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U.S. Commerce Department Promotes Community Networks in Minneapolis Broadband Workshop

in Broadband Stimulus/Broadband's Impact/Gigabit Networks/NTIA by

September 5, 2014 – The agency responsible for articulating President Obama’s communications policy is taking its campaign to promote community broadband initiatives on the road, and on Thursday in Minneapolis hosted its second workshop on the topic.

The event, “Building a Community Broadband Roadmap,” featured remarks by Glenn Reynolds, chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, who touted the impact of the federal government’s broadband stimulus efforts of 2009.

Here in Minnesota, we awarded $17 million to Eventis Telecom to build a 400-mile middle-mile network that is providing high-capacity, low-cost Ethernet connections across 23 rural counties and delivering speeds of up to 10 gigabits to more than 30 anchor institutions, including schools, libraries and healthcare facilities. We also gave a $5 million grant to the C.K. Blandin Foundation to promote a culture of broadband use in rural Minnesota by supporting community technology planning, offering digital literacy classes and e-commerce training for small business, and supplying refurbished computers and discounted Internet access for low-income residents….

Nationwide, our grantees built, upgraded or leased more than 112,000 miles of fiber and fixed wireless connections as of the end of 2013. They hooked up more than 24,000 community anchor institutions, including more than 10,000 K-12 schools, nearly 2,500 libraries and 2,400 medical facilities. And they established or upgraded 3,300 public computer centers and helped nearly 580,000 households sign up for broadband. At the same time, our State Broadband Initiative Program has supported more than 200 local broadband planning teams across the country.

The workshop followed a May 29 kickoff at which NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling urged states and local communities to “build on the momentum of our successful broadband grant program” even without access to federal funds.

Among the individuals or organizations speaking at the event included Minnesota state senators and representatives, as will as the Chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband, plus individuals from an array of companies and public-private partnership entities seeking to deploy community networks.

The NTIA often plays second-fiddle to the Federal Communications Communication on telecommunications matters. Legally, the FCC is an independent agency, while the NTIA has the statutory mandate to advise the president on matters of communications policy.


Onlight Aurora, Most Advanced Illinois Gigabit Communities Awardee, Shows How to Leverage Its Fiber Network

in Fiber/Gigabit Networks/Public Safety by

AURORA, ILLINOIS, November 5, 2013 – Just over a year ago, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn announced the first of four awards under the state’s “Gigabit Communities Challenge,” an effort to raise the bar on broadband speeds in the nation’s heartland.

Of the four awardees named thus far, the Gigabit Network created by Onlight Aurora here is perhaps the most advanced. This is owing to a unique public-private partnership in the state’s second-largest city.

Other awardees in Illinois are Gigabit Squared and the University of Chicago; the City of Evanston and Northwest University; and Frontier Communications, Connect Southern Illinois and Southern Illinois University.

But the example of Onlight Aurora provides an important window into the way Gigabit Networks can help a multiplicity of purposes. These include government cost-savings, traffic solutions, and economic development options for business retention and growth.

On Wednesday, November 6, 2013, Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner will address the state of Onlight Aurora during a panel discussion at the Broadband Communities Conference on “Making Broadband Projects Sustainable: Fostering Economic Growth is Key to Building Robust Revenue Streams.”

Originally a Cost-Saving Measure

“In 2005-2006, we came to the conclusion that we were paying $500,000 a year [to telecommunications providers] for leased line expenses,” said Peter Lynch, Director and President of Onlight Aurora.

The city proposed to build a city-owned fiber-optic network, at a cost of $7.5 million, he said. At the time, the city was forecasting a minimum of 10 years payback period.

Instead, the city has leveraged:

  • A $13 million grant under the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program
  • An additional $1 million in funding under Gov. Quinn’s Gigabit Communities Challenge
  • Increasing opportunities for business revenue through add-on services available to business users.

“I can joyfully say, that we are now paying that off for its third or fourth time,” said Lynch.

Alleviating Traffic Congestion

The traffic congestion grant, which was administered through the Chicago Metropolitan Area for Planning, is a great example of leveraging a network originally designed for city communications for another purpose entirely.

The traffic grant occurred because the city had the foresight to install large number of fiber strands into conduits that it laid to build out the city network, said Lynch.

That in turn opened an opportunity when the FHA was seeking pilot cities to design programs that would alleviate auto emissions. The means for reduced emissions was to be an enhanced traffic flow because of better traffic light synchronization.

By granting the city’s traffic engineers with “access to several strands of fiber, they were able to prove out their concept on a much bigger scale,” said Ted Beck, the city’s Chief Technology Officer. “That helps the quality of our community.”

“We have been able to see better movement of traffic, which alleviates congestion and air quality,” said Eric Gallt, the city’s Traffic Engineer. The fiber loop enables city traffic officials “to see what is going on remotely, and it decreased the cost of the project by 50 percent or more.”

Planning for Broadband Success

Later, when Gov. Quinn announced the Illinois Gigabit Communities Challenge in the February 2012 State of the State address, the city of Aurora was ready to take the challenge to the next step.

Quinn’s challenge grant offered private providers and communities the opportunity to obtain between $1 million and $4 million in funding by working together to promote the highest-speed connectivity available. The goal was to “unleash the savvy of our entrepreneurs, the brainpower of our academics, and the creativity of our innovators,” Governor Quinn said in the speech.

In Aurora, Lynch and Beck recounted, Mayor Weisner empaneled a broadband roundtable, from business and the government, to brainstorm how the city’s fiber-optic network could benefit community broadband centers like schools, hospitals, and libraries. The plan enables these institutions to link up to the fiber network as they contribute to its financial strength.

“Technology plays a huge part in retaining the businesses that you want to keep and targeting the companies that you want to recruit,” said Beck. “Our core vision was community-based. Our schools are in critical need of technology, but you have to have a model that is sustainable.”

Onlight Aurora’s next step is to move beyond education, health care and social services to significant commercial resale of ultra-high-speed broadband services.


To hear more about Onlight Aurora, visit the session at Broadband Communities Conference at 3:50 p.m. on Wednesday, November 6:

Making Broadband Projects Sustainable – Fostering Economic Growth is Key to Building Robust Revenue Streams 

The fiber will last 30 years, but will the network? In this session, our panel of experts will examine key economic-development-driven steps that communities can take to enhance revenues, control costs, and make their networks sustainable.

Leader: Drew Clark - Chairman and Publisher,Broadband Breakfast


Eric Frederick - Executive Director, Connect Michigan

John Honker - President, Magellan Advisors

Bernadine Joselyn - Director, Public Policy & Engagement, Blandin Foundation

Tom Weisner - Mayor, Aurora, Illinois



Drew Clark to Lead Discussion at Broadband Communities Conference in Chicago on Role of Fiber Networks in Economic Growth

in Broadband Data/Broadband Stimulus/Broadband's Impact/Events/Fiber/The Innovation Economy by

Monday, October 28, 2013 – Drew Clark, Chairman and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com, will lead a panel discussion at the Broadband Communities Conference next week on the role of fiber developments in fostering economic growth. The Economic Development Conference Series will be held in Tinley Park, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago) from Tuesday, November 5, through Thursday, November 7.

The event moderated by Clark, “Making Broadband Projects Sustainable,” will begin at 2:40 p.m. on Wednesday, November 6.

This fall, Clark will take the next step in his work as a nationally-known broadband leader and expert with the launch of a national association devoted to broadband internet services. The association will advance the benefits of broadband internet services — particularly Gigabit Network services — in homes, businesses, and local governments. Broadband internet services are the benefits that broadband provides: job creation, telemedicine, online learning, public safety, the smart grid, eGovernment, and family connectedness. These services turn high-speed internet connections into tools for more productive and healthy lives.

To register to attend the conference, please visit http://bbcmag.com/chicago.

Making Broadband Projects Sustainable – Fostering Economic Growth is Key to Building Robust Revenue Streams 

The fiber will last 30 years, but will the network? In this session, our panel of experts will examine key economic-development-driven steps that communities can take to enhance revenues, control costs, and make their networks sustainable.

Leader: Drew Clark - Chairman and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Eric Frederick - Executive Director, Connect Michigan
John Honker - President, Magellan Advisors
Bernadine Joselyn - Director, Public Policy & Engagement, Blandin Foundation
Tom Weisner - Mayor, Aurora, Illinois

As Executive Director of Broadband Illinois, Clark united the Land of Lincoln around a vision of Better Broadband, Better Lives. Illinois’ State Broadband Initiative became the national model for public-private collaboration. Clark came to Illinois having founded Broadband Census and the Broadband Breakfast Club, the premier Washington forum advancing the conversation on broadband.

Clark implements Gov. Pat Quinn’s personal motto, “everybody in, and nobody left out,” and he brings experts and practitioners together to advance a common purpose. Clark’s work at Broadband Illinois united Southern Illinois and Chicagoland, Eastern Illinois and Western Illinois, and he built up the Broadband Deployment Council’s efforts to use internet expansion to improve economic development in the State.

Broadband Illinois’ pioneering work in internet planning, convening and educating Illinois set the standard for engagement between communications providers and users of internet services, who have different interests but are both essential to advancing broadband. Clark established the framework of the 10 regional eTeams: community groups that link technology improvements to concrete economic development objectives.

The maps, resources and toolkits available on broadbandillinois.org provided the way that other state broadband entities followed. Under his leadership, the State launched the Illinois Broadband Innovation Fund and the Federal Communication Commission awarded a broadband lifeline grant for rural Western and Southern Illinois.

Clark earned his Bachelors of Arts (with Honors) in Philosophy and Economics from Swarthmore College, his Master of Science from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and his Juris Doctor from George Mason University School of Law. He serves on the board of the Rural Telecommunications Congress. You can find him on Google+Twitter, and LinkedIN.

Experts Discuss State-level Solutions for Broadband

in Broadband's Impact by

WASHINGTON, July 21, 2010 – A panel of experts convened on Monday to discuss the issue of how to expand broadband at the State level, with a focus on communications challenges. The panel included representatives of North Carolina, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Washington, and disseminated its ideas via a webcast moderated by Greg Laudeman of the Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute.

Due to time constraints, only the presenters from Minnesota, Washington and the table. Bernadine Joselyn of the Blandin Foundation in Minnesota stressed the importance of youth outreach, noting that for young voters, web access was a more fundamental issue than for older generations.

“We like to talk about these generation Yers, who are not technology users. They are technology assumers,” Blandin said. “The difference between what they require to live and work and what exists can result in a gut-wrenching, gasping experience with the topic that is inconceivable if you get a bunch of baby boomers talking about the technology.”

Meanwhile, Luc Miron of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took a more inviting approach, suggesting that Pennsylvania was open to considering a variety of approaches to broadband expansion. “We want to hear what folks’ perception is, and what should be the role of the State,” Miron said.

Angela Wu, the speaker from Washington, stressed the importance of industry outreach. “We ended up with a list of about a thousand broadband stakeholders in our State,” Wu said, describing an information compilation process her state government undertook.

Task Force to Debate Whether A Gigabit Per Second is Too Fast for Minnesota

in States by

Broadband Census Minnesota

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles surveying the state of broadband, and of broadband data, within each of the United States. The complete list is at http://broadbandcensus.com/blog/?p=713. Or visit the BroadbandCensus.com Broadband Wiki. Help build this wiki by making a contribution to BroadbandCensus.com.

August 5 – When it comes to articulating a state broadband policy, many in Minnesota are aiming high – or at least very, very fast.

In April 2008, the Minnesota legislature passed a bill to create an Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force. The bill was signed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and, last month, he named 20 of the 26 task force members.

One of the key priorities of the bill is to identify a level of broadband service and connection speeds that will be reasonably needed by the year 2015 in order for Minnesota to compete in the global marketplace of the future.

Chairing the task force will be Rick King, chief operating officer of Thomson Reuters, which has major operations in Eagan, Minn. “Ultra high-speed broadband gives us a competitive edge to build on our technology leadership position and attract great companies and high-paying jobs to our state,” King said in a statement.

And what exactly is “ultra high-speed”? Until June, the Federal Communications defined broadband as 200 kilobits per second (Kbps), although that’s now been raised to 768 Kbps.

Earlier versions of the Minnesota legislation, by contrast, called for a connection speed of one Gigabit per second (Gbps) as a benchmark. That’s the equivalent of 1,000 Megabits per second (Mbps), or 1,000,000 Kbps.

Average downstream speeds in the United States range from 2 Mbps – 6 Mbps for home-based broadband, depending on whether the connections are digital subscriber lines (DSL), cable modems or fiber-optics.

The lofty 1 Gbps goal can be traced to the Blandin Foundation and its broadband initiative, which from 2003 to 2006 articulated its broadband vision to “live at the speed of the light,” or to bring the full capacity of fiber-optic connection to life. The Blandin Foundation is a Grand Rapids, Minn.-based non-profit foundation focused on rural communities.

“Ultra high-speed broadband has arrived,” read the foundation’s March 2006 report. “The question is, ‘When do we want it to arrive in our communities?’ Five years from now? Ten years? Will we play catch up, or act today?”

Others in the state have analogized the fiber-optic information super-highway to the influence of the railroads’ upon Minnesota’s past.

“In 1868, the railroad bypassed Forestville, Minn., and the town died,” wrote Steve Borsch on his blog minnov8.com, about internet innovation in Minnesota.

“My Dad and his cousins tell stories of being kids on weekend holiday in the 1930’s, taken out to the farm to look around and rubbing the store windows so they could peek inside at all the old clothing, canned goods and assorted sundries, all left intact when Thomas locked the store and he and Mary moved to nearby Preston,” wrote Borsh. The railroad had been built through Preston, but not Forestville.

Many of the flashpoints in the debate over broadband within Minnesota have been over speed.

“Certainly Mr. King [the task force chair] is a proponent of a more aggressive broadband policy, but he is practical about this and recognizes some of the constraints that the telcos have,” said Steve Kelley, a former state legislator and senator, who is now senior fellow at a technology center at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute.

“The providers and some other folks say, ‘let’s make sure that the capacity follows the demand, rather than the other way around,’” said Kelley.

The Minnesota dynamic is a bit unusual in that there are several smaller companies and municipalities that seek to invest in fiber-optic service, said Kelley. In some cases – as with the town of Monticello, Minn. – these efforts are being challenged by incumbent telecommunications companies.

But in the state, the two dominant providers are Comcast and Qwest. In contrast to Verizon Communicaitons and AT&T, both of which are making major investments in fiber-optics, “Qwest doesn’t have the capacity right now,” said Kelly, “and Comcast isn’t going to pump up the capacity unless it is pushed, in a regulatory/competitive sense.”

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance has entered the telecommunications space to defend the efforts of municipalities, such as Monticello, as well as a separate consortium of 11 communities in the northern part of the state that is dubbed the Minnesota Iron Range.

“We are suffering because none of our providers are really investing,” said Chris Mitchell, a research associate at the institute, a non-profit based in Minneapolis and Washington.

In addition to the ultra high-speed task force, the Minnesota legislature this year passed two other broadband-related bills. One calls for the University of Minnesota to study the effects of state-wide video franchising legislation. The other seeks to conduct a comprehensive inventory of internet speeds, technology types and availability within the state by February 1, 2009.

Broadband Census Resources:

Below are public and private resources about broadband information in the state of Minnesota that BroadbandCensus.com has been able to identify.

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