What’s Happening with Broadband in Minnesota? A Recap of Blandin’s Annual Broadband Initiative Conference

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By Ann Treacy,

Blandin Foundation Broadband InitiativeLast week the Blandin Foundation held their annual broadband conference Broadband 2010: Cultivating a Culture of Use.

The 130 attendees included partners in Blandin’s ARRA-funded broadband adoption project (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities), other ARRA fund recipients, service providers, policy-makers and community leaders. I was struck by the caliber of questions attendees asked. When it comes to broadband, we’re no longer asking: what it is or who’s going to do it; we’re asking: how to deploy and encourage broadband adoption.

In an email conversation with Jim Baller, he noted that he has noticed the same shift on a national basis. Events and projects such as the National Broadband Plan, ARRA broadband funding, Google’s Gig network and locally the Minnesota High-Speed Task Force Recommendations, recent visits from FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and FCC Public Hearing have raised awareness and interest in broadband. Because attendees came to the table better armed with information, interactive sessions were possible, where small groups discussed the statewide broadband recommendations and other broadband topics.

General consensus on the statewide recommendations was that the focus on ubiquity was good, but that the speed goals were slower than necessary to be a world leader. Attendees recognized that public contact with the legislators will be essential to keep the recommendations alive and broadband on the state agenda.

Attendees also heard an inspiring talk from Geek Squad Founder and Best Buy CTO Robert Stephens, who spoke about the impact that that the iPhone and iPad will have on everything – but for the communities that means that telling your story online has become even more important because people are increasing going online to get information. That sentiment was echoed by students from University of Minnesota Morris presenting on how communities can recruit and retain youth.

In conjuncture with the conference, Blandin also released two new reports. MIRC Communities Baseline Study: A study evaluating broadband adoption in 11 rural MN communities by Jack Geller at The EDA Center, University of Minnesota, Crookston, which looks at broadband adoption in rural Minnesota – especially the areas participating in Blandin’s MIRC project. Jack’s report indicates that most people with computers have broadband. The demographic least likely to have broadband is seniors. So adoption programs that put computers (or maybe iPads and iPhones) in the right hands might make a real difference. The second report, A Community Guide to Broadband Policy: a Comparison of Minnesota and federal broadband policy work, looks at the national and state broadband plans from a local community perspective – highlighting the benefits and barriers in each.

We are at an interesting crossroads with broadband. More than $240 million of ARRA broadband funding will be a game changer in the broadband topology in the state. The conference demonstrated that communities who received money are willing to share what they are learning – but it’s up to the communities who didn’t receive funding to find ways to expand broadband locally or be left behind. As a state those communities are also our concern; broadband expansion is something community members must do for themselves, but they can’t do it alone. We need policies and opportunities that support and promote broadband deployment and adoption in all communities.

Want to stir the Minnesota broadband pot in your neck of the woods? Contact Ann Treacy to get involved!

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