Stop the spread of COVID – there’s an app for that

Governor Walz just announced a new app (COVID Aware MN) that is designed to stop the spread of COVID . Here’s how it works…

COVIDaware MN uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to notify you if you have been exposed to COVID-19, so you can reduce the risk of infection for your friends, family, and neighbors, and help Minnesota slow the spread.

They offer a 5-step process…

  1. Step 1. Download the free COVIDaware MN app.
  2. Step 2. Your phone remembers other devices it meets, but won’t identify you to anyone.
  3. Step 3. Your privacy is protected. No information that will identify you will ever leave your phone.
  4. Step 4. The app checks for positive COVID-19 cases every day.
  5. Step 5. The app will notify you if you may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

This matched with the increased access of testing and accelerated return of testing, seems like this is a tool that can help.

Global Policy Roadmap: next level policy topics

I recently ran across a site that is new to me – the Global Policy Roadmap

Through the Alliance, global experts from government, private-sector partners and civil society, are compiling and analyzing policies from around the world to identify model policies for successful, ethical smart cities.

Policies were prioritized on the basis of two main conditions:

  • that they are established as good practice based on considerable experience in leading cities from multiple geographies;

  • that they are foundational to building smart cities, and not prescriptive of the technologies, applications or outcomes.

Each model policy has been developed by a select task force of experts, consulting widely with stakeholders. All cities are different and these model policies should not be adopted without accounting for these differences. Nonetheless the roadmap provides a baseline for cities to use for policy development, and a means of identifying gaps in existing city policies.

The Alliance will build on this roadmap over time, and we invite partners, cities and experts to get involved by submitting supporting evidence, joining our working group or joining our pioneer programme.

The policies are much less about deployment than use and management. High level topics include:

  • Equity, Inclusivity and Social Impact
  • Openness and Interoperability
  • Security and Resilience
  • Operational and Financial Sustainability
  • Privacy and Transparency

These topics are not the top of the pops – they are deep cuts but I’d encourage at least a few policymakers take on looking at what folks are doing in other areas to learn the best practices and be aware of unintended consequences.

Broadband investments have helped Minnesota’s business competitiveness

Business North reports…

The Minnesota Chamber released the sixth annual Business Benchmarks report today, a detailed analysis of economic indicators in several categories.

This report identifies positive, troubling and mixed trends in the state’s business climate:

I’m including the one that is broadband-related…

Investments in infrastructure have helped Minnesota’s competitiveness, and access to broadband continues to improve through private and public investment.

Discouraging commentary on progress of the National Broadband Plan

Tech Dirt’s Christopher Terry offers a discouraging look at the 2010 National Broadband Plan for Benton

Nov 18th, 2020 marked 3900 days since the Federal Communications Commission launched its heavily-hyped “National Broadband Plan.” 400 days ago, I penned an op-ed for the Benton Institute which assessed how the FCC had been unable to achieve any of the benchmarks or meet any of the six stated goals of the plan. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that another year didn’t fix very much of the shortcomings I identified then. …

While we can debate metrics when assessing successes and failures of the FCC’s policymaking, the events of the last eight months have put a spotlight on how important the FCC’s failure to achieve its goals has been. As millions of Americans were forced to go virtual for work and school the clear requirement for affordable universal broadband access has never been clearer.

His point is clear – we can debate about the numbers related to broadband accomplishments but the proof is on the frontlines. Did you have enough broadband to do the things you needed and wanted to do during the pandemic? Did you neighbors, friends cousins and clients? Did you lose your job because you couldn’t get online? Did you start a new business because you could? How are your kids accessing school? Are you all able to get to the tele-mental-health sessions you need?

I spoke to several Minnesota Counties about the role of broadband in their COVID plans. Broadband was a make or break and I heard all sorts of answers from counties where schools had to make paper packets for some students to offset lack of access and from counties that were able to move all public meetings online encouraging greater civic engagement. Whole communities are living different lives based on their broadband access.

Need broadband and cultural comfort about tele-mental health especially for kids

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that need for tele-mental health is clearly there…

Despite the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, some mental health clinics aren’t seeing the increase in patients that they expected.

“We know people are experiencing higher than normal levels of stress, yet we haven’t seen an increase in our community members seeking help,” said Julie Hanenburg, executive director of Lighthouse Child & Family Services in Milaca.

Yet, mental health emergency room visits are up from last year, according to Sue Abderholden, executive director at NAMI Minnesota.


People are doing what they can but it’s not always reaching people…

Due to a relaxation of state and federal rules, more therapy is moving to telehealth visits using computers, tablets or smartphones.

The electronic visits don’t work for everyone and because of limited internet availability some do not have access.

“With some kids it didn’t work with telehealth, mainly the younger children,” Abderholden said. “Watching a Disney movie on the screen is different than doing play therapy.”

Other children were concerned about privacy and were worried that parents or siblings could hear their sessions. One telephone company provided free earphones or earbuds to help, she said.

Acceptance was also an issue. Some families declined to use telehealth at the start of the pandemic, hoping that in-person therapy would soon resume.

“In the last several weeks we’ve noticed that people were more accepting of telehealth,” Hanenburg said.

State officials announced Friday that the Ikea US Community Foundation will donate $1.2 million that will be used to broaden access to children’s mental health services.

The money will provide resources to the School-Linked Mental Health Program that pairs 58 mental health providers with 1,100 Minnesota schools.

We need to work on broadband to all – not a new goal. But also in increasing comfort with telehealth.

MN Broadband Coalition meeting notes – plans moving forward

The MN Rural Broadband Coalition met today to talk about plans moving forward. They did a nice job of getting feedback from all attendees. The notes I’m sharing are more of a glimpse than record of the meeting but I thought there might be potential members who wanted to know more about the organization. I’ve peppers screenshots of PPT slides with notes from the discussion:

What would be lost without the coalition?

  • Unified message – particularly important for funding asks, helps smaller more niche organizations have a voice at the capitol
  • Without the coalition we would have different positions/advocacy by the some of the broadband organizations. B2B program would be in jeopardy.
  • Unified voice at the legislature on broadband
  • Lobbyist to represent collective
  • Harder to create a cohesive statewide plan. Carriers would be there at the table during the final discussions when their interests may not align with the coalition.
  • We would lose a unified, bipartisan, rural voice at the legislature to ensure continued funding for broadband grants and the OBD.
  • Prior to the Coalition, there were advocacy efforts, the Coalition provided true lobbying efforts.
  • Border to border “real” broadband. Real = Future proof / expandable broadband deployment
  • It’s not only about investment…. It is also about training
  • Affordability – private? Public?

New Mission/Vision?

  • All Minnesotans have access to quality, affordable broadband that meets their needs today and into the future.
  • Fund long-term as a priority, necessity,  & essential infrastructure — treat it like rural electrification was NEEDS TO TO PART OF BASE BUDGET
  • Minnesota will have adequate funding and support for  broadband to allow participation in all online activities now and in the future.

What are the ESSENTIAL elements that will help us reach our desired future?

  • Funding the coalition is essential
    • Current funding model doesn’t allow us to do that adequately
      • Allows us to pay for a lobbyist
  • Necessary infrastructure for broadband
    • We need funding but what is it we are paying for?
    • Roadmap of what would work
    • Incentives to private providers and/or government-run utilities

What, if any, elements may fall outside the scope of what we do?

  • The coalition doesn’t want an ownership stake in the physical infrastructure nor do we intend to profit from our work
  • Affordability of services
    • At the household level vs. at the provider level
  • Defining infrastructure

Who benefits most from our efforts? (Our PRIMARY beneficiary)

  • Those who have and will become connected through the broadband grant program

The Family Video Calling Guide from Dakota County … everything you need to know to connect online over the holidays

This is a Thanksgiving gift from David Asp at Dakota County. Many folks got to know David better at the Broadband Conference this year. And now you know what a font of wisdom he is. Today he shares The Family Video Calling Guide

This guide provides an overview of six commonly used video call applications. Its purpose is to help you stay in touch with friends and family during this period of limited travel and in-person contact. The applications highlighted in this guide were selected for their cost (all are free), ease of use, device compatibility, and minimal need to create user accounts. Features and requirements of video call applications change constantly. The information in this guide is current as of the date of publication. You are welcome to share with friends and family members, but please note that Dakota County does not promote or support any tools included in this document.

It looks specifically at Apple Facetime, Facebook Rooms, Free Conference Call, Google Meet, Microsoft and Zoom

Wireline Broadband Providers add 1,530,000 in 3Q 2020

Leichtman Research Group, Inc. (LRG) reports…

November 18, 2020 — Leichtman Research Group, Inc. (LRG) found that the largest cable and wireline phone providers in the U.S. – representing about 96% of the market – acquired about 1,530,000 net additional broadband Internet subscribers in 3Q 2020, compared to a pro forma gain of about 615,000 subscribers in 3Q 2019.

These top broadband providers now account for about 104.9 million subscribers, with top cable companies having about 72 million broadband subscribers, and top wireline phone companies having about 32.9 million subscribers.

Findings for the quarter include:

  • Overall, broadband additions in 3Q 2020 were about 915,000 more than in 3Q 2019
    • Broadband additions in 3Q 2020 were the most in any quarter since 1Q 2009
  • The top cable companies added about 1,320,000 subscribers in 3Q 2020 – compared to a net gain of about 830,000 subscribers in 3Q 2019
    • Cable broadband had over one million net adds for the third consecutive quarter – the first time since 3Q 2006-1Q 2007
    • Comcast’s 633,000 net adds in 3Q 2020 were more than in any quarter in the past fifteen years
  • The top wireline phone companies added about 210,000 subscribers in 3Q 2020 – compared to a net loss of about 220,000 subscribers in 3Q 2019

“With the continued impact of the coronavirus pandemic, there were more quarterly net broadband additions in 3Q 2020 than in any quarter in over eleven years,” said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group, Inc.  “Over the past year, there were about 4,550,000 net broadband adds, compared to about 2,550,000 net broadband adds over the prior year. This marks the most broadband net adds in a year since 3Q 2008-2Q 2009.”

It would be so nice to see them invest in areas that need better service. Here’s how specific providers did…

Schools are getting innovative with bringing broadband to students who need it.

Michael Calabrese and Amir Nasr at New America look at schools in the pandemic. They have been hard hit with need and many have gotten innovative about how to get broadband to the students who need it to ensure a more equitable experience for all

The problem…

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed deep inequities in the United States, and the lack of high-speed broadband access has been front-and-center because this public health crisis has required a large share of the population to work and learn from home. Among those most adversely impacted have been America’s students. The pandemic resulted in the near total shutdown of schools last spring, impacting 55.1 million students at 124,000 U.S. public and private schools.1 Schools shifted to remote learning almost overnight. The prevalence of remote learning continued into the 2020–2021 school year, with only 24 percent of school districts returning to in-person instruction full-time.

Exacerbating the problem…

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has both the authority and the resources to mitigate the homework gap and yet it has refused to act. The FCC oversees the Universal Service Fund, which spends billions of dollars each year on several programs with the statutory goal of connecting all Americans to advanced communications, including specifically for education.

The homegrown solutions…

Thankfully, hundreds of school districts around the country have not waited for the FCC to grant them more E-Rate funding or flexibility to allocate E-Rate funds to meet this challenge. This report profiles many different examples of school-sponsored broadband networks that have been built and deployed for educational purposes both during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the years prior.

An outline of the solutions they detail…

This report profiles many different examples of school-sponsored broadband networks that have been built and deployed for educational purposes both during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the years prior. In Part II, we profile more than a dozen school districts that have pioneered a range of innovative approaches to connecting students lacking adequate internet access at home. We start with three school districts in Iowa and California that have partnered with their municipality to build out community Wi-Fi networks that connect low-income students directly to the school’s network. The next subsection profiles school districts in Texas, California, and other states that are taking advantage of novel spectrum sharing frameworks, such as the new Citizens Broadband Radio Service in the 3.5 GHz band, to build out private LTE mobile networks that connect students at home, and that are far more financially sustainable longer term than buying subscriptions from mobile cellular providers.

A third subsection describes efforts in Virginia and Colorado to extend the reach of school networks directly to students at home, or to community hotspots closer to their homes, using the free unlicensed spectrum known as “TV white spaces” (TVWS). TVWS refers to the locally-vacant television channels that can be used to transmit internet access over very long distances. Finally, a fourth subsection highlights districts that are outfitting school buses as Wi-Fi hotspots and parking them strategically in neighborhoods where clusters of students lack broadband at home. Some districts are locating internet hotspots in community centers, public housing, or other more permanent locations. Libraries, which are also eligible for E-Rate funding, have also been stepping up by lending out Wi-Fi hotspots and amplifying their Wi-Fi so that students and other patrons can get online even when the building is closed.

How can technology ease COVID inequities? Answers from the field

Colin Rhinesmith and Susan Kennedy at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society have been looking at the Impacts of COVID-19 on Digital Equity Ecosystems. They surveyed people in the field of digital inclusion to see what was happening and what would be helpful in the future.

What are the people who are working on digital inclusion experiencing…

  • Digital inclusion coalitions established before the pandemic have responded to COVID-19 by focusing their efforts on information and resource sharing, networking, data collection, raising awareness about digital inequality, and developing new tactics to promote digital equity.
  • The pandemic has introduced several new challenges for digital inclusion coalitions and has magnified a number of existing challenges.
  • Digital inclusion coalitions are finding ways to creatively solve problems to address their communities’ digital needs.
  • Cities, counties, states, and national organizations have also played key roles in supporting local digital equity ecosystems.

What would help make inclusion easier…

  • Make broadband affordable for low-income communities of color.
  • Support second chances for economic success through digital literacy programs.
  • Ensure care workers receive training and support to help promote digital and racial equity.
  • Make federal funding opportunities available for digital inclusion organizations.

Preparing for next round of coronavirus broadband funding

Craig Settles and the Daily Yonder look at the ups and downs and future of COVID-related broadband-focused funding…

Under normal conditions, partnerships are the key to success with technology deployments. But because of the pandemic, billions of dollars went to broadband, telehealth, and other technologies nationwide in just six months and there wasn’t much time to do the partnership dance between communities, co-ops, ISPs (Internet Service Providers), vendors, and other organizations.

There are some ups…

“Itasca County just approved funding that will go to Paul Bunyan, an awesome telephone co-op in northern Minnesota,” said Ann Treacy who works at the Blandin Foundation. “Dakota County partnered with Hiawatha Broadband Communications, an ISP well-known for great work.”

And some downs…

But there are warning signs as well. Deb Simpier, CEO of Althea, recounts, “An Oregon county lined up an ISP for CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] funding with no formal RFP or solicitation of proposals though it is a $1 million buildout. Is that even legal? The CARES Act funding is required to be spent before the end of this year. What happens if the ISP can’t finish and the government won’t pay them?”


It looks like there is more funding in the making…

Currently, many in Congress are lobbying for a CARES Part 2, another $1 or $2 trillion, of which much will go for broadband and other technologies. Hopes are to see the legislation this month or in December. Also, the U.S. House has $100 billion broadband legislation waiting for the election dust to settle. That would be $20 billion a year for five years.

There are some tips for better, quick partnerships…

“One of the reasons we were successful, is that we had begun grassroots planning for a regional network long before the stimulus act came to be,” said John Campbell, Board Chair of OpenCape. “You need to be planning now, urgently, for that next round of grants that is likely coming early next year. Get a head start on it. The more you know, the better prepared you are, the more successful your grant application will be.”

Partners within communities also are critical. They show funding agencies the depth of a community’s needs as well as the project’s likelihood of success. Are the Chamber of Commerce and churches on the broadband team? Their participation can drive broadband adoption. Library and schools can turn the tide for telehealth adoption.

AT&T Donates $150,000 to Help Drive Economic Mobility and Social Equity for Underserved Communities in Minneapolis and St. Paul

Good news from AT&T…

AT&T* is committed to creating economic opportunities and fostering upward mobility for underserved communities in Minneapolis and St. Paul. As part of this commitment, AT&T is donating $150,000 through its Believe Twin CitiesSM initiative to five local organizations that share in our mission to create more opportunities and paths to success for traditionally underserved communities in the Twin Cities.

This donation is part of a $10 million commitment from AT&T to boost economic opportunities in underserved communities across the country.

“Many of our fellow citizens in the Twin Cities lack access to quality education, economic opportunity, homeownership and other attributes that develop wealth and build the middle class,” said Paul Weirtz, President of AT&T Minnesota. “AT&T is proud to invest in these local organizations that are working to address these disparities.”

The challenges facing underserved communities in the Twin Cities, including poverty and homelessness, have been exacerbated by high unemployment rates, the coronavirus pandemic, and social unrest around the country. Our hope is that our $150,000 in contributions will help alleviate some of these inequities.

AT&T has donated to the following organizations:

  • Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ): A $50,000 AT&T contribution will support NAZ’s efforts to eradicate racial inequities and opportunity gaps that affect families who live in North Minneapolis. Programs and services supported include family wrap-around support, family and scholar achievement coaching, early childhood education, K-8 support activities, and parent empowerment and education. The mission of NAZ is to permanently close the achievement gap and end generational poverty in the Northside by helping low-income families put their children on a path to college.
  • Urban League Twin Cities: A $25,000 contribution from AT&T will support the Urban League’s efforts to launch a Center for Social Justice in the Twin Cities. The focus of the Center will be to promote access to justice and rule of law, advance equity and build capacity within the African American community through civic engagement, community organizing, and public policy research and advocacy. For 94 years, the Urban League Twin Cities has been a relentless advocate for equity, justice and power for African descendants in Minnesota.
  • Urban Roots: A $25,000 contribution from AT&T will support Urban Roots’ community development services and programs for underserved youth. For over 50 years, Urban Roots has provided educational and employment opportunities to teens and young adults on St. Paul’s east side to improve their health, job skills and career pathways while contributing to the community’s health and environment.
  • Way to Grow: A $25,000 contribution from AT&T will support Way to Grow’s early childhood education programs that help meet the needs of isolated and under-resourced families in Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center. Programs and services include providing weekly educational home virtual visits, helping parents create a learning environment at home, and connecting families to critical resources to meet basic needs. The mission of Way to Grow is to work closely with parents and communities to ensure children within the most isolated families are born healthy, stay healthy and are prepared for school.
  • Minnesota Technology Foundation: A $25,000 contribution from AT&T will support the Minnesota Technology Foundation’s programs that introduce underserved youth to careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professions. These programs include STEM scholarships for undergraduates, Tech Experience Tours for high school students, and after-school activities focused on math and science for underserved youth in the metro area.

AT&T has a long history of equality; participating in this struggle is a moral and business imperative – not just for AT&T but for all companies and for all communities and citizens.

Believe Twin Cities

AT&T leaders launched Believe Twin Cities in December 2019 with $100,000 in contributions to Twin Cities’ nonprofits to support homelessness services. In May, AT&T and the AT&T Foundation donated nearly $100,000 as part of Believe Twin Cities to help Minnesota residents experiencing homelessness or hunger amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Believe Twin Cities is an extension of AT&T Believes℠, a company-wide effort, localized to create positive change in our communities. AT&T Believes harnesses employee engagement, supports it with company resources, and joins with area organizations and non-profits to make an even bigger impact on local communities and society at large.

Mayo Clinic learns 10 years of telehealth in 6 months

mHealth Intelligence reports

Cris Ross, the Mayo Clinic’s chief information officer, says the COVID-19 crisis forced the health system to adapt at a rapid rate, moving from about 4 percent of virtual visits before the pandemic to 85 percent during the roughest days of late spring and early summer. Supported by emergency federal and state mandates that loosened constraints on telehealth, they were able to create pathways that improved care management for patients outside the hospital.

Healthcare was facility-centered but needed to change quickly…

For the most part, Ross says, healthcare was organized around in-patient care, focused on what the provider needed inside the building to get things done. The pandemic turned that upside-down, pushing care outside the hospital, clinic or doctor’s office and forcing providers to use new tools and platforms – technology that often was more familiar to the consumer than to the provider.

In addition, providers were faced with new data and information that they hadn’t had before. Not only were they getting information about their patients and from their patients at home, through digital health devices and portals – they had access to an “overwhelming” amount of medical knowledge at their fingertips, through clinical decision support tools and online sites. This had been developing gradually before COVID-19, but the pandemic served to highlight how the process of delivering care was and could be changing.

“Remember – we were largely a paper industry just a decade ago,” says Ross. That’s a lot to take in in just 10 years.

As the coronavirus continues its course and the healthcare industry looks to adapt to a new health environment, Ross says health systems like the Mayo Clinic – which is now seeing more than a million users on its app – have to modernize the back end to meet the front end.

I may be biased but it sounds to be like they need some librarians…

Providers need to learn how to gather, sort and use the information they’re getting from sources outside the hospital, either by running it through the EHR or alongside that platform. They’re not substituting one for the other, Ross points out, but developing lines of care that adjust to both platforms. Care that has to be delivered in person will be done in person, while services that can be delivered virtually will be accommodated.

“We need to create a digital infrastructure for healthcare,” he says.

Much of that will be driven by consumer preferences, similar to what the travel and banking industries have learned. Healthcare has to be like Netflix rather than Blockbuster.


EVENT Nov 30: Public Good App House: Apps that Address Food Insecurity

COVID is changing how we do everything and that’s hard. But it’s also an opportunity to do new things and do old things better. If we’ve got to change why not do it strategically? Tech Soup is hosting a conversation on food apps looks like an interesting conversation…

Apps that Address Food Insecurity
TechSoup US
Mon, Nov 30, 12:00 PM (PST)

As we navigate our new normal with the COVID-19 pandemic, how can we continue to help those struggling with food access?

Join our next Public Good App House demo event with Infoxchange, Feeding America, CauseLabs, Postmates, and Propel, as they demo their apps that address food insecurity.

You’ll walk away learning which tech for good apps can help access free meals, handle EBT accounts more efficiently, eliminate food waste, and more.

EVENTS: National Rural Health Day podcasts from the Minnesota Rural Health Conference

The Minnesota Rural Health Conference is releasing three podcasts this week to celebrate (Commemorate?) National Rural Health day. The final one most directly mentions telehealth but given the incredible growth of telehealth in 2020, I suspect it will come up in all three….

Rural Health IS a Health Equity Issue (30 min)

Release Date: November 17, 2020

Podcast Guest: Jan Malcolm, Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Health

Podcast Host: Zora Radosevich, Director, Minnesota Department of Health – Office of Rural Health & Primary Care

The ORHPC’s Director will have a discussion with the Commissioner about why rural health issues deserve special attention, how the Minnesota Department of Health supports health care professionals in rural areas, and what some of the important issues are in addressing the pandemic and its impact on rural MN.

Impact of COVID-19 in Minnesota (30 min)

Release Date: November 18, 2020

Podcast Guest: Dr. Nicholas Lehnertz, Medical Specialist 2, Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control, Minnesota Department of Health

Podcast Host: Mark Jones, Director, Minnesota Rural Health Association (MRHA)

Dr. Lehnertz discusses the impact of COVID-19 in Minnesota, specifically in rural areas. Hear the most up-to-date data concerning cases, deaths, testing, race-related disparities, and new findings. Learn best practices for staying safe this winter and through the holidays as well as advice to prepare rural hospitals for the next 6-12 months.

The Effect of COVID on Minnesota’s Healthcare Workforce (30 min)

Release Date: November 19, 2020

Podcast Guest: Teri Fritsma, Senior Research Analyst, Minnesota Department of Health – Office of Rural Health & Primary Care

Podcast Host: Nitika Moibi, Health Workforce Analysis Supervisor, Minnesota Department of Health – Office of Rural Health & Primary Care

Nitika Moibi and Teri Fritsma will discuss the rapid transformation that COVID has brought to the health care workforce in Minnesota – reduced hours, layoffs, and even rural retirements in certain sectors of health care. On the other hand, COVID has also caused the swift expansion of telemedicine—a likely permanent change that could improve Minnesotans’ access to care now and well into the future. Hear what health care providers say are their greatest concerns during this period.

Following Accessibility Standards 

All podcasts are also available on YouTube and include closed captioning which allows people to read spoken dialogue, as well as non-speech information, like music or sound effects.