Photo of worker adjusting a wireless access point.

Worker adjusting the wireless access point outside my window.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009
Minneapois Unwired: Updated Community Benefits Status
I recently posted on the status of community benefits included in the City of Minneapolis contract with US Internet (Minneapolis Unwired: Status of Our Community Benefits). Since then, the Minneapolis Digital Inclusion Fund Advisory Committee (DIFAC) has met and the City and US Internet provided further updates and answered some of my questions. (I'm a member of the Committee.)

I want to be clear that our committee is solely involved with the Digital Inclusion Fund and in making grants to nonprofits. We are not a regulatory group in relation to all the community benefits.

Bold/Italic indicates statements (slightly edited) from my previous post. I use US Internet and USIW interchangeably.

USIW is required to provide monthly payments of five percent (5%) of their "Pre-tax Income from the operation of the Network within the City." DIFAC has not seen any of that money yet and I haven't heard when payments are supposed to begin.

The payments will be yearly and the contract will be amended to reflect that. The logistics of monthly payments with the City verifying USIW's financials would be a nightmare. (USIW is privately held so financial information is not public.) The donation will be based on net income. There was no profit thus no net income in the past year (their fiscal year ends April 30) mainly because the network did not get built out as quickly as hoped and subscriber counts aren't as great as projected. If all goes well, USIW should have a donation for DIFAC this current year in the third quarter of 2010. (After the close of the fiscal year USIW will have an outside review and then forward financial statements to the City for confirmation.)

USIW is still building out around the lakes ("challenge areas") and expect an influx of subscribers once they are finished. USIW announced at the meeting that they were just finishing implementation in Prospect Park. That area should be "unwired" as of this writing.

USIW "will offer free 1 megabit broadband Internet access service in public locations (Parks, Plazas) defined by City up to a maximum of five percent (5%) of the geographic area throughout the City."

There is not yet any free access but the City wants to move forward on this soon. The plan is to convene an ad hoc committee to make recommendations as to best location for the free areas. I'm sure parks and plazas will be in the mix and I would like to see major entertainment areas: Uptown, downtown, parts of Northeast, and maybe around the downtown riverfront. Another site I believe ripe for free Wi-Fi is City Hall itself.

USIW is also supposed to sponsor an annual DIF fundraising event.

USIW is planning a fundraiser. We are hopeful that something will be in place soon.

USIW is supposed to be seeking "additional contributions and/or matching funds from community businesses, foundations and charities to increase the amount available in the DIF."

No report on any activity.

USIW is supposed to conduct community meetings twice per year around the City "to ensure continued encouragement and support for the inclusion into the digital age of the maximum number of citizens, households and businesses in the City."

No report on any activity.

(end update)

I'm very glad to have the updates on community benefits and I feel we are moving forward (albeit more slowly than some of us might like to see). I think I can speak for all of our committee in saying that we really would have liked to see a contribution from USIW to the fund in time for another round of grants this fall. We do have $100,000 and the plan right now is to keep that money, possibly until fall, 2010, when we expect the next contribution from USIW.

In the meantime, we are working on governance issues for the DIFAC including length of member terms and replacing members who have left. We may be recruiting new members by early 2010. Watch my blog for announcements.

Other items at this meeting included information on the City of Minneapolis application for federal stimulus funds. One project would provide broadband to 41 public housing high rises and the other would involve training users on how to use the Internet. The broadband system would use a rooftop antenna system to connect to the USIW wireless system and then provide wired connections to high rise residents. I'm trying to get more information for a future blog post (like what's the bandwidth and what's the cost to users).

We also discussed the creation of a long-term group or committee to steer the City on technology issues and digital inclusion and to oversee the community benefits. This could be part of the Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission or a separate group and possibly even ad hoc and formed as needed with members chosen with expertise to address specific issues.

The next DIFAC meeting will be in early December.

Posted via email from Peter's posterous

Thursday, September 17, 2009
Hearing tonight: Should we block the Greenway with an LRT station?

[This is from the Midtown Greenway Coalition September E-News. An LRT station disrupting the Greenway does not seem sensible to me and it costs more. Find out more at the Midtown Greenway site.]

There is much hullabaloo about the route that the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit (LRT) line will take through Minneapolis, and the outcomes have enormous impact on the Midtown Greenway. 

Your voice is needed at:

A Public Hearing on SW LRT
September 17, 2009 (6:30 pm - 8:30 pm)
Hosted by the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority
on behalf of the Southwest Policy Advisory Committee
at the Eisenhower Community Center Theater
1001 Highway 7 in Hopkins

Of the two possible routes for the SW LRT once it enters Minneapolis on its way downtown from the suburbs, the one that passes through the Greenway to Nicollet Avenue is not favored by the Midtown Greenway Coalition. This Greenway/Nicollet route would block the bike trail at Nicollet Avenue, requiring bikers, joggers and walkers to come up out of the Greenway, cross Nicollet Avenue, and then go back down into the Greenway.  In addition, 60% to 80% of the south bank of the Greenway west of Nicollet Avenue would be replaced with a high concrete retaining wall.  Instead, the Midtown Greenway Coalition prefers modern streetcar vehicles as the way to bring rail transit into the Greenway alongside the trails. This streetcar line would connect with the Southwest LRT on the west and the existing Hiawatha LRT on the east, all as part of the “Network Alignment (see image above).  Unbelievably, the cost for the Network Alignment that includes both the SW LRT through Kenilworth and the Greenway streetcar would be $400 MILLION LESS THAN the SW LRT Greenway/Nicollet alignment by itself!  Learn more about the two LRT options and a streetcar in the Greenway at southwestlrt.wordpress.com and please attend the September 17 public meeting to raise your voice in favor of the SW LRT Kenilworth alignment.

[This text refers to the image.] The Network Alignment: Kenilworth 3A + the Midtown Greenway Streetcar (the “Green Line”) would serve more Minneapolis population, employment, commerical nodes, growth centers, transit-oriented development, and transit-dependent riders than any other SW LRT alignment.

Posted via email from Peter's posterous

Monday, September 14, 2009
GiveMN.org for ZERO transaction fees for Minnesota charitable giving
Last week the Kari Ruth from St. Paul Foundation and GiveMN.org spoke at the Tuesday NetSquared event about GiveMN.org. GiveMN.org is a new charitable-giving platform for Minnesota nonprofits. The site goes public in November but it's up now and you can add your nonprofit's online profile. That's not a bad idea as they are planning a Minnesota Match Day in November which I assume means that your nonprofit can somehow tap into some matching funds for contributions.

To get your profile on GiveMN.org, you first find your profile at www.razoo.com (or create a profile there). Minnesota profiles at Razoo will automatically be transferred to GiveMN.org.

The site will offer nonprofits zero transaction fees. That's why your nonprofit should be at the site and why donors should give via the site. For donors, it will also offer a profile page for tracking your giving to any nonprofit in the U.S. that accepts credit card donations. (I'm assuming you have to contribute via Razoo if the nonprofit is not Minnesota-based.) There are other features for donors too like engaging "in an active, donor-centric online community with opportunities for collaborative giving and tools that integrate with other social media." That sounds interesting.

The site includes the Razoo nonprofit search engine tweaked for Minnesota nonprofits. Feelings at the presentation were mixed as to how valuable a giving search engine really is in terms of seeking a nonprofit to give to. Most of us already know who we want to support and if not, Google offers an easy (and likely more comprehensive) way to find organizations.

Many nonprofits use Network for Good as their online donation site. It's free to list there but there is a transaction fee for each donation (in the area of 4%, I think). GiveMN.org will use Network for Good's donation engine on the back end but no fees will be deducted. It's really a no-brainer (my opinion, at least) for nonprofits as to whether or not to participate and then to promote giving at GiveMN.org. There's no reason you can't leave all your other donation sites in place (even at Network for Good) and add (and promote) GiveMN.org.

Posted via email from Peter's posterous

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