffer causing fewer tax dollars to be raised for needed services. High speed internet breaks down the barriers of distance and time, allowing residents of rural areas to participate in economic and civic life far beyond their geographic region. This allows rural communities with world-class broadband to retain and attract businesses and residents on a more equal footing.

“ . . . In short, rural America stands at a precipice. A growing technology gap looms. Without broader access to broadband capacity, rural America will lack one of the necessary tools to contain, if not narrow, the gap. Such a gap will mean a loss of opportunities for those who live where technology is used less and a loss of economic potential for those who make the products and service that would close that gap. Because communication technology continues to advance, the gap can only grow unless investment continues in the places where the capabilities are furthest behind.” From: “Broadband for Rural America: Economic Impacts and Economic Opportunities,”

Agriculture

The internet is increasing communication and business opportunities within the agricultural community. This rapidly advancing technology will continue to allow our farmers to be the most efficient producers in the world. However, those lacking in quality broadband service will be hindered greatly.

High speed broadband is becoming a necessary for operating farm implements and equipment, and to support various stages of farming. Farmers not only utilize the internet to participate in discussion forums, shop for equipment parts, check weather conditions and commodity prices in near-real-time, but are getting into much more advanced usages, such as precision agriculture.

Precision agriculture is a method of managing farmland by measuring a wide range of variables including soil conditions, crop yields, topography, and more. Teamed with global positioning systems (GPS) that give precise locations, special sensors, and other technology such as drones, farmers are able to make site-specific adjustments to improve the management of their farmland. By using precision agriculture techniques, farmers are able to adjust the amount of seeds, water, soil nutrients, and pesticides to ensure that only the necessary amounts are used in specific areas. Doing so can lower costs, improve crop yields, and reduce the environmental impact of fertilizer and pesticide runoff. This technology requires vast amounts of data that require Broadband with high upload speeds.

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BROADBAND & INTERNET-BASED TECHNOLOGIES

Region Six-East counties and communities need to advance the use of high bandwidth technologies and services to help compete within the global economy.  To that end, the Mid-Minnesota Development Commission (MMDC) is one of the partners in the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities Initiative (MIRC).  The Blandin Foundation was awarded a federal stimulus grant in 2010 to work with numerous partners throughout Minnesota in this MIRC initiative.  The goal of the project is to:

“Help create technologically and economically vital rural communities, competing and thriving in the broadband economy, with sustainable broadband adoption, job growth, and wealth creation.”

A significant gap exists between rural and urban adoption rates in Minnesota – in both business and home environments.  This web page will help to identify programs, technologies and services that are available to encourage their effective use to foster economic competitiveness and quality of life to advance the future vitality within the Region.

Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities

Statewide Resources

  • Blandin Foundation Programs

For more information visit the Blandin Foundation website or contact Bill Coleman 651.491.2551;

Community Broadband Resources (CBR) Program

CBR is a popular Blandin Foundation program that offers up to 32 hours of flexible technical assistance to communities to determine appropriate next steps towards their technology vitality.

LightSpeed

This Blandin Foundation program provides up to $50,000 in matching funds to support projects that use new broadband applications. Applications can be between institutions (schools, health care facilities, etc.) or from institutions to home users.

Robust Broadband Networks Feasibility Fund

A Blandin Foundation program that provides matching funds for feasibility studies of geographically-based broadband networks. Individual communities can apply for up to $25,000 in matching funds; up to $40,000 in matching funds is available for applications that serve multiple communities.

Broadband Toolkit

The Broadband Toolkit puts at your fingertips hundreds of cutting edge applications for the business, government, education, health care, and consumer sectors. The Toolkit also includes sections on technology market development, community assistance, and community networks.

  • MIRC Partner Programs

PCs for People

Since 1998, PCs for People has been providing personal computers and targeted computer training to people who have limited experience with technology due to social, physical, and/or economic circumstances. Contact: Casey Sorensen 651.354.2552;

UMN Extension

Technology related community economics education and technical assistance to help communities answer key economic development questions about broadband and the future. Contact: Joyce Hoelting 612-625-8233;

Minnesota Renewable Energy Marketplace (MNREM)

MNREM provides training, outreach, and technical assistance for small rural renewable energy businesses. Teresa Kittridge, 952.454.7211;

Minnesota Workforce Centers

The Centers help job seekers find employment, help businesses find workers, and help anyone explore and plan careers. MIRC provides increased and expanded training opportunities and hours of operations at Workforce Centers across Minnesota. Contact: Kathy Sweeney, 651-259-7565;

MN Learning Commons

 MN Learning Commons helps students, educators, advisors, and parents understand and access options for public education and classes online. MIRC supports the MN Learning Commons is a project to create, deliver and promote a knowledge worker online course. Contact: Gary Langer, 651-649-5772;

The Intelligent Community Framework

Robert Bell of the Intelligent Community Forum created the Intelligent Community framework, which links the five pillars of broadband, knowledge workers, innovation, digital inclusion, and marketing/advocacy into a new way of promoting broadband-based economic development. The Blandin Broadband Initiative states that the “Intelligent Community helps to answer the question that many rural communities are asking ‘Why is broadband an essential utility like roads, sewer and water systems, and airports?’ Communities around Minnesota and the world are using the Intelligent Community approach to bring together local and regional leaders of education, business, and government to strategically leverage their assets to be better able to compete in the global economy.”

To learn more about the Intelligent Community Framework visit the Intelligent Community Forum’s web site.

Minnesota Ultra High Speed Broadband Report

In 2008 the State of Minnesota passed legislation forming the Minnesota High-Speed Broadband Task Force. Their charge was to develop a plan to achieve having all Minnesotans having access to high-speed broadband by 2015. The following are some of the goals the Task Force is recommending in their Minnesota Ultra High-Speed Broadband Report: (Taken from the Report’s Executive Summary)

  • Minnesota should have ubiquitous (every home and business in the state) high-speed broadband coverage as soon as possible but no later than 2015.
  • At a minimum, we recommend speeds of 10-20 Megabits per second (Mbps) (download) and 5-10 Mbps (upload) for all residents of the state by 2015. Additionally, they recommend Minnesota should aspire to be:
    • In the top 5 states of the United States for overall speed
    • In the top 5 states for broadband penetration
    • In the top 15 when compared to countries for global broadband penetration
  • They outline financial incentives to support both the supply and demand sides of broadband.
  • They make detailed recommendations for the enhanced security and redundancy of the existing infrastructure.
  • They recommend the creation of a Broadband Advisory Council for Minnesota (BACM) to oversee the actions put forth in the report and to see that these objectives are achieved.
  • They recommend that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopt a higher standard for the definition of broadband. The current definition is 768 kilobits per second (kbps).

The full final report may be downloaded from the Minnesota Ultra High Speed website.


Broadband Bibliography from the Blandin Foundation

Reports & Research:

Broadband Applications & Rural Supporters:

Broadband Technologies:

Keep up on Broadband with Blandin Broadband Tools:

 

 

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