EVENT July 7: Broadband Roundtable on innovative options for local media

An invitation from the Blandin Foundation…

Join Blandin Foundation on Zoom Tuesday morning at 9:00 am for our weekly Broadband Roundtable conversation. This week, Anne Brataas of Grand Marais will share her passion for local media, especially that which is created by young people. Anne is active in The Story Laboratory and the Minnesota Children’s Press. With the current challenges faced by traditional local press, this session will be incredibly interesting. Bring your thoughts and ideas.

You can register for this and future Roundtables here

For more information, or to share ideas for future Roundtable starter topics, contact Mary Magnuson at memagnuson@blandinfoundation.org.

Save the month of October: Fall Broadband Conference is morphing into Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand

Interesting times require innovative solutions! And that’s why I’m genuinely excited to tell folks about the First Ever Blandin Broadband Virtual Dispersed Conference. I’m on the planning team; and while I love the annual get-togethers, it might be fair to say I was most enthusiastic about creating somethign new this year. I am so excited!!

The world is in flux and broadband seems to be at the center of it. The COVID-19 pandemic and guidelines on social distancing are creating the need and opportunity to do things differently, often with an online element. Meanwhile, the internet and social media are allowing people from all over the world in real time to witness and participate first-hand in the movement to end racial inequities in Minnesota and nationwide.

From telework to distance learning to keeping in touch with family and friends; from citizen journalism to starting a movement online; one thing is certain – access to broadband and the skills to use it is more important than ever.

So the conference planning team has decided to lean in, to take advantage of the technology we’ve been promoting for so long to meet the educational, professional, and civic needs of the attendees and hopefully demonstrate new ways to work and meet that you can bring back to your community.

What does this mean? Picture a month of broadband Sundays. (Not really, but sort of!)

The conference will be entirely virtual – but that doesn’t mean just a series of online lectures. We have created different opportunities for discussion, interaction and collaboration and a few traditional presentations to happen over the course of four weeks. Here’s a rough outline: (More to share later!)

  • Week 1 (Oct 5-8): three mornings of “in real time” online events including speakers and small group discussion
  • Weeks 2 and 3 (Oct 9-26): customized programming based on your level of involvement and interest with special sessions, a chance to pilot future programming, a book club, regular online space just to chat, mentor match-making with host of local and national experts arranged by the planning team, a virtual happy hour. You choose your level of involvement. No expectations – only opportunities.
  • Week 4 (Oct 27-29): mirroring the first with three mornings of “in real time” online events including speakers and small group discussion.

We’ll group folks in cohorts so you won’t need to feel like you’re traversing the terrain alone. And we’re lining up speakers to include experts, practitioners and researchers who know broadband infrastructure, policy and digital equity. I am so excited about the speakers we have – but I’ll build up some suspense now. Just let you know what’s coming.

Please let me know if you have any questions. This is the 16th conference.  We’re all pretty used to the “regular way” and this year will be different in the same way kindergarten roundup is different from college drop off. Still very cool – but new.

CenturyLink to bring fiber to 1,000+ homes in Nessel Township, MN (Chisago County)

Yahoo! Finance reports…

CenturyLink, Inc. CTL announced its plans to bring fiber to more than 1,000 homes and enterprises in Nessel Township, MN. Residents of this rural area will have access to reliable and high-speed Internet. The Monroe, LA-based communications company’s fiber and IP-based network capacity combined with its financial strength positions it well to support customers and boost shareholders’ value in the long term.

CenturyLink has a significant presence in Minnesota, with more than 17,000 miles of fiber and one million connections. The company’s investments and Minnesota’s Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program will help meet the state’s goal of extensive broadband service. This public-private partnership project is aimed at providing the fiber and electronics needed for high-speed connections of up to 940 Mbps. It complements other similar projects in Minnesota’s underserved areas, providing more than 3,300 connections since 2014.

Stats on telehealth – big on virtual visits, less so on EHR

Becker’s Hospital Review reports…

Only 31 percent of hospitals and health systems are using capabilities within their EHR systems to conduct telehealth visits, according to a recent Sage Growth Partners report.

Sage Growth Partners during the week of May 25 surveyed 150 respondents representing various executive roles at hospitals and health systems across the U.S. Respondents were asked to describe their virtual care operations and strategies.

Three report insights:

  1. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they are using third-party software such as Zoom and Skype for telehealth visits.

  2. When asked what key tech solutions are critical to their organizations, 85 percent of execs said virtual care, 52 percent said hospital communication and 43 percent said supply chain automation.

  3. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 80 percent of hospitals provided less than 10 percent of their care virtually. However, only 11 percent of hospital leaders predict that in 24 months they will go back to their pre-pandemic rates of virtual care.

MetroNet Announces Acquisition of Minnesota’s Jaguar Communications

From Business Wire…

MetroNet, a provider of fiber-optic internet, TV and phone service, today announced the acquisition of Owatonna, MN-based Jaguar Communications, a fiber optic internet company serving Owatonna, Mankato, Rochester, and several other Minnesota communities. The combination of the two companies allows MetroNet to expand its ultra-high-speed fiber optic footprint to residential and business customers across the Midwest. MetroNet is expecting to invest an additional $150 million or more in growing the Minnesota market to expand services to additional communities and neighborhoods.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The transaction was officially completed yesterday.

“Jaguar Communications shares our vision of providing customer-focused, fiber optic telecommunication services to homes and businesses,” said MetroNet President John Cinelli. “As we grow our fiber optic network in Minnesota, Jaguar Communications is a perfect fit. We look forward to fully integrating as a company, and we welcome them into the MetroNet family.”

Jaguar Communications currently serves Carver, Scott, Dakota, Nicollett, Le Sueur, Rice, Blue Earth, Waseca, Steele, Dodge, Olmstead, Freeborn and Mower counties in Minnesota with Gigabit speed internet. This acquisition will allow MetroNet to leverage Jaguar’s fiber optic infrastructure to provide these markets with MetroNet’s products. Jaguar customers will continue to benefit from gigabit internet speeds options with no data caps, full-featured fiber phone service, and fiber IPTV.

“Over the years, Jaguar Communications has proudly served Southern Minnesota and an agreement with MetroNet just made sense. This merger is the right next step to better serve our customers and provide further opportunities for our employees,” stated Jim Ward, Owner of Jaguar Communications. “This acquisition means accelerated expansion in Minnesota, reaching more residents and businesses that are eager for ultra-high-speed fiber optic services.”

The two companies are expected to fully integrate under the MetroNet brand in the months to come, and plan to integrate all MetroNet product line features in early 2021.

US Senators introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Accelerate Broadband Access Nationwide

According to a press release from US Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)

Today [July 2, 2020], U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mike Braun (R-IN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Doug Jones (D-AL) introduced the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act, bipartisan legislation that will bolster efforts to expand access to rural broadband nationwide and speed up the distribution of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The RDOF will allocate $20.4 billion to building rural broadband in two phases and this legislation will ensure that some of that money is distributed to communities much faster than the original deadline. The Rural Broadband Acceleration Act also directs the FCC to adhere to the Universal Service requirement in federal law, which is a joint responsibility for the federal and state governments. The Universal Service requirement states that all people in rural areas must have access to telecommunications and information services that are reasonably comparable, in both speed and price, to the services in urban areas. Thus, this legislation will allow rural America to have the same level of broadband service enjoyed by cities and suburbs across the country. Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) have introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

40 percent of dentists using telehealth/teledentistry

mHealth Intelligence reports…

Some 40 percent of dentists in a recent survey said they’re either using telehealth now to stay in touch with patients or will soon be using telemedicine technology. That survey, conducted by the DentaQuest Partnership for Oral Health Advancement, saw a significant gap between what dentists felt they should do to treat patients in person during the crisis and what they were confident they can do.

The stats are now great now or promising in the future…

Dentists are among the hardest hit healthcare professions during the COVID-19 crisis because of the potential for virus transmission from the oral cavity, and almost all of those who completed the survey said they expect the industry to see long-term changes as a result. Only 57 percent of those surveyed have remained open for most services during the pandemic, while 31 percent are only offering emergency care and another 8 percent have closed completely.

That’s not good for the bottom line. According to the survey, 90 percent have seen their patient visits drop, with the average decline being 51 percent. Three out of every four dental offices have reduced staff, with one in six reporting having less than 15 days’ of cash on hand, and 86 percent said they’ve seen revenues drop at least 25 percent.

There are plans to help facilitate greater use of telehealth…

“A broad strategy that refocuses dentistry through pathway redesign could maintain and even improve access to care while minimizing transmission risk,” the report concluded. “Embracing telehealth technologies can allow providers to engage in more patient outreach, reinforce healthy behaviors, provide education and explore minimally invasive treatment options, as well as the ability to triage and direct patients to appropriate care. This pathway redesign could render dental providers less vulnerable from unpredictable patient utilization and cash flow, if, as many health experts predict, the nation experiences additional waves of COVID-19.”

Among those recognizing the importance of teledentistry is UnitedHealthcare. Noting that dental care ranks as among the most frequently avoided emergency room visits even during normal times, the Minnesota-based health plan recently unveiled coverage for at-home phone and video consults “for advice and guidance to an appropriate setting for in-person care.”

Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Auction short-form application Open yesterday (July 1) closes July 15

I’m a day off. Not too late but the window is closing as Multichannel reports

The FCC Wednesday (July 1) opened the short-form application window for phase one of its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) reverse auction (Auction 904).

All potential bidders must complete and submit such an application.

Carriers will be bidding on how economically they can deliver service that meets FCC speed and build-out metrics. The money is for fixed voice and broadband service to unserved, high-cost, areas at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps.

RDOF is the re-imagined Connect America Fund II subsidy.

RDOF, phase one, is the $16 billion over 10 years the FCC is spending to close the rural digital divide to get broadband to unserved areas. Phase two has another $4 billion to go to underserved areas.

The application window closes July 15 at 6 p.m.

On July 25, the FCC released an updated list of the census blocks it has determined lack the requisite service and thus are eligible for the “unserved” subsidies.

The FCC said that 5,392,530 unserved locations have been “deemed eligible” for carriers to bid on in the auction beginning Oct. 29.

Learn more on the FCC site.

Can we change habits with a hashtag? #MaskUpMN

The connection to broadband is tenuous here – except it’s a great use of technology to help keep our businesses open and our people healthy! Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development has started a social media campaign – #MaskUpMN…

With COVID-19 cases surging in other states, and with the busy Fourth of July weekend ahead of us, it’s more important than ever to take steps to protect your customers and your employees. One of the best ways to do this is to encourage customers to wear masks. The Walz-Flanagan Administration is helping businesses spread the word that by masking up, your customers are helping your business stay open.

We invite you to participate in the #MaskUpMN campaign this weekend to raise awareness that the best way we can keep our economy open is to wear masks. …

But masks are more than just a courtesy – they are the most effective tool we have against the spread of COVID-19. CDC recommends that you wear a cloth mask over your nose and mouth in restaurants, bars and all other public places where it is hard to stay 6 feet away from others. The Minnesota Department of Health offers up-to-date guidance on when and how to wear a mask here.

As Minnesota makes progress towards fully reopening the economy, we’ve continued to release updated guidance on best safe practices for businesses. From protocol for managing occupancy to general food safety, you can find stay safe guidance for businesses and organizations here.

They even offer a few suggestions, I’ll include my fave…

Please share the following social media messaging on your channels and encourage your networks to celebrate safely this holiday weekend. We’ve also provided some graphics to accompany these posts, which you can find here.

  • Happy Fourth of July, Minnesota! This weekend, please remember to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep your friends, family and neighbors safe. #MaskUpMN

This might be a message readers can share with their constituents, clients and favorite businesses.

Northern MN appreciates ConnectedMN state funds to get kids connected

WDIO interviews Bernadine Joselyn on the new ConnectedMN initiative…

Bernadine Joselyn is with the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids, the state’s largest rural-based philanthropy.

“Truly, the silver lining in the work from COVID-19 is that it has shown a huge light on the inequities at the heart of our public education system,” she said.

It’s led to an initiative called ConnectedMN.

The Blandin Foundation, along with private companies like Best Buy and Comcast, along with the state, are stepping in donating and raising money to help.

“Part of what we hope to do is invest in immediate needs and invest in longer-term solutions,” Joselyn said.

At Hibbing High School, some of those immediate needs this spring were hotspots for internet access.

State announces public-private partnership to help tech needs of families with children in school

The hotspots were what saved us the most with letting kids get on for their distance-learning,” said Hibbing High School Principal Mike Finco.

Telehealth more important during pandemic as facilities close – increasing need for adequate/affordable broadband across MN

Medical Express recently posted an article that reports that telehealth is an important tool for rural hospitals for treating COVID-19

Telehealth connects patients with doctors by computer or telephone when in-person appointments are not possible or safe from disease transmission.

“It’s a relatively easy way to expand access,” Feyereisen said. “More health care access is good. It’s one of the goals of the system.”

Minnesota is one of the states the publication recognizes as a leader…

Puro and Feyereisen concluded that talking with doctors remotely is an important part of improving rural health care. The odds of hospitals to provide telehealth services vary, with Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas leading the way among the nine regions designated by the U.S. Census.

While Becker’s Hospital Review reports further telehealth accolades for Minnesota…

Duluth, Minn.-based Essentia Health this month received Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota’s Trailblazer Award for its efforts to improve virtual care access during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Essentia Health launched its virtual visit program March 18, a month ahead of schedule, to accommodate patients during the healthcare crisis. The health system trained more than 1,200 primary care providers and physicians representing at least 60 specialties in how to conduct virtual visits.

“We knew we had to step in and fill a void that was quickly created by our patients not being able to come to see us,” Essentia Health CEO David Herman, MD, said in a news release. “We literally went from zero virtual visits to about 3,000 virtual visits per day in less than three weeks.”

The numbers are as staggering as the need. And diagnosing and treating people without exposing them to coronarvirus or other germs is obviously beneficial – especially (as I always add) for the folks who have adequate broadband to take advantage of the opportunities.

For those folks on the opposite end of the digital divide this pandemic has been hard with limited access to school work, economic opportunities and healthcare. It has meant sitting in library parking lots using their wi-fi, missing opportunities and longer drives to healthcare facilities.

And those drive just got longer as HealthPartners just announced that 7 of their clinics will not be reopening…

– Central Minnesota Clinics, St. Cloud.

– Highland Park Clinic, St. Paul.

– Park Nicollet Shorewood Clinic, Cottage Grove.

– Regions Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program, St. Paul.

– Regions Maplewood Behavioral Health Clinic.

– Riverside Clinic, Minneapolis.

– Stillwater Medical Group, Mahtomedi.

– Westfields HealthStation, New Richmond, Wisconsin.

HealthPartners says the pandemic has caused it rethink its business and where it needs physical locations, which comes amid a major increase in telehealth video visits as a result of the pandemic.

It really pushes the need to get everyone connected as it becomes a great healthcare concern. In rural areas, that often means making it available; in urban areas it means making it affordable!

 

Closing the digital divide for distance education estimated cost: $6-12 billion

Common Sense recently published a report on what it would take to close the digital divide in the age of distance learning

With the prospect of another distance learning school year on the horizon due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new analysis released today finds that a full 15 to 16 million public school students across the United States live in households without adequate internet access or computing devices to facilitate distance learning. The analysis, from Common Sense and Boston Consulting Group, also finds that almost 10% of public school teachers (300,000 to 400,000) are also caught in the gap, affecting their ability to run remote classes. The 32-page report, Closing the K–12 Digital Divide in the Age of Distance Learning, fixes a one-year price tag of at least $6 billion and as much as $11 billion to connect all kids at home, and an additional $1 billion to close the divide for teachers.

I’m more of a writer than a mathematician but that looks like $732 per unserved student and teacher. (That’s looking at highest estimate for cost and number of disconnected.) That doesn’t feel like such a high number – especially when you know that a house with broadband reaps an average ANNUAL economic benefit of $1850 – and that’s a pre-COVID number. Broadband is an investment is education and economic development. And especially during the pandemic, it can be a literal lifesaver to compromised patients who need healthcare services.

The report also pulls data out by state. Here’s how Minnestoa shows up:

  • Students without adequate high-speed connection 249,845
  • % Students without adequate high-speed connection 28%
  • Students without devices 162,607
  • % Students without devices 18%
  • Teachers without adequate high-speed connection 6,379
  • % Teachers without adequate high-speed connection 11%
  • Teachers without devices 1,046
  • % Teachers without devices 2%

The speed they are looking at for unserved is 25/3, which is the 2022 speed goal in Minnesota. In April, the Office of Broadband Development said 92.19 of Minnesota households were served – leaving 7.81 unserved.

So what’s the difference in these numbers? OBD is looking at available access only, which means if a household is in a served area. Not whether they get it or not, just if they could. Common Sense is looking at whether a household subscribes and do they have devices available to use it. Common Sense is looking at students and teachers access, not households. So the numbers tell slightly difference stories. Knowing the difference I think helps to frame the discussion of digital equity.

Broadband funding passing in US House – now to the Senate

NDIA (National Digitial Inclusion Alliance) reports…

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Moving Forward Act” (HR 2), a $1.5 trillion infrastructure funding bill that includes $8.8 billion for a new “broadband benefit” program to help low-income households and recently laid-off consumers pay for internet connections, as well as $1.3 billion in funding for state and community digital inclusion initiatives.

NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer enthusiastically welcomed the House vote. “This is an historic moment for digital inclusion practitioners and advocates, as well as for millions of urban and rural Americans who remain excluded from mainstream digital connection,” Siefer commented.

Here’s what it means…

HR 2, approved by a 233-188 vote cast along mostly party lines, incorporates all the provisions of the $100 billion “Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act”, introduced on June 24 by South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn and more than two dozen colleagues.  Those provisions include:

  • $8.8 billion for a new “broadband benefit” program that would reimburse internet providers for discounts provided to low-income households (eligible for Lifeline, qualified for federal school lunch subsidies, or receiving Pell Grants) and consumers who are recently unemployed. Bills for normal home internet service could be subsidized as much as $50 a month ($75 for households on tribal lands.)
  • $1.3 billion over five years for state and community digital inclusion initiatives. These include the State Digital Equity Capacity Program, an annual grant program for states to create and implement comprehensive digital equity plans to help close gaps in broadband adoption and digital skill; and the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program to further support these efforts through digital inclusion projects undertaken by local communities. (This is mostly the contents of the Digital Equity Act.)
  • $85 billion in grant and loan funding for broadband infrastructure deployments that bring at least 100/100 Mbps access to areas where those speeds are unavailable. Funded projects must offer affordable rate tiers.
  • $5 billion to support local schools’ efforts to invest in home connectivity for students and staff.
  • Federal protection against state restrictions for communities seeking to build their own broadband networks.
  • A requirement for the FCC to start collecting and publishing residential internet price information from all broadband providers.

Next step – the Senate, where Senators Klobuchar and Clyburn introduced The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act earlier today. It will invest $100 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities to close the digital divide and connect Americans to ensure they have increased access to education, health care, and business opportunities.

 

Klobuchar, Clyburn Introduce Comprehensive Broadband Infrastructure Legislation to Expand Access to Affordable High-Speed Internet

From Senator Klobuchar…

Today U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, introduced comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation to expand access to affordable high-speed internet for all Americans. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act will invest $100 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities to close the digital divide and connect Americans to ensure they have increased access to education, health care, and business opportunities. The legislation in the House of Representatives is led by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and members of the House Rural Broadband Task Force.

In the Senate, the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is cosponsored by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).

“When we invest in broadband infrastructure, we invest in opportunity for every American,” Klobuchar said. “In 2020, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every family in America — regardless of their zip code — and this legislation is a critical step to help bridge the digital divide once and for all.”

“I am pleased Sen. Klobuchar is leading the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act in the Senate,” Clyburn said. “This legislation was crafted in collaboration with the House Rural Broadband Task Force and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee. It invests over $100 billion to build nationwide high-speed broadband infrastructure, and makes the resulting internet service affordable for all. Sen. Klobuchar understands the needs of underserved communities and has been a consistent champion for the expansion of high-speed broadband access. I look forward to working together to pass this critical piece of legislation in both chambers.”

“We are relying on the internet more than ever before. It helps people make a living, do their homework, receive health care services, and connect with each other,” Schatz said. “Our bill invests billions in areas that need it most so that everyone has access to high-speed internet.”

“The current health crisis has only underscored what we already know: that too many households across the country lack reliable access to broadband,” Warner said. “In Virginia alone, it’s estimated that more than 700,000 Virginians lack access to broadband, making it harder for families to access essential services during these unprecedented times. Access to broadband helps communities meaningfully participate in the digital economy. Individuals can apply for a job or submit a college application, families can connect with their health care providers without having to travel long distances, and teachers and students can advance and supplement their online learning. Accessibility to broadband is vital to increasing digital literacy, achieving economic stability, and advancing education, and this critical legislation will help bridge the gap for communities that still need access to this critical technology.”

“During the coronavirus pandemic, more than ever, we are seeing how necessary robust and affordable broadband is to the future of education, employment, and medical care,” Markey said. “Those living in lower-income and rural areas without sufficient broadband are being left behind. That’s why now is the time to recommit to the goal of universal connectivity and act boldly to finally close the digital divide. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing legislation that will ensure broadband access for all Americans.”

“Internet access is a vital economic necessity, especially during these unprecedented times as millions of Americans are forced to adapt to a new normal that for many means remote schooling, teleworking, and doctor’s appointments on the computer instead of in-person,” Booker said. “For decades, rural communities, low-income communities, and communities of color have been excluded from the internet revolution and COVID-19 has only exacerbated that trend. We need to close the digital divide and end internet inequality. Our bill provides $100 billion towards broadband infrastructure to help ensure that all communities have reliable and affordable access to the internet.”

“Underserved and rural communities don’t have access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet due to the shortcomings of our nation’s broadband infrastructure,” said Harris. “The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a stark reminder of how difficult it is for families to remain connected to school or work if they lack reliable internet. I am proud to join my colleagues in announcing this comprehensive legislation – it is past-time to make reliable high-speed internet a reality for everyone.”

“Our current public health and economic crisis has made it all the more urgent that we get affordable, high-speed broadband to every home and business in our country. Congress needs to pass the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act to ensure every family can access school, work, and health care through the internet,” Warren said.

“As the coronavirus pandemic has made more apparent than ever, in the 21st century, every family in the country needs reliable access to broadband,” Cortez Masto said. “The worlds of information that the internet opens are key to education, health, small business, and other essential parts of our communities across Nevada. I’ve been working on connecting more Nevadans to reliable, quality internet since coming to the U.S. Senate, and so I’m especially glad to see this comprehensive legislation to support those who need access in rural and urban areas alike.”

“This moment of crisis has made clear the realities of our nation’s digital divide, and we must take meaningful steps to address this disparity,” Rosen said. “Families in Nevada and across our nation rely on the internet to access public benefits, search for employment, learn from home, and obtain telehealth services. Our legislation would not only encourage investments in universal and reliable broadband accessibility but also help reduce cost. We will continue working on innovations to our nation’s broadband in order to improve the lives of Americans.”

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s most recent Broadband Deployment Report, 18 million people lack access to broadband, and experts widely agree that this number is understated.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act would do the following:

  • Encourage Universal Broadband Access by:
    • including $80 billion to deploy high-speed broadband infrastructure nationwide;
    • allocating $5 billion for low-interest financing of broadband deployment through a new secured loan program; and
    • establishing a new office within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to ensure efficient use of federal money.
  • Ensure Internet Affordability by:
    • requiring an affordable option for internet service plans offered on the newly-built infrastructure;
    • providing a $50 monthly discount on plans for low-income consumers; and
    • directing the FCC to collect and publicize data on prices charged for broadband service throughout the country.
  • Promote Internet Adoption by:
    • providing over $1 billion to establish grant programs for states to close gaps in broadband adoption, as well as digital inclusion projects for organizations and local communities to implement;
    • including $5 billion to enable students without internet at home to participate in remote learning; and
    • authorizing funding for Wi-Fi on school buses so students can stay connected, especially in rural areas where longer bus rides are common.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is endorsed by the Public Knowledge, Free Press, National Consumer Law Center, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, Consumer Reports, Schools, Health, Libraries, and Broadband Coalition (SHLB), Common Cause, Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, , Leadership Conference, Access Now,  Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Education Association, National Defense Industrial Association, Communications Workers of America, and North America’s Building Trades Union.

“Broadband access is a civil right that we can’t afford to lose, but one that millions of Americans, in rural and urban communities across this country, simply can’t afford. This legislation prioritizes broadband affordability and promises to make a real difference in the fight to close the digital divide,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffery Starks.

“Broadband is now essential for work, education, healthcare, and so much of modern life. So kudos to Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues for their efforts to develop a plan to connect us all. Working together like this we can solve the digital divide, fix the homework gap, and give everyone a fair shot at internet age success,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

“As providers based in the communities they serve, NTCA members are committed to ensuring rural Americans receive reliable broadband to engage with critical activities such as telemedicine, distance learning and remote work. Time and again, Senator Klobuchar has led the charge in highlighting the fundamental significance of broadband in all aspects of Americans’ lives and seeking to promote better connectivity for all Americans,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association. “We particularly appreciate her acknowledgment here of the need to ensure new networks will be built to meet the challenges of both today and tomorrow, and we look forward to working with the Senator and other policymakers to ensure any new programs to stimulate broadband deployment or make broadband more affordable complement and coordinate with existing deployment commitments and programs aimed at sustaining such efforts.”

“Millions across this country do not have access to broadband — leaving them struggling to work, learn, access medical care, and connect with loved ones. Closing the digital divide requires funding high-quality broadband deployment, ensuring that broadband service is affordable, and ensuring that individuals have the skills and devices they need to access it. This bill takes action on all of those fronts. By utilizing a comprehensive approach, we believe this legislation will significantly narrow the digital divide. We are glad to see this important legislation introduced in the Senate,” said Jenna Leventoff, Senior Policy Counsel, Public Knowledge.

“We commend Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues in the Senate for introducing this landmark legislation to ensure everyone is connected to affordable, high-speed, quality broadband. The Accessible, Affordable, Internet for All Act takes significant steps to address all aspects of the digital divide through provisions that provide robust broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved areas, affordable options to connect low-income communities, and digital equity programs to address systemic disparities in broadband connectivity disproportionately impacting people of color and other marginalized communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the fault lines in broadband connectivity our nation has faced for far too long, leaving millions of Americans unable to participate in our democracy and economy. Now is the time to pass this legislation and take significant strides in closing the digital divide,” said Yosef Getachew, Director of Media and Democracy Program, Common Cause.

“We applaud Senate leaders for introducing the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act. The legislation represents a comprehensive and targeted approach to closing the digital divide for anchor institutions and the people they serve. In addition to tackling the many obstacles to ubiquitous internet access, the bill recognizes that health clinics and hospitals across the country need more bandwidth to keep up with the increased demand for telemedicine. By embracing broadband solutions for telehealth and remote learning from home, this legislation will lead to a healthier and better educated America,” said John Windhausen, Jr., Executive Director, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition.

“Millions of Americans have struggled through the COVID-19 crisis without internet connectivity. Congress needs to do something to help these people, and we applaud Senator Klobuchar for stepping up. Her bill would make internet service more affordable and accessible, which is exactly what is needed right now. The Senate should pass this bill immediately,” said Joshua Stager, Senior Counsel, New America’s Open Technology Institute.

“Affordable broadband service is essential for access to opportunities. Black, Hispanic, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have lower broadband subscription rates than their White counterparts, and one of the main barriers to broadband service is cost. The Broadband Service for Low-income Consumers program will help close the digital divide by providing low-income households with a $50 broadband benefit ($75 for households on Tribal lands) and the Digital Equity Program will ensure consumers have the digital skills necessary for full participation in our society. On behalf of our low-income clients, we commend the leadership of Senator Klobuchar in introducing this critically important bill,” said National Consumer Law Center Staff Attorney Olivia Wein.

“Millions of families in the United States do not have access to affordable, reliable broadband internet connections — totally unacceptable before, but especially unacceptable during a pandemic when many are being asked to stay at home to bend the curve to save lives. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act introduced today includes strong provisions to expand broadband access to rural communities and protect good union jobs across the country,” said Chris Shelton, President, Communications Workers of America (CWA).

“Free Press Action welcomes Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues’ introduction of this tremendous, comprehensive broadband package in the Senate, linking up with the legislation that Representative Clyburn and the House majority introduced last week and plan to pass as part of the Moving Forward Act. While the deployment and financing strategies will understandably draw attention in an infrastructure bill, its digital equity, affordability and pricing transparency provisions are just as essential or more so for getting everyone online. Lawmakers must recognize, as this bill does, that the vast majority of people disconnected today are offline because they cannot afford the high price for internet, which disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people, poorer communities, and exacerbates the digital divide and economic inequities,” said Matt Wood, Vice President of Policy and General Counsel, Free Press Action.

“The Senate version of the “Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act” includes all of the critical provisions of the House version, but goes even further to address this country’s gaping digital divide. Like the House bill, it addresses the twin problems of broadband affordability and lack of network infrastructure and seeks to promote competition in a consolidated market by preferencing open access networks and repealing state laws that prohibit communities from building their own broadband networks. In addition, the Senate bill would expand the FCC’s Rural Health Care program to provide funding for telehealth programs in urban as well as rural areas, and would create a fund to ensure that higher education students in need have access to robust broadband during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Gigi Sohn, Distinguished Fellow, Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy. “The pandemic has laid bare the need for every American to have robust, high speed broadband Internet access at home. Yet over 140 million Americans still are without a service that is essential to full participation in our economy, our education system, our culture and our democracy. It is long past time for Congress to act. Thanks to Senator Klobuchar and her Senate colleagues for co-sponsoring this vital legislation. The Senate should pass this bill without delay.”

As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, Klobuchar has long championed closing the digital divide and expanding access to the internet.

In May, Klobuchar and Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) introduced The Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act to establish a $1 billion fund at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to help ensure that college and university students at historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and other minority-serving institutions, as well as rural-serving institutions, have adequate home internet connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill provides federal support for these colleges and universities to help students in need pay for at-home internet connections and equipment such as routers, modems, Wi-Fi hotspots, laptops, tablets, and internet-enabled devices.

In March, Klobuchar and Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure that students and low-income families have access to critical internet connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic. The Keeping Critical Connections Act would appropriate $2 billion for a temporary Keeping Critical Connections fund at the Federal Communications Commission to help small broadband providers sustain internet services and upgrades for students and low-income families during the pandemic. In April, Klobuchar and Cramer also led a bipartisan, bicameral letter urging congressional leadership to include funding for a Keeping Critical Connections fund in the next coronavirus relief package.

In March, Klobuchar and Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Thune’s bipartisan legislation to improve the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) broadband coverage maps was signed into law. The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act will require the FCC to collect more granular data from fixed, wireless, and satellite broadband providers, strengthen the accuracy of data from mobile broadband providers, consider a process to ensure data is reliable, and create a process for state, local, and Tribal governments to challenge the FCC maps’ accuracy.

In December 2019, Klobuchar, Senator John Thune (R-SD) and 46 of their colleagues urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a letter to promote the deployment of sustainable broadband networks as the FCC considers adopting new rules in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) proceeding.  The RDOF will award high-cost Universal Service Fund (USF) support to deploy broadband service in rural areas.

In June 2019, Klobuchar and Senator Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-WV) legislation to improve broadband connectivity passed the Senate. The Measuring the Economic Impact of Broadband Act would require the Bureau of Economic Analysis, in consultation with the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Technology, to conduct a study of the effects of the digital economy and the adoption of broadband deployment on the U.S. economy.

In May 2019, Klobuchar and Wicker’s legislation to ensure federal funds for broadband deployment are targeting unserved and underserved areas passed the Senate Commerce Committee. The Broadband Interagency Coordination Act would direct the FCC, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to coordinate and share information on their broadband deployment efforts.

In March 2019, Klobuchar, Capito, and Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Hoeven (R-ND) introduced bipartisan legislation to improve the FCC’s broadband coverage maps. The Improving Broadband Mapping Act directs the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to consider using consumer-reported data and state and local data from government entities to improve broadband mapping accuracy while also considering ways that both fixed and mobile coverage data can be challenged.

Klobuchar and Wicker also led the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act, which was signed into law as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. The bipartisan legislation directs the FCC to establish a task force to identify gaps in broadband coverage and encourage broadband deployment on farms and ranchland.

HBC Announces Extension of the Keep Americans Connected Pledge

The latest from HBC...

Hiawatha Broadband Communications, Inc. (HBC) is taking additional measures to protect customers, from losing essential broadband services, by extending the Federal Communications Commission’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge.
“Many of our customers continue to endure significant financial challenges because of COVID-19,” HBC President Dan Pecarina said. “HBC understands that and is
committed to helping our most financially vulnerable customers keep their services which have become even more essential in this pandemic environment because of online learning and working from home.”
Extension of the Keep Americans Connected Pledge means:
-Free broadband service to qualified low-income ouseholds. Eligible households must have school-aged children enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program or the
Telephone Assistance Plan (TAP).
-Temporarily suspending disconnections of service due to failure to pay and waiving late fees for customers.
-Maintaining free access to HBC Community Wi-Fi hotspots.
Since signing the initial FCC pledge in March, HBC has worked with 12 school districts across all its service communities to make sure each student, their families, and
teachers would have access to broadband for both education and working from home through its wired and wireless networks. HBC continues to make all its community WiFi access points available free of charge.
Throughout this pandemic, HBC Installation Technicians have been safely connecting and servicing customers while following strict safety protocols. All employees must pass a daily health screening which includes temperature checks, before being allowed to serve customers. All local HBC offices are open by appointment only with customers
being asked to answer several health-related questions prior to scheduling any appointment. These protocols will remain in place to protect our customers and employees and to help stop the spread of COVID-19. HBC is proud to report that these precautions have kept all employees healthy and virus free.
According to Pecarina, HBC will continue to implement these safety measures as long as they are needed.
“It is important that we do everything thing we can to be able to safely serve our customers and continue to provide them with the tools they need to be successful in both work and school,” Pecarina said. “HBC is committed to providing access to technology and high-speed broadband connectivity to make available learning resources required by families with school-aged children.”
HBC has also worked with local and area schools to provide live coverage of socially distanced graduation ceremonies allowing distant family members to celebrate this milestone event. In addition to being broadcast live on HBC Channel 25, ceremonies are also live streamed around the world where nearly 1,000 households have viewed these broadcasts.