MN Broadband Task Force meeting notes: Meaningful Broadband Adoption

Today the Minnesota Broadband Task Force met briefly. The meeting was cut short because the House was hearing the proposed broadband bill at 12:45. The bulk of the meeting was spent listening to speakers talk about broadband adoption.TLC

Professor Colin Rhinesmith talked about his research in broadband adoption suggesting that there answer to combatting a digital divide was a four-pronged approach:

  • Access to good, affordable computers
  • Reduced rates for broadband
  • Public access (such as at libraries)
  • Training

The we heard from practitioners from Minnesota – the Technology Literacy Collaborative and PCs for People. It was helpful to hear from people on the frontlines. One clear message is that digital literacy and inclusion efforts should not just be limited to people in distress. There is a demographics of 55-60 year olds who need tech training to qualify for jobs. There’s a segment of people working jobs who still need financial support to afford broadband.

PCs for People noted that accepting cash and asking people to pre-pay have been successful approaches to reduced rates for their clients.

Read on for full notes…

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
March 17, 2016
Ramsey County/St. Paul Workforce Center*
540 Fairview Avenue North
St. Paul, MN 55104.
10:00 a.m. – noon

Welcome, Introductions, Approval of Minutes

Public Comments

Update from the Office of Broadband Development and Update on Legislation/Hearings

  • Responding and prepping for legislators.
  • People are well into the second round of grants. First round of grants are almost ready to close out – right on time.

The Governor has recommended $100 million for broadband funding. So things should happen quickly. The Task Force doesn’t have a process to lobby but we can restate the recommendations. The Task Force has been invited to press conferences – it is recommended that people go as citizens first, Task Force members second.

Lt Governor is going to be in Warroad next Tuesday.

We’ve had good comments about the report. Blandin held a meeting and 20+ legislators attended to learn more about broadband.

Colin Rhinesmith, Benton Foundation TF 2

Colin researches broadband adoption. And will present on questions received prior to meeting:

What are most common reasons people don’t subscribe to broadband:

Cost, lack of relevance, lack of digital literacy. Cost is top reason.

Digital literacy is still a significant problem.

When asked, “Is Internet important to you?” Many people say no.

But ask follow-up questions and people are more open to trying the Internet. Relevancy is becoming less of an issue.

For un-adopters – cost and bad computers are top reasons for dropping access. Having better equipment helps a lot.

Public access is another key to improving digital literacy.

Wired vs wirless

Smart phones are popular but are still not as good as a computer for getting a job or other meaningful tasks.

The lifeline program will help get low cost broadband to folks. Minnesota is lucky to have PCr People. Mobile Beacon is another program worth looking at.

What policy/funding would you recommend?

The intermediaries that help non-adopters, people on frontlines, like libraries are a good connection between policy and users. Investing in those organizations is a good way to move the ball forward.

How do you feel about letting broadband adoption take care of itself?

Home adoption rates have also gone down slightly. Maybe access has plateaued. We need different strategies to reach the final 30 percent.

What difference do you see between rural and urban adoption?

Maybe look at Brian Whitacre’s work. (Or Sharon Strover.)


So cost is primary barrier – how low does cost need to be?

Even at $10/month it can be a choice between Internet and food. But $10/moth was what most low-income people would pay.

Will broadband be a contributors to equitable access to education to everyone?

The New American Foundation had an event last month that looked at experiences of low income families. Having high speed access at home and school are important pieces to better education.

When looking at relevancy – do you look at elder ability to stay in homes via technology?

More seniors are getting online – research shows. Pew might be a good place to look for numbers. A large number of people (55-62) need new skills – that’s a group to tap into.

Are there models of good practices for addressing all fur barriers?

Connecting for Good in KC is a good model.

Need to focus on meaningful broadband adoption!

Is there any research on whether high school kids have skills they need to be productive?

There is research on college students.

TF 1Elise Ebhardt, City of Minneapolis IT; Angie Willardson, Project for Pride in Living; and Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva, St. Paul Neighborhood Network, for the Technology Literacy Collaborative

Brought a helpful handout!

TLC started 10 years ago

CTEP – 35 members who work across the TC in open labs (libraries, workforce centers and community media sites). Each open lab is very different. Lack on confidence is a huge issue with digital literacy.

Barriers that Colin mentioned is what we see every day in our communities. PCs for People has brought down the costs and made it easy to sign up.

Libraries are awesome because they are open at nights and weekends.

Maybe we can work with social services to start asking about computer and broadband access at the in-take stages.

Institutionally tech training is a hard sell. It’s hard to promote – funds to promote would be helpful. And/or training staff.


There’s a program to save for training?

Financial opportunity centers get funding to support financial literacy (Build Wealth) – it would be nice to have a similar program for digital literacy and/or nice to work with them.

People who are 55-60 and need new skills – they have smart phones but not the skills. We have talked about training for that group. Workforce trainers aren’t including the digital training. We’ve had legislators suggest things like paper applications. But the answer isn’t getting around digital skills, it’s increasing digital skills. There is federal funding for training like this.

TLC has a day on the Hill. This year we are going to bring iPads. We know that Walmart won’t take paper applications.

At Wadena Public Library we learned that tax forms are online only – that’s causing a rush on computers.

Mobile Beacon is an example – of a tool that people across the spectrum can’t use. We need to reach people who aren’t covered by subsidies.

Lunch/Sam Drong—PCs for People

Provide personal computers and broadband.

We have 25,000-30,000 computers out in the world and we provide tech support. We take 300-400 phone calls each day.

Broadband from us is $10/month. Internet access is pre-paid. Upfront cost is $70-90 for equipment.

We repair computers for $25.

We provide tech support.

People go to in-take – people at 200 percent poverty level are eligible.

People get their computer – they can take free or pay $30 (for medium) or $50 for top end in the office.

Average household is $12,000.

About half the people we work with do not use traditional banking.

We’re not sure yet if we will make the cut for FCC’s newly proposed Lifeline changes. We expect that Sprint will cap us – because we have no data caps. We want to know what to do for the next 15,000

In 45 days we’ve signed up 4500 people – most of it is local. We have an 80-90 percent active rate. Most people stay with us – but that’s where pre-paid makes sense. People can skip a month if unexpected event comes up – and come right back.

It’s a two-generational solution – families get computers for kids but parents use it too and benefit.

People need food, shelter, computer – with the computer they can unlock other needs.

Recipe for success:

Mobile works better for a transient population. Taking Cash helps a lot. Prepaid makes a difference and tech support.

How can task force support?

We work with some state agencies – if we can get more computers from them that would help. Right now State assets are going to Wisconsin – why can’t they come to Minnesota?

The Task Force can tell the PCs for People story.

What is involved with recycling?

We are certified and that makes the difference.

There are other MN computer distributors: Computers for Schools, TechNote

This entry was posted in Conferences, Minnesota Advisory Task Force, MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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