Minnesota Broadband Task Force April Meeting: Full Notes

Yesterday I attended the Minnesota Broadband Task Force meeting. They heard from several folks who offer reduced rate packages (broadband, computers and training) in Minnesota. They also heard from two ARRA-funded broadband adoption programs.

There was some talk about policy. It boiled down to two issues that remain open. First the establishment of an Office of Broadband Deployment – the big question is where it will land and who will do the hiring. Second is the Dig Once issue.

Comcast Internet Essentials: Carlie 

According to FCC – 92% of households have access to broadband but 35% aren’t adopting. We realized that we could close the gap by targeting low income households.

People needed to understand how and why to use technology safely.

Comcast Internet Essentials

  • Offer Internet access for $9.95 (3 Mbps)
  • Computers for $150
  • Offer online training and partner with local trainers
  • No set up fee
  • No credit check
  • Will now include kids in private schools
  • Opening online application process


  • If you have a child that qualifies for National School lunch programs
  • Started in 2011 – program ends at end of next year (original 3 year contract)
  • Will serve that cohort until kids are through 12th grade
  • Live in Comcast Area
  • Is your Comcast bill current


  • 150,000 low income families nationally (600,000 people)
  • 2500 families in the Twin Cities

Lessons Learned

  • Engagement drives participation – needed a local partner
  • Relevance takes time
  • Education is important (teaching people why/how to use technology)

CenturyLink Internet Basics: Joanna Hjelmeland

Comcast & CenturyLink have similar programs

Launched in 2011

Our goal was to reach underserved and get computers in the home

CenturyLink Internet Basics:

  • Offer prices of $9.99
  • Offer training
  • Offer affordable Internet-ready tablet

Works with all ages, has had sessions in schools. We’ve had more targeted outreach. Have a new partnership with PCs for People. We work with outreach via phone customers. And that’s been successful. We work to refine local partners.

We’ve heard from people that the access to computer is still a big issue.


  • Qualify for lifeline
  • Qualify for free lunch

Lessons Learned

  • We are working with multi-dwelling, low income housing partners.
  • We’ve tried to make our collateral more community focused/looking than sales-focused.
  • Having a dedicated retail person has been helpful
  • A challenge can be finding the right demographic. A booth at the State Fair can be fun – but you can’t serve most of the people who stop by.
  • It’s a high touch process – usually three contacts before someone becomes a customer

About 1700 families participating in Minnesota.

C2C : Dick Sjoberg

C2C and MIRC projects in Thief River Falls

Similar experience as Comcast & CenturyLink

Lessons Learned

  • You have to be proactive. People won’t come to you; they don’t see the relevance. It’s a very hands-on process.

We did 2 projects in MIRC; we worked with community partner who knew low income community. A lot of work was done one-on-one.


  • Free lunch with 6th graders to seniors
  • Had to sign up for 8 hours of training
  • We didn’t worry about credit issues – we worked with customers with outstanding bills. This had been an issue.

MIRC Service

  • 9.95/month
  • Free cable modem
  • Free computers from PCs for People

One year after the fact 11 of 13 customers continued with service even after having to pay for it.

More on C2C – Connect to Compete

  • 9.95/month service
  • $150 computer (through Redemptech
  • Online training available

We also created a little Geek Squad with 9 kids at risk. Provided mentoring. Asked them to learn skills required. They would give quick training to each family that got a new computer. They got paid for their work. All kids graduated. (Spent less than $1000 over a couple of semesters.)

C2C is now working on EveryOneOn.


Are these programs sustainable financially?

They are social opportunities that get more people online. And people do better when they are online.

Broadband Access Project—James DeSota

  • $3 million from ARRA funding and matching funds from the University.
  • It was developed from community partners (Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium)


  • 3 new and 9 improved PCCs (public computer centers) – 143 workstations in Mpls/St Paul
  • More than 15,000 of computer training provided (Internet safety was a popular topic – especially in Somali community)
  • More than 90,000 Public Computer Center visits

Lessons Learned

  • Relationships and Institutions are key
  • Forced the University to make shared decisions, which was a good thing
  • Outreach is key – got a guidebook from the feds but it wasn’t as helpful with our targeted population. Creating partnerships who did work with target population was helpful.

The apprentice program was successful but it was an interesting look at the importance of trust. When a new cohort of apprentices started there was an immediate drop off in response – which was fairly quickly regained when the new cohort became known to participants.

Here’s a video from the program:

And a video of James’ presentation:


Who provided the connectivity?

The grant paid for some Comcast connections – at a slightly reduced rate.

The Family Online Safety Institute might provide some help to promoting safe surfing support.

EMERGE—Mike Wynne, President and CEO

Creating a career technology center in Northeast Minneapolis.

  • Will provide basic computer training to advanced topics.
  • Will work on job readiness
  • Will work on entrepreneurial training

Hmong American Partnership – Bruce

Provide a one-stop-shop for families and elders. Strive to bring broadband access to all ages.


  • Cost & Accessibility
  • Language Barriers
  • Generational Divide
  • Relevancy
  • Confidentiality: Personal Security and Safety

Effective Strategies

  • Community-based partnerships
  • Intergenerational approach
  • Culturally and linguistically appropriate training & outreach
  • Sustainable, relevant programming

Legislative remarks from Margaret Anderson Kelliher

Future Appointees

  • We should be getting 2 maybe 3 new members of the Task Force before the next meeting.

Two hot issues:

  • Establishment of Office of Broadband is moving forward – about ready to go to conference committee.
    • There are outstanding issues – where will the office reside? Who will make staffing decisions
    • There are concerns with Dig Once. Laura Ziegler is here to speak more.
    • There is an issue with sales tax. We had proposed a reduction in sales tax for broadband deployment. The Governor had made a larger decision to expand business taxes.
    • Funding from e911 for broadband deployment is a dead issue with the Legislature.

12:05-12:30 Lunch/Closed small group legislative discussion

Subgroups “Broadband Adoption” – Shirley Walz

  • Continuing work on Why Broadband site
  • Targeting outreach
    • Are there demographics we should be hitting? Such as AARP?
    • We want to gather what’s happening.
    • Look at top 10 states and determine what they’re doing.
    • Look at Connect MN surveys.

Legislative and upcoming events update – MAK

Discussion on Office of Broadband Deployment

MNDot – they already have a database of construction. So adding that aspect didn’t make a lot of sense.

Location of Office – is being discussed at a high level. Departments are discussing it with Governors. Right now it really seems that it will land in Commerce. The question right now is who should appoint the staff.

DEED is Department of Employment – we think of this as Economic Development issue so Commerce has emerged as the place to fit the office of broadband.

House Bill does not require regular updates on fiber database.

Policymakers sometimes want to make policy – we just advise.

Discussion on Incentives:

Incentive issues will probably die in this session. The discussion on e911 became problematic.

Discussion on Taxes

Sales tax exemption – we wanted to expand the tax exemption. Unfortunately things are moving in a different direction. It might be helpful to voice an opinion once this goes to farther. Maybe we could give an example from Dick Sjoberg.

This would further delay Minnesota’s ability to reach the broadband goals.

Subgroups “Best Practices/Incentives” – Dick Sjoberg

  1. What are the other states and countries doing to encourage private development and adoption?
  2. We need to review Katz study for more ideas
  3. We need to discuss how aggressive the Task Force should be about engaging the Governor’s Office and Legislature on our issues. If we don’t advocate, who?
  4. What more can we do to help the schools libraries and minority community?
  5. Prepare a list of three “top” choices for our advocacy
  6. Facilitate a meeting with CEOs, CFOs, and VPs of Plant and Technology to discuss how providers can be motivated to build the un-served areas of the state
  7. Learn what is in the Senate bill and react/act.
  8. Work on an incentive plan for the Adoption group’s recommendations.

Question from Maureen

We heard from Personal Health Record of the Future – in Health Committee. It might be nice to get that here as well.

It might be nice to have a healthcare themed meeting. Maybe at North Memorial next month – May 14

2:00 Adjourn

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