Minnesota speed tests –spreading to other states and a competition is formed. Time to take a test!

I love a competition in January – from St Paul Winter Carnival Treasure Hunt to beating others states at taking state broadband speed tests. And while I have my Carnival button, just incase I find the medallion first, I’m feeling better about the odds for winning the most speed tests award.

Regular readers will know that GEO Partners have partnered with Minnesota Broadband Coalition to encourage people throughout Minnesota to take the broadband speed tests. Traditional broadband maps have been built largely on broadband provider-supplied data; GEO Partner maps are built on user-supplied data. Well, Kentucky is the latest state to take on the user-focused mapping, largely with the help of the Center for Rural Development.

GEO Partners report in an email…

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman announced today the launch of the Kentucky Broadband Speed Test, a crowd-sourcing project that will gather data from Kentuckians needed to expand internet home access for distance learning, telework and telehealth. Kentuckians can take the free, anonymous speed test from Jan. 19 to Feb. 18 at ewdc.ky.gov/Initiatives/Pages/KBI.aspx.

 

This means four states are using the mapping:

You can see from the map, that Minnesota’s definitely in the running but here are the map stats:

  • Minnesota has mapped 32,171 locations.
  • Washington has mapped 32,307.
  • Kentucky is at 10,984 (as of Sunday)– but they have only been up a few days.
  • Main has mapped 10,083

We’re going to need a burst of energy to get the most mapped!

EVENT Feb 2: Women in Ag Network sixth annual conference

The Women in Ag Network conference is not a perfect fit for all readers, but a look at the agenda is a reminder of how important broadband is to all aspects of agriculture business…

“Building Bridges, Cultivating Connections” is the theme of the sixth annual Women in Ag Network Conference. The event will be a day of learning and networking for women involved in agriculture. The conference will be held virtually on February 3 from 9 a.m.-3:45 p.m.
Michele Payn, CSP, principal of Cause Matters Corp, will be the keynote speaker. There will be three tracks of breakout sessions to choose from: Bridging the Gap with Social Media, Cultivating Management Best Practices and Connecting Farmers and Consumers through Marketing. The day will end with a panel discussion, “Direct Marketing: Taking it to the Next Level,” which will feature women who have taken marketing of their agriculture ventures to a new level.
For more information and to register visit z.umn.edu/WAGNConference21.

Twitter is looking to crowdsource truthiness

USA Today reports…

Twitter is enlisting its users to help combat misinformation on its service by flagging and notating misleading and false tweets.

The pilot program unveiled Monday, called Birdwatch, allows a preselected group of users – for now, only in the U.S. – who sign up through Twitter. Those who want to sign up must have a U.S.-based phone carrier, verified email and phone number, and no recent Twitter rule violations.

Twitter said it wants both experts and non-experts to write Birdwatch notes. It cited Wikipedia as a site that thrives with non-expert contributions.

“In concept testing, we’ve seen non-experts write concise, helpful and easy-to-understand notes, often citing valuable expert sources,” the company wrote in a blog post.

I’m glad that they are looking into checks and balances in the system. But I’ve worked as a librarian and I’ve done search engine optimization; they are similar, but not the same. SEO can sell books and a librarian can get you the right book. One is easier to monetize.

EVENT Feb 17: 5 Tech4Good Trends for Nonprofits in 2021

Tech Soup is hosting an interesting online meeting for nonprofits. It’s at 9am PST (or 11am CST)…

What are the top emerging trends in digital and how will nonprofits be impacted?

Where should we focus our attention (and resources) in 2021?

Join us for a fast-paced one hour event of mini-presentations on the trends, tools, and techniques nonprofits should use to create more impact.

“How Nonprofits Can Take Advantage of the Internet of Things”, with Gena Dellett

Learn about creative ways nonprofits are incorporating the many “smart” tools that fill our lives into their missions. From using IoT data to share impact with donors to increasing the reach of emergency service programming, everyday objects are transforming how nonprofits deliver on their missions. Getting started is not as hard as you think.

“Amplifying Human Relationships Using Tech” with Ruoyun Xu Killian

Digital has become our primary form of connection in our post-pandemic world. We are being met with a constant array of new technologies to build a bridge between the digital and physical. In this talk, Ruoyun Xu Killian, Digital Marketing Strategist, will teach you how to navigate these new trends and continue to amplify the human relationship that you have built with your audience online. She’ll showcase how new trends like short-form video, Usergenerated content (UGC), and social commerce can help your organization continue to create the impact that you seek.

“Beyond Virtual Volunteer Management: Tech & Trends in the Age of COVID” with James McGirr

GivePulse CTO James McGirr shares how technology has allowed for-impact organizations to pivot opportunities during the COVID-19 public health crisis. Innovations include technical solutions and trends that make staff, centers and activities safe, capabilities to simplify coordination of virtual and remote volunteers, and mechanisms to increase engagement when everyone is just zoom’d out.

“Why Should Nonprofits Embrace AI?” with Aysha Samrin

AI is no longer a complicated tool built exclusively for large tech companies, data scientists, and engineers. Organizations in every industry, from healthcare to finance to nonprofits, now have access to AI-based tools at affordable prices.

In this session, you will earn how Artificial Intelligence can elevate your nonprofit.

Top Broadband Brass in Biden Administration: Girl Power

Benton reports on recent (acting) additions to the President Biden’s broadband team.

At the FCC, Jessica Rosenworcel as Acting Chair…

President Biden designated FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel as Acting Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission. Rosenworcel was first appointed to the FCC by President Barack Obama, taking her seat on May 11, 2012. Although President Obama renominated her for a second term in May 2015, the Senate failed to act on her nomination and she briefly left the Commission on January 3, 2017. With strong support from Senate Democrats, Rosenworcel was renominated by President Donald Trump and regained her seat on August 11 of that year. Prior to joining the agency, she served as Senior Communications Counsel for the Senate Commerce Committee under the leadership of Senator John Rockefeller IV (D-WV) and Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI). Before her time on the Hill, Rosenworcel was a key staffer of FCC Commissioner Michael Copps.

At the NTIA, Evelyn Remaley as Acting-Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information…

Admittedly we first saw this news in a Tweet from Politico reporter John Hendel, but the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s website confirms that Evelyn Remaley is the new Acting-Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information.

Most recently, Remaley served as NTIA’s Associate Administrator for Policy Analysis and Development. In that role, Remaley led a team of experts providing senior policy support to the head of the NTIA (when it had one during the Trump administration), the Secretary of Commerce, and the White House on issues impacting the Internet and digital economy. In addition, Remaley led the Department’s Cybersecurity Policy efforts.

At the FTC, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter as Acting Chair of the Federal Trade Commission…

Finally, President Biden designated Rebecca Kelly Slaughter as Acting Chair of the Federal Trade Commission. Slaughter has served as an FTC Commissioner since May 2018. As a Commissioner, Slaughter has been an advocate for greater resources for the FTC and promoted equity and inclusion efforts. She has championed aggressive use of the FTC’s authorities. She has also been particularly outspoken about combatting systemic racism, growing threats to competition, and the broad abuse of consumers’ data. Before joining the FTC, Chairwoman Slaughter served as Chief Counsel to Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), now the Senate Majority Leader.

The meetings are becoming more gender-balanced but as someone who has been sitting around a broadband table for 25 years, often in the extreme minority, I love to see this! The Benton article includes links to a number of related articles.

MN Legislature is looking at broadband as a pandemic imperative – funding amount starts in House at $120 million

Mankato Free Press reports

Area lawmakers say broadband funding will be a crucial issue in this year’s legislative session, but no one is certain just how much the state will spend.

COVID-related regulations and lockdown efforts exacerbated Greater Minnesota’s need for better internet access over the past year, giving urgency to the Capitol’s annual debate over broadband infrastructure.

Democrats and Republicans have argued over broadband funding levels in recent years, as well as what type of broadband technology to use.

They mention the recent House committee meeting

Democratic Rep. Rob Ecklund, of International Falls, introduced a $120 million broadband funding proposal earlier this week, the latest in a series of similarly sized DFL bills over the past few years. While Republicans agree broadband will be a priority this year, many are reluctant to support a bill that large in light of a projected $1.3 billion state budget deficit.

“It’s a nice dream,” said Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake. “I’m just glad that they’re willing to support broadband.”

There are questions about federal aid…

Complicating the issue is the looming federal aid money from the stimulus proposal Congress passed in December. States are expected to get about $300 billion in funding for various issues related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which includes about $7 billion marked for broadband efforts.

It’s unclear how that broadband money will be divvied up. Local lawmakers say they have yet to hear from federal officials how much they’ll receive or whether they’ll have to provide matching grants to accept the aid.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said she expects federal aid to cover the state’s immediate broadband industry needs as there’s a backlog on building supplies. Yet she also said broadband is “one of the biggest issues ever for economic recovery of the state.”

Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, agreed, saying the state should invest as much as it can in broadband this year to make up for the lack of access some in Greater Minnesota face.

Senator Draheim to introduce bill soon…

Draheim and Frentz have been key negotiators on broadband issues over the past few years. Draheim said he expects to introduce broadband legislation soon that would also include requirements for companies to ensure they connect all households in a project area, as well as follow through on promised services.

Also thinking about issues of speed goals…

Draheim also said he’d like to see the state increase its 2022 broadband goals of 25 mbps download and 2 mpbs [should be 3 mbps] upload speeds. Minnesota has a 2026 goal of all homes and businesses having access to 100 mbps download and 20 mbps speeds.

Senator Aric Putnam highlights need for broadband (St Cloud)

St Cloud Times posts a column from Aric Putnam (Minnesota Senate District 14A) including his interest in working on better broadband…

Outside my committee work, I’d like to work on legislation that protects the livelihoods and legacies of family farmers, expands broadband access, and helps make housing more affordable.

Kandiyohi County (MN) is looking for more fiber in 2021

West Central Tribune reports…

Connie Schmoll, from the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, hopes 2021 is the year a major broadband project is started in underserved areas of the county. She presented information Tuesday to the Kandiyohi County Board, looking for board support on a potential project that could require financial backing from the county.

Here’s a list form of the various opportunities:

  • survey conducted in Kandiyohi County last year of internet availability and usage showed many were not happy with their internet as the pandemic added significantly to the data being used at homes across the area.
    The good news is there might be fiber broadband expansion on the horizon. Late last year LTD Broadband was one of the winners of the Federal Communications Commission Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction. …
    “They are going to be providing fiber in a large portion of the south part of the county,” Schmoll said.
    While that would reduce the number of underserved households, there would still be pockets of need.
  • There is some positive news on that front. The Federated Telephone Cooperative has been allowed to expand its service area.
    “They are interested in Kandiyohi County, to move into our county, especially the west side and northern area of our county,” Schmoll said. “That was a huge plus.”
  • Schmoll is hoping to bring together a fiber broadband project with at least three rural townships in partnership with Federated, which has said it will provide 25 percent of the project costs.
    A similar project that never quite got off the ground in Dovre, Hamre and St. John’s Townships was estimated to cost close to $4 million and the service provider was only willing to provide 15 percent of the cost.
  • Border to Border Broadband Development Grant from the state, if awarded, could provide up to 50 percent or $5 million toward a project. However, the state Legislature has not yet approved funding for another round of grants for this year, Schmoll said.
  • County Administrator Larry Kleindl said even if every township in the county wanted that $25,000 for a broadband project, the county could financially make it work.

And end with a statement that shows the level of priority in the area…

“The viability of our rural areas is literally at stake here,” said Commissioner Steve Gardner. “I don’t believe that we as a board can afford to be bashful about supporting financially the efforts to bring broadband to all of these underserved areas.”

EVENT Feb 4: MN Rural Broadband Coalition Meeting

MN Broadband Coalition invites folks…

Save the Date!
Minnesota Broadband Coalition Meeting

Thursday, February 4, 2021
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Via Zoom
Agenda and Details on How to Join the Meeting Coming Soon!Please RSVP by replying to this email or Emily Murray to indicate attendance or absence.
Feel free to extend this invitation to other interested stakeholders.

Arvig extends FTTH to 10,000 households in St Cloud, Rochester and Twin Cities

Presswire reports (shares a press release)…

Today, telecommunications and broadband provider Arvig has announced it has installed a fiber optic connection into more than 10,000 townhome, condo and apartment units within the Twin Cities, St. Cloud, and Rochester area. The telecommunications provider continues to grow its high-speed internet connectivity offerings, a service that has become increasingly important with many now working and learning from home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lunch Bunch on Digital Use and Equity Archive: Share a success story

This big week of inaugural events includes the inaugural meeting of the Lunch Bunch on Digital Use and Equity. We had a 20-25 people attend – perfect for chat and connecting with each other. We spent a lot of time on the introductions – in part because the attendance grew as we spoke but it was worth it to learn more about each other. For example, I now know at least two people who could help me fill out the forms to get an FCC radio license.

It was also nice to have a mix of rural and Twin Cities folks; I hope that will help facilitate more working together. A silver lining of all of the pandemic restriction is that because everything is online these days, it’s easier to work with people in all locations without traveling. Of course the flip side is that it deepens the digital divide for those without access.

We had folks on the frontlines of teaching, librarians, policy folks, smart city folks and engineers. If this were my Destination Imagination team, I’d feel pretty good about our ability to problem solve. And there are open seats at the table next month if you want to join us.

A quick reminder – the Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch series includes 2 monthly sessions. Sessions will alternate between Broadband Infrastructure (2nd Weds) and  Digital Use and Equity (3rd Weds).

Feb 10, Broadband Infrastructure session will focus on how to work with legislators – more on that soon! Feb 17, Digital Use and Equity is still open. We surveyed folks about future topics today and will report back.

Senators Klobuchar, Smith and 151 others ask FCC to look carefully at RDOF applications

Telecompetitor reports

A broad coalition of Republican and Democratic senators and representatives have sent a letter to the FCC asking the commission to thoroughly vet RDOF auction winners. At stake is $9 billion in rural broadband funding awarded through the reverse auction, which was completed last year.

The letter was championed by Senators Amy Klobuchar and John Thune, as well as Representatives James E. Clyburn and Tim Walberg. Also signing the letter were an additional 153 senators and representatives.

Service providers were required to submit a short-form application in order to participate in the auction, which awarded funding for an area to the bidder that committed to deploying broadband to unserved locations in the area for the lowest level of support. A weighting system favored bids to provider faster service with lower latency.

Senator Smith and Senator Klobuchar both signed the letter. Here’s the paragraph (from the letter) that highlights their concern…

As responsible stewards of USF funds, we ask that the FCC redouble its efforts to review the long-form applications that will now be submitted. We urge the FCC to validate that each provider in fact has the technical, financial, managerial, operational skills, capabilities, and resources to deliver the services that they have pledged for every American they plan to serve regardless of the technology they use. We also strongly encourage the FCC to make as public as possible the status of its review and consider opportunities for public input on the applications. Such transparency and accountability will be essential to ensure the success of this program and to minimize any opportunities for fraud or abuse.

I have written about some of the concern about RDOF in Minnesota. And just earlier today I wrote about how many providers do not seem to be meeting their obligations in deploying broadband with federal CAFII funding. Here concerns outlined by Telecompetitor…

As Telecompetitor has noted, the 10 biggest RDOF winners won a combined 76% of the total funding awarded. Four of those winners are companies that traditionally have used fixed wireless technology who bid in the highest speed category (1 Gbps downstream), at least for some areas.

Fixed wireless equipment manufacturers persuaded the FCC that they had equipment capable of supporting gigabit speeds, although the technology is relatively unproven, especially for rural areas. Perhaps recognizing that, the big fixed wireless RDOF winners left themselves the option of deploying fiber broadband to meet their buildout requirements – one of them even bid to use fiber broadband exclusively for gigabit deployments. But some stakeholders have questioned whether some of the winners can afford to deploy gigabit fiber for the level of support awarded.

Also among the top 10 RDOF winners is satellite broadband provider SpaceX, whose technology also is relatively unproven. The company is in the process of deploying a constellation of non-geostationary satellites to support its bid in the second-highest speed category – 100 Mbps downstream.

Senator Klobuchar talks to Northern MN – broadband comes up

The International Falls Journal reports

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar reached out last week to northern Minnesota leaders to talk about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of local students, and on growing hunger.

In a phone call Thursday with International Falls School Superintendent Kevin Grover and three other northern Minnesota school superintendents, she said the information she learned would help her craft legislation aimed at assisting with the new needs communities are facing because of the pandemic.

Broadband came up…

The group also discussed the need to continue to improve broadband internet access in northern Minnesota, where areas still require “hot spots” for students to access their online learning programs.

Frontier and CenturyLink report they may not have met CAF II deployment deadlines for 2020 – in MN and other states

Telecompetitor reports

The CAF II program awarded funding to the nation’s larger carriers to bring broadband to unserved and underserved rural areas within their local service territories. Frontier accepted $283 million in funding annually and CenturyLink accepted $514 million annually.

Funding recipients were given six years to complete buildouts to a specific number of locations and were given interim deadlines to complete deployment to a specific percentage of locations.

In a letter to the FCC, CenturyLink said it met or exceeded the program’s December 31, 2020 milestone in 10 states but may not have met the 100% milestone in 23 states. Frontier told the FCC that it met the year-end 2020 milestone in eight states but may not have reached it in 17 other states.

The companies must report more definitive deployment data by March 1.

Last year at this time, Frontier said it had met the CAF II deployment milestones for year-end 2019 in 16 states but might not have met the target in 13 others. CenturyLink said it had met milestones in 10 states but might miss the target in 23 others.

Frontier filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April 2020, but attributed this year’s deployment delays to the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than the bankruptcy.

Neither company reports meeting their goals in Minnesota…

According to CenturyLink, states for which the company may not have met its 2020 CAF II deployment target include Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

States for which Frontier may not have met its 2020 CAF II deployment target include Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

Frontier said it expects to meet its final CAF II deployment milestone by June 30 in all outstanding states except Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, where the expected completion date is September 30.

The frustration is that this leaves many people without broadband – again. The goal is to build to 25/3 (even lower in some areas) and they haven’t done that. To put that in perspective, it does not get them closer to the MN State speed goal of 100/20 by 2026. In Minnesota we are used to the State MN border to border broadband grant rules where project must build networks that are scalable to 100/100. That is not the case with these networks and getting to 25/3 does not mean getting to 100/20 will be easier.

Also there is the concern for customers that the promise or threat of building has kept competitors out of their market. The promise of a CAF II network has made it more difficult for the communities to get funding from other sources. CAF II funding focused on the providers only – communities didn’t not sign up or on to the program.

Keller and Heckman’s Overview of Broadband Funding Opportunities in the COVID-19 Relief Act

Remember Baller Stokes & Lide? And their awesome daily email of broadband stories? Well, Jim Baller, Sean Stokes and Casey Lide have joined Keller and Heckman, LLP, as Partners and their daily email has been rebranded as Keller and Heckman. And they remain generous as ever sharing their Overview of Broadband Funding Opportunities in the COVID-19 Relief Act. Here are the highlights of the overview – visit the website to dig into the details.

  • Broadband Infrastructure Deployment Grants (NTIA):  $300 million grant program for broadband projects by “covered partnerships” in eligible service areas. The term “covered partnership” is defined to mean (a) a State or one or more political subdivisions, and (b) a provider of fixed broadband service.
  • Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grants (NTIA):  $1 billion grant program for broadband infrastructure deployment, broadband affordability programs, distance learning, telehealth, and broadband adoption activities on Tribal land.
  • Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (FCC):  $3.2 billion for an Emergency Broadband Benefit Program providing a reimbursement subsidy for the provision of broadband service and associated equipment to qualified households in the form of a monthly discount not to exceed $50 ($75 for an eligible household on Tribal land).
  • Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program(NTIA): $285 million for grants to minority institutions, organizations, and consortia to support broadband development and adoption.
  • COVID-19 Telehealth Program(FCC): An additional $250 million to the existing FCC Telehealth Program.
  • Amendments to Secure and Trusted Networks ReimbursementProgram (“Rip and Replace”): $1.9 billion allocated to fully fund the program. Adopted various amendments relating to reimbursement for providers obligated to remove and replace covered communications equipment.