Manning recognized for broadband access, use
Gov. Branstad to continue efforts to connect all Iowans to high-speed Internet service
By AUDREY INGRAM, Times Herald Staff Writer Manning Mayor Harvey Dales (left) and Main Street Manning board President Ron Reischl (center) talk to Gov. Terry Branstad in Des Moines where Manning was recognized Thursday afternoon for the community’s Internet access. • • January 9, 2015
Economic-development efforts and education connect through broadband, Gov. Terry Branstad told Manning representatives in Des Moines Thursday afternoon.
Manning was recognized this week as the first city of fewer than 5,000 people to receive Certified Connected Community status for its high rates of access, adoption and use of broadband Internet.
High-speed access boosts the local economy by increasing opportunities for local businesses and individual entrepreneurs, especially in small towns, Branstad said.
“So much business is done today over the Internet. That’s why access is so critically important,” he said, praising the community’s “spirit.”
Branstad visited Manning last summer and toured Puck Custom Enterprises during the company’s 35th anniversary celebration. He commended the “dynamic” company for attracting a talented workforce of young employees and families — efforts aided by the region’s and local school system’s work to provide high-speed access, he said.
“The economy is changing. To remain competitive, we must be connected to the world,” he said.
Main Street Manning Board President Ron Reischl, top leader on the connectivity project, agreed that broadband access increases the potential of rural communities.
“As we look at population growth, one opportunity is to attract alumni who can work from home,” he said.
Reischl himself is an example — after spending several decades in Texas working for the computer-hardware company IBM, he returned to Manning and finished his career with the company via telecommunication.
In 2013 and 2014, Branstad promoted a Connect Every Iowan initiative to increase access, adoption and use of broadband statewide after Iowa was ranked 11th of 12 Midwestern states on the TechNet State Broadband Index.
This year, Branstad plans to continue that work under a new title — Connect Every Acre, selected to highlight the importance of connectivity in the agricultural industry as well, he said Thursday.
Manning leaders began working on the city’s certification in April 2014. Through the Connected Community Engagement Program, Manning completed an assessment of its broadband and technology status and developed a technology action plan that includes a technology-mentorship program, training for small businesses, Internet access in all school classrooms and a community computer refurbishment or recycling program.
The certification process is conducted through Connect Iowa, a subsidiary of Connected Nation, an organization that works to foster economic and community development through public-private partnerships that increase access to and use of broadband and related technology.
Tech is “the way of the future,” Connected Nation broadband policy and planning director Phillip Brown noted.
According to Connect Iowa, online sales represented $20 billion in revenue for Iowa businesses in 2014 and 81 percent of Iowa business use broadband daily. More than 220,000 residents bank online and roughly 277,000 Iowans telecommute.
Broadband is also vital to education, Brown said — 87 percent of Iowa parents say their children go online to complete homework, and schools increasingly promoting one-to-one computer initiatives need network infrastructure that can support hundreds of students being online at the same time.
Additionally, communities that have gone through Connected certification — Manning is the ninth in Iowa and one of 40 across the nation — have shown job gains twice as high a year later as communities that have not completed certification. While this increase can’t be solely or directly attributed to the program, it “certainly demonstrates the power broadband can have,” Brown said.
While all households in Manning have access to mobile broadband, the assessment highlights a need for faster Internet, Reischl said.
Through Manning Municipal Communications, residents and local businesses can access up to 20 megabytes per second download speeds, technical manager Jason Ehlers said.
“We’ve been doing a lot here in the last year to just really improve the backbone coming into town,” he said.
Manning currently has four potential middle-mile providers, key in the city’s certification success, Ehlers said.
The Manning communications company currently has 400 Internet users. The top users include the local Polaris call center and local banks. In the last two years, the company has seen an increase in the number of local businesses utilizing websites, at least for advertising purposes if not for sales, Ehlers said.
Manning Regional Healthcare Center and IKM-Manning Community School District have their own networks.
Residential use has also increased in recent years as Manning’s demographics have shifted, Ehlers said. Younger communities see greater use of online applications.
MMCTSU began offering broadband around 2000 and upgraded its infrastructure significantly between 2004 and 2006. It is currently “working out the kinks” to offer additional upgrades, Ehlers said.
“Internet is in demand, that’s for sure,” he said. “We’re always looking for ways to get the best bang for our buck.”