eNews: MN Monthly Recap: Broadband conference and opportunities (Sep 2020)

OPPORTUNITY! Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand
The Blandin conference planning team has decided to lean in and move the annual conference online – and reformed it into a monthlong series of opportunities. Coming in October! Here are some of the highlights announced so far:

What are Digital Navigators?
Digital Navigators are individuals who address the whole digital inclusion process — home connectivity, devices, and digital skills — with community members through repeated interactions.

MN Broadband Task Force August Meeting notes
Newest Task Force member, Jason Hollinday from Fond du Lac, joins the group to hear from Minnesota Department of Education Overview on CARES Act Funding for Distance Learning and from a few experts from the Department. Bernadine Joselyn spoke talk about the ConnectedMN program that augments the federal funding. They talked about the 2020 Task Force report.

State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Impact of COVID-19

Local Broadband News

Beltrami County
Beltrami County certified as telecommuter-friendly community

Chisago County
Chisago County chat: broadband has been a help and hindrance in pandemic planning

Faribault 
Bevcomm gets $5,000 grant, $15,000 loan to improve broadband in Faribault County

Harmony
Harmony MN is working on short and long term broadband improvements (Fillmore County)

Iron Range
Iron Range Schools and families are focusing on broadband

Kanabec County
Kanabec County chat: spotty broadband means different COVID experience across the county

Lake Crystal and Madelia
Lake Crystal and Madelia are certified as telecommuter-friendly communities

Le Sueur County
Le Sueur County chat: broadband reliability is a hindrance but also spurring optimism

North Branch and Chisago County
North Branch And Chisago County are certified as telecommuter-friendly communities

Region 9
Tele-Mental Health Portal helping reach folks in Region 9

Rock County
Rock County chat: broadband made work, school and healthcare seamless during COVID

Southern MN
Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation ask people in South MN to take the MN Broadband speed test

St Louis County
Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) Working on better broadband in St Louis County

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Notes on previous Blandin Broadband Roundtables

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Access. adoption and use are the three legs of broadband promotion.  Access is the network.  Adoption is affordability and basic training. Use is increased sophistication of technology by individuals, but also entire economic sectors, like retailing, education, health care and manufacturing.  I have observed the inconsistent pace at which these three factors move forward.  Broadband network deployment is heavily influenced by federal, state and even local government finance programs.  Federally, we saw the underwhelming impact of poorly designed and executed CAF II program and more positive continuing results of the ACAM funds.  The next big this is the RDOF reverse auction that will heat up in October and November.  We have seen the overwhelmingly positive results of the MN Border to Border Broadband Fund.  In rural, if the government is not funding it, wired broadband investment just is not happening.

Adoption is driven by availability and affordability, especially the latter.  Affordability took a big leap forward with the Comcast Digital Essentials Program.  Originally designed as some eye candy to allow regulators to approve Comcast’s purchase of competitors, the company continues to implement the program and has increased the speeds provided during the pandemic.  Some other providers have followed suit and have started their own programs, some of which have since abandoned their low-cost programs.  The new Connected MN program will be a helpful addition, at least short-term, to the adoption toolbox.  Prior to the pandemic, the digital “homework gap” was highly noted, but not cause for significant policy response.  With kids attending school from home, the gap became a chasm.

Sophistication of use was mostly held back by fear, regulations, inflexible management and other non-technical factors.  The pandemic busted through all of those barriers around tele-health (payments, privacy), tele-work (management oversight and e-security issues), e-commerce offerings and purchases (fear and lack of investment by businesses and fear and tradition by consumers).  “Necessity as the mother of invention” swept away many of these artificial barriers.

It will certainly be interesting to see what happens as we move forward post-pandemic.  Will federal and state governments decide to limit funds for broadband projects or will broadband deployment be a centerpiece of economic stimulus packages?  Will downtowns and suburban office buildings need to be converted to housing as people continue to work from home?  Will education be transformed with more choices for either at-home or at-school offerings?  Which direction will the health care industry go with tele-health?  Affordability is certain to be front and center on the adoption front.  Today, school districts are providing devices and connectivity for students.  Will this continue or will we be content to again worry about the homework gap for a significant portion of the student population.

Seems like some good questions for our candidates!

This entry was posted in uncategorized 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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