Incorrect MN broadband maps making some areas ineligible for broadband grant and leaving students offline

MinnPost reports on folks in rural areas trying to keep up with distance eudcation depsite spotty broadband and the maps that are overstating their access and making it harder to get grants and other funding to upgrade to sufficient broadband. They spoke with a family in in Lake Shore, a northern Minnesota community served by the Brainerd Public Schools district – but I’ve heard similar in other places too…

Ideally, for a faster, more reliable connection, they’d connect their home to the local provider’s nearest cable hub box, located just a quarter mile down their driveway. But it’s never going to happen, Moore says, because the expense of building out that connection isn’t an economical one for the provider.

She’d like to apply for state grant dollars allocated to these very projects in rural communities. But on state maps, her household gets marked as covered by a local provider — a glitch in the system that makes her and many in her community ineligible.

“Until that gets fixed, lots of communities like ours are going to be passed over. We’ll still have kids going to school, people working from home,” she said. “We’re waiting for the system to catch up with reality.”

The article gives a deserved nod to Rep Ecklund and Sen Westrom, who have each been pushing funding in the Minnesota Legislature. And shows the DEED served/unserved map – that most readers will know (also show at right). They talk about the school’s survey too..

In early May, the state Department of Education asked all public school districts and charter schools to self-report the number of individual students without internet access or access to a device for distance learning. The data set isn’t complete, but based on the counts provided by 540 districts and charter schools — including the state’s three largest districts — 20,899 students were still lacking access to a device in early May, and 21,523 were still lacking internet access.

According to the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA), those counts seem a bit low. Their analysis shows that nearly 31,000 rural public students live in households that do not have adequate broadband access (defined as a connection with at least 25 Mbps download speed and at least 3 Mbps upload speed), accounting for 85 percent of the statewide total. The association arrived at these estimates by combining the Minnesota State Office of Broadband Development coverage maps with the American Community Survey data on households with persons under age 18 in each school district, along with state Department of Education data on 2018-19 student enrollment.

I know the survey I received as a parent did not define broadband or access. It asked if we had access to the Internet. I’ve heard the same from folks in other districts. So access at grandma’s may have been counted – even if that isn’t’ 25/3.

Another deserved nod to broadband providers and recognition that they cannot keep giving away access AND invest in future, better soltuions…

The scope of the need, when it comes to closing the digital divide, has also been blurred by the goodwill of providers that stepped up by offering free services and hotspots to districts and families across the state, to finish out the school year from home. …

“It’s not a sustainable model, for the long-term,” she said. “We’ll have to figure out something else.”

 

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, education, MN, Policy and tagged by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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