Minneapolis Wireless: Notes on the Digital Inclusion Roundtable

April 11, 2006

Next meeting should be April 25, 5:30 p.m. at Alliance for Metropolitan Stability (2525 E. Franklin #200) but check the Digital Access site for updates.

(Some background info about the roundtable here. My posts on Minneapolis wireless here. Yahoo discussion of Minneapolis wireless/broadband here.)

Purpose of the roundtable is to discuss the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) that will be negotiated with the vendor contract. “Community Benefits” is usually defined as ways to breach the Digital Divide.

Not many turned out for this one. I think the count is a dozen, give or take. Mahi, the Alliance’s Americorps member, was the only female. Someone mentioned that the free pizza might be more of a draw for men than women.

New Task Force. The big news was the creation of a Digital Inclusion Task Force that Catherine Settanni, the C-CAN director. I’ve got highlights of the announcement following with my comments.

The City has asked me to convene a Digital Inclusion Task Force, made up of 15-20 representatives from education, libraries, government, non-profits, local employers and foundations. We will have 6 meetings over the next 4 months. The objective is to outline a Community Technology Agenda for the City, (a vision for where we, as a City, want to be), then, based on this vision, review and prioritize CBA recommendations from task force participants, AMS/CCAN roundtables, Council Members, and other interested parties. The Task Force will then make final recommendations to the negotiating team concerning CBA items, and issue a report for Council Members and the Mayor documenting both the process and the outcome of this work.

It’s a good idea to have a technology agenda or plan for a big city and I guess for Minneapolis, this is better late than never. (I’d think you’d really want that agenda in place to help with shaping an RFP for muni wireless. Oh well.) At least education and libraries are on the list of participants. They seem to be missing in the current community benefits discussion.

I can’t find any mention of the task force at the City of Mpls site. Nothing at the Star Tribune site either. I will bring it up at tonight’s City Roundtable for muni wireless (see this post).

In the same message, Catherine S. states that “contract negotiations begin in earnest in June, with final vendor selection in July” so the 4-month task force time frame pushes the meetings beyond the date of the vendor selection. Will the contracts also be signed? Doesn’t the CBA need to be in place before the vendor is selected and the contracts signed? Hmm.

I don’t want to be paranoid but I’m not sure how the Task Force fits with the our current round table discussions. This thought was also expressed by a few others at the table. We may be invited to present our recommendations to the Task Force in May.

Pilot Project Update. Earthlink is mounting radios on city-owned poles. There is an issue on whether Wi-Fi will be available for public consumption during the pilot. Will try to ask about this at tonight’s meeting.

CBA Issues. Network neutrality is an issue with several of us (myself included) wanting to see a statement of neutrality somehow incorporated into the CBA. For me, it’s more philosophical but it would also keep The Vendor from charging extra for services like video or limiting video offerings to only what’s “approved,” meaning what The Vendor collects fees for. We’re also linking a fair wholesale price of accounts to other ISPs as part of the neutrality issue.

Content and Sites. The agreement will include some language about localization of system start pages, or links to community sites, or web hosting, or web-building training.

I posted a suggestion to the mpls-broadband list:

COMMUNITY CONTENT

Web content has been on the table at the meetings. I believe the CBA
can be used to enhance a neighborhood publishing system that includes
and encourages publishing by all residents.

Request a server(s) to be maintained by the Vendor. The Vendor would
maintain hardware and the OS (updates, security, patches, etc.).
Remote terminal access would be provided for Web content development.

Construct a robust, open source, collaborative web publishing system
utilizing blogs and wikis and whatever other collaborative software
might be desired. Train both neighborhood groups and residents in
using the system. Investigate the possibilities of citizen journalism,
possibly in collaboration with TC Daily Planet.

Encourage community content and sharing of all types (podcasts, video,
photos). Seek collaboration with other communities in the US and
beyond.

This is one reason symmetrical connection rates are so important. The
practice of high-speed for downloads and relatively low-speed for
uploads implies that what you give me is more important than what I
give you. That’s not true any more, if it ever was.

I think The Vendor would find it easy to provide the server and maintain it. Others were worried about content ownership on The Vendor’s server and possible security issues for The Vendor. We will discuss this again next week.

We didn’t get to privacy concerns. Here’s my take on it:

For standard residential and business accounts, no sharing of any
personal information period, without permission from customer. Any
sharing is opt-in, not opt-out. Vendor could provide low-cost accounts
that do allow some sharing of personal data (clearly spelled out) and
ads (sort of a Google type of scenario).

For free wi-fi in the commons (parks, mall, etc.), data could be
collected for some purposes but it’s got to be clearly explained to
customer.

Following is the edited CBA draft that we were working from at the meeting.

CBA Draft
April 11, 2006

Access Issues: Requirements

  1. Lowest cost basic consumer rates, in the range of $9-$21/mo.
  2. Minimum of 1-5MBPS consumer service over 100% of city addresses
  3. Free 60 day service, to test drive the system.
  4. Must be easy for residents to both sign up for and cancel subscription.
  5. Subsidized accounts for up to 7,000 low-income city residents, qualifications to be determined by Digital Inclusion advisory board (see #6 below)
  6. Subsidized or free accounts for all registered 501c3 non-profit organizations ($19.95/mo- at higher bandwidth, 5-10 mbps)
  7. Free Zones: free 5-10 MBPS service to community technology centers, City parks and City libraries inside the Empowerment Zone boundaries
  8. Digital Inclusion Investment; $250K up-front to fund a “Minneapolis Digital Inclusion Fund”. This fund will be managed by a community foundation, with a diverse advisory board of representatives from the City, the Vendor, small businesses, and local Non-Profit organizations. Funds will support one full-time Digital Inclusion program officer, and provide support for focus groups, constituent outreach and education efforts during the network build-out phase (year one). Board will also oversee revenues from monthly surcharge (see below) and oversee/allocate mini-grants for demonstration and tech literacy projects.
  9. Monthly surcharge on all accounts, (2% On all business and consumer accounts), to continue funding the Digital Inclusion Fund.

*Earthlink agreed to provide 5% of their revenue to purchase

    10,000 computers

  1. $75K annual support for the AmeriCorps Community Technology Empowerment Program (CTEP), placing 15 full-time AmeriCorps members in Minneapolis CTC, libraries and NPO agencies to build technology literacy capacity and programming (=$5000.00 each member) Funds could come from Digital Inclusion Fund after year 2.
  2. Priority funding considerations will be give for assisting communities of color, new immigrants, and Native American Communities.
  3. Participation in Digital Inclusion Advisory Board by 1 company representative at the most and 1 city representative at the most. The remaining members will be from the community.

Content Issues: Requirements

  1. In-kind support for designing localized “start page” templates, content author/publisher training, and website hosting.
  2. Initial or network login page information should be available to anyone who can find and choose this network: no login or access permissions needed to view the following “walled garden” content (available in multilingual, A/V forms as needed).

    • Critical Public Health & Safety Information- Bulletins
    • Notice of Public Meetings, City and Neighborhood, NRP, etc.
    • How to sign up for an account
    • How to qualify for a subsidized account
    • School closings notices
    • Snow Emergency Information
    • Critical Street Closures, detours
    • Police, Fire and Safety numbers, 311 Directory?
    • Other critical information (?)

  1. For all paid subscriptions guarantee network neutrality

Other Requirements

  1. Local preference in hiring regarding wiring and installation crews and support center staff (vendor).
  2. Subsidized CPE hardware to consumers and small businesses
  3. Vendor would allow businesses to share their signal with surrounding area via Hot Zones.
  4. 25 free standing, full service Internet Kiosks located in public buildings, airports, libraries, etc; (illustrating visitor, public health and other relevant information on start screens, depending on location).
  5. Create Partnership with specific hardware companies to provide lowest cost WIFI cards, hardware upgrades and replacement laptops to qualifying consumers, small businesses, and Non Profit Organizations.

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