EVENT April 27: Emergency Broadband Benefit Webinar for Consumers and Outreach Partners

From the FCC

On Tuesday, April 27 starting at 3:00 p.m. EDT, the FCC will host a public webinar to provide information on the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB). The EBB is a temporary program that provides a discount of up to $50 per month ($75 on Tribal lands) off a qualifying households’ internet bill. For eligible households there is the potential for a discount of up to $100 towards the purchase of a tablet, laptop or desktop computer from a participating provider so long as the eligible purchaser contributes more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.

Date – Tuesday, April 27
3 p.m. EDT
Watch Live – fcc.gov/live

The webinar will provide consumers and outreach partners with an overview of the EBB program, eligibility information, and enrollment procedures. During the event, the FCC will provide an overview of the outreach tool kit materials that have been developed for partners and the public to use to create awareness about the temporary program.

Registration is not required for the webinar.

During, or in advance of this event, questions can be emailed to broadbandbenefit@fcc.gov.

Open captioning will be provided for this event. Other reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities are available upon request. Requests for such accommodations should be submitted via e-mail to fcc504@fcc.gov or by calling the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at (202) 418-0530 (voice). Such requests should include a detailed description of the accommodation needed. In addition, please include a way for the FCC to contact the requester if more information is needed to fill the request.  Last minute requests will be accepted but may not be possible to accommodate.

For additional information about the webinar, please contact Deandrea Wilson at deandrea.wilson@fcc.gov.

 

OPPORTUNITY: Small Cities Coronavirus CDBG-CV Program Call for Applications

From MN DEED…

Small Cities Coronavirus CDBG-CV Program

The Small Cities Development Program Unit is accepting grant applications for eligible activities addressing community needs to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). These activities include broadband development, public services, retrofitting/repurposing buildings and commercial rehabilitation through the Small Cities Development Program (SCDP) under M.S. § 116J.401.

Call for Applications – Call for Applications

The deadline for the submission of applications is no later than 4:30 p.m. on June 1, 2021.Applications must be submitted to the Department of Employment and Economic Development, Business and Community Development Division, Small Cities Development Program Unit, 1st National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota Street, Suite E200, St. Paul, MN 55101-1351. One original and one copy of the application, including all required attachments must be submitted by the deadline to be considered for funding. Faxed or e-mailed applications will not be accepted.

Webinar

DEED will be hosting a webinar to provide potential applicants with an overview of the program and to answer any questions.

Microsoft Teams meeting

1:00 p.m., Friday, April 23, 2021Join on your computer or mobile app Or call in (audio only)1- 651-395-7448
Phone Conference ID: 687 187 744#

MRBC Update: Senate Passes Broadband Funding, Coalition Elects New Chair

From the MN Broadband Coalition

The Minnesota Senate passed the Agriculture Omnibus Bill SF 958 Wednesday evening 48-19. The bill includes $40 million for the Border-to-Border grant program with the possibility of up to $120 million if federal funds become available. Changes to the definition of broadband in statute (including the term fixed wireless), annual mapping changes, an increase in the state match to 55%, and $10 million set aside in the first year of the biennium for unserved areas are included in the bill. The bill is authored by Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake).

The House has moved their Agriculture Omnibus Bill HF 1524 to the floor of the House. It contains $30 million in the first year of the biennium for the grant program. We expect a debate and vote on the bill very soon. The bill was passed from the Ways and Means Committee to the floor earlier this week.
The rural electric cooperative broadband easements bill has been included as a provision in the House Commerce Omnibus Bill HF 1031. The bill is currently awaiting debate and passage on the House floor. The Senate did not include this provision in its omnibus bill.
The next step for all omnibus bills is for the House and Senate to appoint conferees to each bill. The conferees will debate and eventually resolve their differences. The final product will then be passed by the House and Senate and sent to the Governor for his signature. We will be asking the conferees to remove policy provisions and maximize the funding for the grant program.

Coalition Elects New Chair

Jay Trusty, Executive Director of the Southwest Regional Development Commission, was elected as the new Coalition Chair during our meeting on April 15. He takes over from Vince Robinson who served as chair for the past two years. We want to thank Vince for his hard work leading the Coalition. Please join us in welcoming Jay to our leadership team!

A Community Guide to Current Broadband Funding

The Institute for Local Self Reliance has posted a directory of federal broadband funding…

In the American Rescue Plan Act, Congress and the Biden Administration included a multi-billion dollar appropriation to help expand high-speed Internet access. This guide offers an overview of the different funding opportunities for communities interested in expanding broadband services. As application deadlines vary in some cases and other money must be spent within certain time frames, it is critical for states, municipalities, community organizations, and Tribal governments to start planning initiatives now.

It’s too large to summarize, which is really the beauty. The resources is complete. They have done a good job highlighting and organizing what people need to know.

Koochiching joins MN Broadband Coalition

The International Falls Journal reports…

Meeting as the Koochiching Development Authority Board Tuesday, the board heard a presentation by Nathan Zacharias, of Zacharias Government Relations, who has provided lobbying services supporting the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition since 2018.

The coalition asked the KDA Board for an additional $2,500 funding for continued advocacy for broadband funding from the state.

Jaci Nagle, county information systems director and Koochiching Technology Initiative chairperson, told the county the past advocacy by Zacharias helped ensure that grant programs continue to exist until all Minnesotans have access to quality, reliable broadband.

She told the board Koochiching has benefited from the past works of the coalition

“Multiple broadband projects to occur in our county were awarded grant funding through the Border to Border Broadband grant program; funding that the coalition worked hard to support through the legislative process that resulted in $40 million being approved for 2020 and 2021 projects,” she said in a brief to the board.

The White House grades Minnesota a C for infrastructure

The White House reports

the White House released state-by-state fact sheets that highlight the urgent need in every state across the country for the investments proposed by President Biden in the American Jobs Plan. The fact sheets highlight the number of bridges and miles of road in each state in poor condition, the percentage of households without access to broadband, the billions of dollars required for water infrastructure, among other infrastructure needs.

The Minnesota report on broadband (as well as other aspects of infrastructure)…

BROADBAND: 11.6% of Minnesotans live in areas where, by one definition, there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. And 62.7% of Minnesotans live in areas where there is only one such internet provider. Even where infrastructure is available, broadband may be too expensive to be within reach. 12.1% of Minnesota households do not have an internet subscription. The American Jobs Plan will invest $100 billion to bring universal, reliable, high-speed, and affordable coverage to every family in America.

US legislators introduce bill to increase promotion of affordable broadband

Senator Durbin reports

U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18) today introduced a bicameral bill that would increase access to broadband service for low-income urban and rural Americans.  The Promoting Access to Broadband Act would help states increase awareness and enrollment in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Lifeline Program. The Lifeline Program helps low-income households pay for their telephone and broadband service charges by providing a monthly subsidy of $9.25, yet enrollment numbers in the program remain extremely low nationwide.

Here are the details…

  • Award grants to at least five states;
  • Direct the FCC to consider several factors in evaluating the applications, including: states that have a higher number of covered individuals, states with plans with the potential to reach a higher percentage of eligible-but-not-enrolled households, and the geographic diversity of the applicants;
  • Allow states to use the funds for a variety of Lifeline enrollment efforts, including:
    • Informing Medicaid enrollees, SNAP participants, and low-income individuals of their potential eligibility in the Lifeline program,
    • Providing these individuals with information about how to apply for the Lifeline program,
    • Partnering with non-profit and community-based organizations to provide individuals with assistance applying for Lifeline and information about product and technology choices; and
  • Require the FCC to issue a report to Congress within a year of establishing the grant program evaluating the program’s effectiveness.

Who is using which social media? Facebook and YouTube are winners but there are some others

Pew Research reports…

Despite a string of controversies and the public’s relatively negative sentiments about aspects of social media, roughly seven-in-ten Americans say they ever use any kind of social media site – a share that has remained relatively stable over the past five years, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults.

The chart shows that YouTube and Facebook continue to be the forerunners but…

Even as other platforms do not nearly match the overall reach of YouTube or Facebook, there are certain sites or apps, most notably Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, that have an especially strong following among young adults. In fact, a majority of 18- to 29-year-olds say they use Instagram (71%) or Snapchat (65%), while roughly half say the same for TikTok.

These findings come from a nationally representative survey of 1,502 U.S. adults conducted via telephone Jan. 25-Feb.8, 2021.

The demographics is interesting, especially if you are looking to reach a specific demographic. The chart shows demographics of users …

MN Senate passed comprehensive budget bills with $40 million for broadband

Minnesota State Republican Caucus reports…

On bipartisan votes today, the Minnesota Senate passed comprehensive budget bills related to agriculturehigher education, and commerce and energy.

“The Senate’s budget strengthens our commitment to core priorities in agriculture, higher education, energy, and commerce,” said Senator Carla Nelson (R-Rochester). “The reason these bills gained bipartisan support is that we made an attempt to strike a broad balance and work across the aisle. These aren’t partisan issues; it’s about doing what is best for Minnesotans.”

Agriculture

The Senate’s agriculture budget helps our agricultural community recover from the pandemic by strengthening our Ag sector supply chains and invests in helping more meat processing facilities expand and grow. It provides historic funding for the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program at $40 million over the next two fiscal years to develop permanent broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas. Additionally, the budget includes grants for farm safety equipment and allows the creation of a grain storage facility safety curriculum, as well as mental health outreach on farms and additional mental health services, like the state’s 24-hour crisis hotline.

Original bills for broadband recommended $120 million for broadband.

OPPORTUNITY: Community Broadband Outreach Organizer and Community Broadband Intern

An opportunity from the Institute for Local Self Reliance

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is a national nonprofit working to empower communities by striking at the roots of monopoly power and striving toward a vision of thriving, diverse, equitable communities. We use in-depth research, reporting, and data analysis to produce influential reports and articles. Our analyses are frequently featured in national news media and sought out by policymakers. We work closely with a broad range of local community leaders, elected officials, and a diverse coalition of allies to advance these ideas and policies.

Community Broadband Organizer

ILSR is looking for an enthusiastic candidate to assist these local organizing efforts. Our Community Broadband Networks program has many resources and contacts that can dramatically accelerate local organizing efforts. This position will require frequent meetings with local groups to understand their goals and challenges, as well as organizing more general support systems like mutual-aid calls and other resources as needed. Success will mean many more communities will achieve digital equity more rapidly than would otherwise occur.

Get more details.

Minneapolis Star Tribune promotes legislation to expand telehealth

The Minneapolis Star Tribune Editorial Board posts…

The COVID-19 pandemic forced sweeping changes in how we work, with many workers doing their jobs remotely for much of the past year.

A swift though lesser-remarked-on transformation happened as well in medical care. As lockdowns loomed, state and federal regulators eased restrictions on “telehealth.” That led to more virtual visits in Minnesota and elsewhere, with doctors and patients communicating via video or a phone call in lieu of a clinic appointment. A year later, there’s a timely debate at the Minnesota Capitol over whether to maintain telehealth expansion measures, which are set to expire 60 days after the end of the peacetime COVID emergency. The answer should be yes, let’s keep going. A dispute between two key health care stakeholders — providers and insurers — over payment levels for telehealth care shouldn’t derail the legislation to do so.

Telehealth changes during the pandemic have provided convenient new options for patients. Previously, Minnesota patients may have had to drive to a clinic or hospital to use their telemedicine facilities. Now, they can connect from home using a personal device. Including mental health practitioners also is an advance.

Legislation to extend telehealth changes is enthusiastically backed by respected medical providers and organizations, including the Minnesota Medical Association (MMA) and the Minnesota Hospital Association (MHA). If this yearlong experiment wasn’t going well, these organizations would be the first to sound the alarm.

Telehealth is becoming more common for good reasons…

In 2019, just 3% of patient visits used telehealth. In 2020, that rose to 28%, according to data released last August. In addition, 83% of physicians surveyed reported that telehealth met patients’ needs “acceptably, well or very well.”

EVENT April 15: Roundtable on Current, Ongoing Broadband Legislation

An invitation from the Fiber Broadband Association…

The Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) today announced a roundtable discussion planned for this Thursday, April 15 covering the ongoing legislative action aimed at expanding broadband across the United States. FBA President and CEO Gary Bolton will be joined by fiber broadband policy and industry experts to discuss recent activities within the current Administration including President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, the Accessible, Affordable Internet For All Act and more.

The webinar, scheduled for 1 p.m. ET on Thursday, April 15, is free and available to the public after registering at this link.

Panelists include:

Gary Bolton, President and CEO, Fiber Broadband Association

Kim Bayliss, Principal, Perry Bayliss

Steve Perry, Principal, Perry Bayliss

Tom Cohan, Corporate Counsel, Partner, Kelley Drye & Warren LLP

Joanne Hovis, President, CTC Technology & Energy

Ben Moncrief, Managing Director, C Spire

Stan Fendley, Director, Legislative & Regulatory Policy, Corning

Online school makes life easier for some students – MN schools seem especially interested

I reported last week that Senator Klobuchar had heard from folks that some students preferred online classes and now the NY Times is reporting the same…

A year after the coronavirus set off a seismic disruption in public education, some of the remote programs that districts intended to be temporary are poised to outlast the pandemic. Even as students flock back to classrooms, a subset of families who have come to prefer online learning are pushing to keep it going — and school systems are rushing to accommodate them.

Steps are already being taken to get it started in some areas…

In a study by the RAND Corporation, “Remote Learning Is Here to Stay,” 58 out of 288 district administrators — roughly 20 percent — said their school system had already started an online school, was planning to start one or was considering doing so as a postpandemic offering.

Other districts will likely feel like they need to at least look into it…

Districts said they were simply responding to demand from parents and children who want to stick with remote learning — some because of student health issues, some because of concerns about bullying or discrimination in their school, and some who just prefer the convenience of learning at home.

Districts that fail to start online schools could lose students — along with government education funding — to virtual academies run by neighboring districts, companies or nonprofits, administrators said. To pay for the new online offerings, some districts said, they are using federal coronavirus relief funds or shifting resources from other programs.

Minnesota schools seem particularly interested…

The momentum for online schools is particularly evident in Minnesota. The state’s Department of Education said it was processing about 50 applications for new virtual schools, compared with two or three a year before the coronavirus.

“It was a small club before of people who really understood and were practicing online learning,” said Jeff Plaman, the digital learning specialist who manages applications for new online schools at the Minnesota Department of Education. “Now it’s the entire work force.”

American Rescue Plan Funds distributed in MN and by County (in MN)

National Association of Counties (NACo) reports

the State and Local Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Funds legislation, part of the American Rescue Plan Act, was signed into law by President Biden on March 11. The bill includes $65.1 billion in direct, flexible aid to every county in America, as well as other crucial investments in local communities, including $1.5 billion over two years for public lands counties.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury would oversee and administer these payments to state and local governments, and every county would be eligible to receive a direct allocation from Treasury. Municipalities and counties would now receive funds in two tranches – with 50 percent this year and the remaining 50 percent no earlier than 12 months from the first payment. The U.S. Treasury is required to pay first tranche to counties not later than 60-days after enactment, and second payment no earlier than 12 months after the first payment.

The table below contains projected allocations for counties from the U.S. Treasury. The values are informed by the House of Representatives and the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The estimates are not official values from the U.S. Treasury and are subject to change.

Below are the counties in Minnesota

Minnesota $1,109,493,629
Aitkin County $3,080,992
Anoka County $69,222,630
Becker County $6,676,129
Beltrami County $9,151,822
Benton County $7,930,170
Big Stone County $967,974
Blue Earth County $13,120,883
Brown County $4,850,148
Carlton County $6,956,960
Carver County $20,381,364
Cass County $5,775,454
Chippewa County $2,288,537
Chisago County $10,973,149
Clay County $12,455,461
Clearwater County $1,710,197
Cook County $1,059,515
Cottonwood County $2,171,395
Crow Wing County $12,617,017
Dakota County $83,205,981
Dodge County $4,060,020
Douglas County $7,397,212
Faribault County $2,647,915
Fillmore County $4,085,815
Freeborn County $5,872,813
Goodhue County $8,987,358
Grant County $1,158,233
Hennepin County $245,502,455
Houston County $3,607,355
Hubbard County $4,168,047
Isanti County $7,873,344
Itasca County $8,752,686
Jackson County $1,909,571
Kanabec County $3,168,461
Kandiyohi County $8,378,180
Kittson County $833,571
Koochiching County $2,371,739
Lac qui Parle County $1,284,490
Lake County $2,063,756
Lake of the Woods County $725,350
Le Sueur County $5,602,456
Lincoln County $1,093,649
Lyon County $4,940,525
Mahnomen County $1,071,928
Marshall County $1,810,660
Martin County $3,817,397
McLeod County $6,961,226
Meeker County $4,503,764
Mille Lacs County $5,096,262
Morrison County $6,475,009
Mower County $7,769,778
Murray County $1,589,176
Nicollet County $6,647,231
Nobles County $4,194,811
Norman County $1,236,392
Olmsted County $30,699,953
Otter Tail County $11,393,425
Pennington County $2,738,293
Pine County $5,736,665
Pipestone County $1,769,932
Polk County $6,082,855
Pope County $2,181,674
Ramsey County $106,731,369
Red Lake County $786,442
Redwood County $2,942,128
Renville County $2,821,495
Rice County $12,988,807
Rock County $1,806,587
Roseau County $2,941,158
Scott County $28,900,154
Sherburne County $18,858,711
Sibley County $2,882,975
St. Louis County $54,330,132
Stearns County $31,239,504
Steele County $7,107,848
Stevens County $1,901,619
Swift County $1,797,084
Todd County $4,783,431
Traverse County $632,063
Wabasha County $4,194,423
Wadena County $2,653,540
Waseca County $3,609,683
Washington County $50,898,622
Watonwan County $2,113,406
Wilkin County $1,203,809
Winona County $9,791,061
Wright County $26,837,367
Yellow Medicine County $1,883,001

 

MN Border to Border grants do not require wired solutions – but do require 100/100 scalability

After watching two legislative meetings today on broadband funding I realized it might be helpful to say – that the Office of Broadband Development (OBD) is technology neutral. Here’s what they say about wireless solutions in their Grant FAQs

In order to qualify for Border-to-Border Broadband development dollars, does a project need to be wired access only or would a high speed wireless provider qualify if it met the speed goals defined by the grant?
The statute that created the grant fund defines eligible expenditures as “the acquisition and installation of middle-mile and last-mile infrastructure that support broadband service scalable to speeds of at least 100 megabits per second download and 100 megabits per second upload.” To meet this requirement, the grant application (at question 4.7) asks for a demonstration that the installed infrastructure is scalable to speeds of at least 100 Mbps download and 100 Mbps upload and that the information must be certified by the manufacturer or a professional engineer. Any technology that meets this standard will be considered eligible.

Technology is not important – what is important is that the project be scalable to 100/100 – in other words the project must be forward looking. They don’t want projects that will not be able to meet the needs of the users in the near future. The pandemic has given us a glimpse of what that might look like. As students and workforce were shifted to remote work, many households realized that their broadband was not sufficient.

What I heard today was legislators who want to offer the constituents a solution immediately. They are talking to people who have nothing – so they’ll take anything. Unfortunately that’s a short lived satisfaction. If you have 10/1 access today, 25/3 is an upgrade, but it is still not enough if you have several people who will be engaging online (multiple Zooms, uploading homework, getting into the office VPN network) the constituents will still experience difficulties, they will still want more. If the network that is built is scalable, more improvements may be possible. If the network is not scalable improvements would require new building, new investment.

An immediate solution is nice. A solution that meets the needs of constituents now and in the future may be even nicer.

Proposals that strive for higher broadband speeds score higher on application criteria but that is not the only criteria.