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.

MPR asks: Will telemedicine be the new norm in Minnesota?

Angela Davis  (MPR News) hosted a whole show on telemedicine this week with three guests:

  • Joel Beiswenger is the president and CEO of Tri-County Health Care in Wadena, Minn.
  • Joshua Stein is a child adolescent psychiatrist and the clinical director of the Prairie Care’s Brooklyn Park medical office.
  • Annie Ideker is a family medicine physician at the HealthPartners Clinic in Arden Hills, Minn., and helped train more than 2,000 clinicians on telemedicine.

They start with a brief history of what has been happening in Minnesota (especially rural MN) in terms of telehealth. For those of us who have been involved with health and broadband – I will repeat the shout out that Joel Beiswenger gave to Maureen Ideker for her work in the field.

Telehealth is a balance of medicine, technology, practice and policy. So many things go into the mix. But especially in rural Minnesota, getting that to work out will save time and money for patients and often healthcare facilities as well.

Dr Joshua brings up the increased comfort level, especially for kids, in moving mental health issues online. Kids, this will surprise no parents, are pretty comfortable talking via technology. There are some exceptions but on the whole the kids are very comfortable.

Amazing to hear how quickly people could transition to telehealth during the pandemic. Turns out that for many visits, Dr Ideker points out, patients have been interested in continuting telehealth visits even after their healthcare facilitity has opened.

They report that 30 percent of office visits have shifted online post-quarantine; 70-80 percent of mental health visits remain online even after offices have opened.

You can listen to the whole show. There were some interesting topics

  • the impact of telehealth on people with limited English language skills.
  • The access is only as good as the broadband
  • Dealing with online-meeting overload
  • Needing to be alone for in-person meetings

MN Broadband Grant Application – Due Date for Pre-Application Outreach is August 19, 2020

The Office of Broadband Development sent out a reminder…

The Office of Broadband Development (OBD) wishes to remind all potential broadband grant applicants for this year’s 2020 grant round that – prior to submitting a broadband grant application – every applicant must contact all existing wireline broadband providers in the proposed project area.  This pre-application outreach requires each applicant to include a description of the proposed project and a map of the project area with the written outreach.

Under current law, this must be completed no later than six weeks prior to the grant application deadline of September 30, 2020.  That makes the last allowable date for written (email) outreach to all existing providers in the project area to be August 19, 2020.

Detailed information regarding suggested format and informational details for this mandatory outreach is included in the 2020 Grant Instructions and Application at pages 27 – 30 and located on our website.

For a more detailed overview of the Border to-Border Broadband Grant process, we encourage potential applicants to view a recorded webinar – 2020 Border to Border Broadband Grant Overview.

For questions regarding this required pre-application outreach or other grant submittal questions, please contact OBD Staff at 651-259-7610 or deed.broadband@state.mn.us.

Good luck!!

Happy Telecommuter Forward Day in MN – esp to 23 participating cities

KSTP News reports…

Gov. Tim Walz on Friday issued a proclamation congratulating 23 cities, counties and a township across Minnesota as telecommuter-friendly communities.

Walz has also declared Aug. 7, 2020, as “Telecommuter Forward!” day in the state of Minnesota.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear how important it is for the state to support telecommuting capabilities,” said Walz. “This initiative will help ensure options for remote work expand in our state, improving the quality of life for employees and encouraging economic vitality in communities throughout Minnesota.”

How does a community sign up?

According to the release, under the law, communities must adopt a model resolution that includes a statement of support for telecommuting and a single point of contact for coordinating telecommuting opportunities within their community. Minnesota communities that wish to become a Telecommuter Forward! community can find the resolution template from the Office of Broadband Development on DEED’s website.

Which communities are participating?

The first group of communities certified as telecommuter-friendly are:

  • Cities:
    • Albany
    • Balaton
    • Big Lake
    • Bigfork
    • Halstad
    • Lake Benton
    • Lake Crystal
    • Madelia
    • Monticello
    • North Branch
    • Preston
    • Spring Grove
    • Warren
    • Windom
  •  Counties:
    • Beltrami County
    • Big Stone County
    • Chisago County
    • Cook County
    • Lincoln County
    • Sherburne County
    • Swift County
    • Martin County
  • Township:
    • Greenvale

Telehealth can curb STIs in MN

Red Lake Nation News reports…

Today, the Minnesota Department of Health announced that Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) rates continue to increase. Notably, the data shows a 23 percent increase in syphilis from 2018-19. Planned Parenthood has launched at-home STI testing kits to respond to this urgent public health need.

Combined with telehealth consultation, at-home STI testing kits allow patients to safely and conveniently test themselves from the privacy and safety of their home. After a patient consults with a provider via telehealth, the patient is mailed a testing kit, complete with directions for sample collection and return shipping supplies. Patients have 30 days to mail their sample to the testing lab. If there is a positive test, or if follow-up care is needed, patients are contacted by the Planned Parenthood care team for treatment options.

Telehealth consultations and follow-up, combined with at-home STI testing, can help mitigate the significant barriers to care posed by COVID-19 and help slow the anticipated growth of STIs through the pandemic and beyond.

Beyond the convenience factor here (so important during a pandemic) I think the potential for anonymity will encourage people to get tested. and treated and hopefully will curb the increases in cases.

State policy recommendations for better broadband – MN gets a nice nod

Speaking to a group in NY, Christopher Ali gave some recommendations to help with a pandemic tech plan that included digital equity…

  1. A local-first approach
    • A local-first approach means a policy apparatus that encourages local digital champions through training and communication. It means acting as a resource for local communities, not just for funding, but for planning, advice, and communication. It can also mean creating certification programs, like the Telecommuter Forward! program in Wisconsin that recognizes communities with broadband infrastructure capable of supporting telecommuting.
  2. An “all-hands-on-deck” approach
    • This means encouraging small ISPs and municipal projects. There is some controversy here, as New York City has recently received pushback for its $2 billion Internet Master Plan which includes a substantial municipal investment. Many detractors point to a so-called failed municipal project in Bristol, Virginia, but there are also hundreds of successful municipal broadband projects across the country. Solving the digital divide means embracing all options and stakeholders, including public options and public- private partnerships.
  3. “Access” means more than just infrastructure. Access means digital inclusion.
    • This means thinking about plans for affordability, and digital literacy and skills development.
  4. Policies must be data driven
    • New York State should consider state-wide data collection processes to augment FCC data. Crowdsourcing data is a phenomenal tool in our toolbox. Here, I look to the work of Measurement Lab and Professor Sascha Meinrath at Penn State University. Working together with millions of crowdsourced data points, Professor Meinrath demonstrated how the FCC’s broadband map was wrong by upwards of 50% throughout all of Pennsylvania.
    • In addition to the quantitative data, qualitative data should also be gathered. One of my most powerful learning experiences about broadband was participating in a community listening session with Representative Abigail Spanberger in Louisa County, Virginia. I heard stories of community members frustrated over their lack of connectivity, stories of an inability to work because of slow internet speeds, and an inability to sell one’s home because of the undesirability of a home without high-speed internet. These are powerful stories, and I would highly recommend this Commission hear the stories of those unconnected.
  5. Adopting aggressive, future-oriented goals
    • We should be planning for tomorrow, not trying to meet the connection speeds of 2015. This means being technologically neutral, but not technologically blind. Both New York and Minnesota, for instance, designate a community as “underserved” when connectivity is below 100mbps download/20 mbps upload speeds. Jon Sallet, whom I’ve already cited, recommends 100/100 as a baseline in his Benton Institute for Broadband & Society report Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s. Policies need to be ambitious and aggressive and need to compel providers to anticipate the broadband needs of communities in the years to come.

And in the midst of his speech, he mentions Minnesota…

Minnesota is also a national leader in state broadband policies, not necessarily because of the level of public funding, but because of the its scope and scale. Minnesota’s Broadband Office operates not only as a grantor of funds, but as a clearinghouse of information and as a trusted advisor to communities working on cataloguing their broadband needs.

Pew Research released a report in February 2020 highlighting best practices for state broadband plans, and among their recommendations was a broadband office that does what Minnesota does – communicates, coordinates, plans, and funds. Other important best practices for states include setting forward-looking goals and rallying stakeholders around these goals; supporting broadband planning on a regional and municipal level; engaging local digital champions; providing tools for community planning; promoting broadband adoption and digital literacy; championing small providers; collecting data from grantees; and one of my favorites, creating certificate programs for communities that reach certain connectivity thresholds, such as for telework.

Minnesota does do a good job – but part of doing a good job is keeping on top of things. With that in mind and based on my conversation with folks in Chisago County yesterday, I’m encourage an update on some of our goals. COVID is big enough to push a greater need sooner than 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026.


On Senate Floor, Klobuchar Highlights Need to Keep Families Connected During the Pandemic and Invest in Broadband

Senator Klobuchar speaks about the need for broadband…

Here are

On the Senate Floor, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) spoke about the impact that the lack of access to broadband is having on Americans during the coronavirus pandemic– particularly students and low-income families – and the critical need to bring high-speed internet to every family, regardless of their zip code. 

“Access to broadband, as I just noted, has become more critical now than ever as schools and workplaces are closed in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus where teachers, many with pre-existing conditions simply cannot put themselves at risk. And where we know going forward that we will continue to have a substantial number of kids learning remotely. As I said, even before the pandemic one study found that about 42 million Americans nationwide lacked access to broadband, reports have also found that only 66 percent of black households, 61 percent of Latino households, and 63 percent of rural households have broadband at home of the quality that would allow them to work and to conduct their business and to participate in school and telecommuting and health care…,”Klobuchar said in her remarks.

“In rural areas of my state, about 16 percent of households lack access to broadband even at baseline speeds. That means we have one hundred forty four thousand households that don’t have access to the Internet. One of the saddest stories I remember was a household on one of our tribal areas that got and paid for their own high speed Internet and the parents looked out the window and saw all these kids in their lawn. And that’s because they were trying to get that access to the internet at that one household to be able to do their homework. That was a story from Leech Lake Reservation…”

I’ve always believed that when we invest in broadband, we invest in opportunity for every American. If we could bring electricity to everyone’s home in the smallest farms, in the middle of areas with very little population, we can do this in the modern era. Otherwise we are going to continue to have — Have and Have Nots. It shouldn’t depend on your zip code, whether or not your kid can learn to read. It shouldn’t depend on where your zip code is to figure out what their homework is the next day. All Americans should have access to high speed internet. This pandemic has put a big magnifying glass on what was a problem for many, many years and it’s time to act now.”

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 July, Klobuchar introduced TheAccessible, Affordable Internet for All Actwith Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mark 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) following introduction in the House of Representatives by Majority Whip James Clyburn and the Rural Broadband Task Force. The bill 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 bill passed the House as part of the House comprehensive infrastructure package in July. 

In May, Klobuchar and Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Rosen introduced theSupporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Actto help ensure that college and university students with the greatest financial needs can access high-speed internet during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill would appropriate $1 billion to establish an Emergency Higher Education Connectivity fund at the National Telecommunications 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 directly 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 to students. 

The legislation has gained support from over 60 organizations and in a letter released by Higher Learning Advocates and 59 partner organizations, the group called on Congress to include the Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act in the next relief package.  

In March, Klobuchar and Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) introduced bipartisan legislation to sustain rural broadband connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic. TheKeeping Critical Connections Act would appropriate $2 billion for a temporary Keeping Critical Connections fund at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help small broadband providers sustain internet services and upgrades for students and low-income families during the pandemic.

In April, Klobuchar and Cramer and Representatives Peter Welch and Roger Marshall led a bipartisan, bicameral letter urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to include dedicated funding to help small broadband providers sustain internet services and upgrades for students and low-income families in any future legislation in response to the pandemic.

Also, in March, Klobuchar and Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Peters, and John Thune’s (R-SD) bipartisan legislation to improve the FCC’s broadband coverage maps was signed into law. The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act would 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.

Klobuchar has also urged the FCC to take action to ensure students have access to the internet so they can continue learning while schools are closed during the pandemic. In March, Klobuchar led a letter with Senators Peters and Jon Tester (D-MT) urging the FCC to ensure that all K-12 students have internet access and can continue learning from home as schools nationwide are closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter also asked the FCC to create a searchable web portal to help consumers locate existing resources to help them connect to the internet.

In April, Klobucharjoined a letter led by Senator Markey with 32 Democratic Senators to Senate Majority Leader McConnell, House Speaker Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Schumer, and House Minority Leader McCarthy expressing disappointment in the lack of broadband funding for distance learning in the third coronavirus relief package and urging them to include at least $2 billion for E-rate funding for schools and libraries. Klobuchar joined another letter led by Markey with 18 Democratic Senators to Leader McConnell and Commerce Committee Chairman Wicker requesting $2 billion for E-rate funding in the third relief package.

In March, Klobuchar joined a letter led by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) with 12 other Democratic Senators to Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer urging them to include funding in the third relief package to support expanding digital distance learning—including for devices for children to access the internet and complete their schoolwork online—and closing the homework gap.

Transcript of remarks as delivered below and video available HERE. (or below)

Continue reading

How do you find yourself living a life without broadband? How does half a country get left behind?

CBS Sunday morning last weekend ran an interesting article on “The great broadband divide.” The stories won’t be new to most readers, but it’s always good to see the case being made in mainstream media.

The point out the discrepancy in deciding how many people are online:

  • FCC says 23 million people don’t have broadband
  • Microsoft says 162 million don’t have broadband

CBS goes on to explain that the FCC gages by census tract. So if one person has access, they say they all do. Which is a little like deciding that everyone in my zip code has a Master’s degree, because I do.

Also CBS tackles the idea that the FCC definition of broadband is not fast enough, which more and more people are finding is the case especially with the pandemic and more people trying to work and learn from home. They mention the efforts school have gone to try to meet the needs of students by handing our hotspots or printing out homework packets – for those who can’t access broadband due to availability and/or affordability.

About 6 and a half minutes into the segment, they go into federal funding for broadband. Gigi Sohn talks about the poor return on FCC’s investment in broadband.

The final  message in the story is that the digital divide is getting deeper.

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

Looking at the map from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD), you can see that Chisago County has very uneven access to broadband. Many areas (including some of the green area) have fiber to the home; while other areas (in pink) are completely unserved lacking broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps up and 3 down. According to the OBD, 84.34 percent of the county has access to 25/3 or better.

As part of the annual county broadband profiles I’ll be doing later this fall, I am trying to touch base with a few counties to see what it feels like on the frontlines of the county. Big thanks to Nancy Hoffman, Sara Peterson and Dan Omdahl from Chisago County for meeting with me today to talk about their experience – specifically in terms of whether their broadband connections have been a help and a hindrance in pandemic preparation.

Nancy and Sara work for the Housing & Redevelopment Authority – Economic Development Authority (HRA-EDA). Dan works for Boston Scientific. Normally, he would go to the office but has been mainly working from home since the start of COVID. Both Sara and Dan have kids in school.

I was struck immediately when Dan explained that his service “while sounds pretty good” at 25 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up, really wasn’t enough now that his son was on Zoom for classes much of the day while both he and his wife worked from home. I think many people are finding that to be the answer. The MN broadband speed goal is 25/3 by 2022 but COVID has accelerated and exacerbated the need for faster speeds. Dan explains that the asymmetrical was fine when downloading or watching videos was a main activity online but now that people need to work, we need symmetrical connectivity.

Dan also noted that his speeds at home are as good as they are because they are close to the node. Meaning they are near the place where broadband come via fiber into the community and is then redistributed via DSL to the houses. The speeds are greatly reduced based on distance from the node. So a few houses away, they will not see speeds of 25/1. Part of Dan’s frustration is that federal funding (CAF 2) recently went into upgrading the fiber, but that doesn’t help much when the last mile is DSL.

Nancy and Sara are both able to work remotely. They miss the personal contact but the office has recently moved to SharePoint and because they have connectivity at home, devices they need and the office software infrastructure, they can get their jobs done. Their clients, which include many small businesses, are not always as lucky. There has been a push to get businesses to start selling online or moving transactions online when possible but they need the connectivity, skills and devices to make it happen. You can look back to the map to see where that probably works better than other areas. I did some e-marketing consulting with a dozen or so businesses and I know I met in person with two because they did not have adequate broadband to support a Zoom call.

School is another issue. Sara said that it works. Her daughter can get her work done; it’s not best case scenario but it’s working. Dan’s son has missed classes due to outages at their home. Apparently they have been down 9 times since the pandemic hit – only for a couple of hours, but that mans classes get missed. He mentioned that he has neighbors who have been down for much longer.

The community is looking at perhaps opening a satellite local for students (and maybe others) to work. They have hotspots and devices to give to kids who need them but even the hotspots don’t work in all areas of the county. Chisago has been innovative in getting better broadband to the county and they continue to strive for more but for now – it is county with two tales. One story for folks with broadband and a different one for those without. Dan has been working to improve connectivity in Franconia. They did a survey last year and have been following up with people more recently. Turns out they have already heard from people who have moved rather than try to thrive with inadequate broadband.

There were some silver linings. Dan likes not going into the Cities for work every day. Sara likes the efficiency and Nancy notes the cost saving in gas alone.

*I am looking to connect with different counties and tribal communities for similar chats. (Learn more.) Please let me know if you are interested.


Iron Range Schools and families are focusing on broadband

WDIO highlights the actions of the schools on the Iron Range to make sure their students have the technology they need for school, whether in the classroom or at home…

“We have gotten hold of 150 hotspots that are ready to distribute and we will have those available for students who have difficulty connecting to the internet,” said Noel Schmidt, the superintendent for Rock Ridge Public Schools.

Steve Giorgi, the executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) said over the spring they worked with school districts to survey students on their internet connection and said results were alarming.

“I think a lot of districts were unaware because when talking to the students, students report that they’re connected when they actually only have a cell phone,” said Giorgi. “Truly to accomplish distance learning you need a broadband internet connection.”

Giorgi also said they are in talks with schools now to offer temporary solutions for students by using wireless connections for a better service. For a long term solution, they had a meeting with a consultant Monday to look at different locations on the range for broadband expansion.

“We looked at 13 different locations on the Iron Range that are potential targets for broadband expansion. They’re underserved so they qualify for both state border to border grants and federal grants,” said Giorgi.

There’s also a lot happening house to house…

Families in the area are also doing their part to address the issue. Amna Hanson of Esko said she is about 10 houses away from being able to have broad band internet and can’t get the cable company out in her area.

“I have been in contact with the state agencies to see if I can get their assistance. Also I am waiting to see if the franchise agreement for our area requires them to service us. I am also in the process of starting a petition,” said Hanson.

Shantyll Carlson of Duluth said she had to pay a lot to offer quality internet access to her children who are in second and sixth grade.

“We just had to upgrade and pay four times more than what we were paying so that both my kids could do schoolwork at the same time without lag,” said Carlson.

Tessa Lasky who lives about 15 minutes outside of Cloquet said they currently have to use hotspot on their cell phones through AT&T.

“We have the highest hotspot package on our cell phones, which is still limited when talking about doing online schooling five days per week,” said Lasky.

MN Broadband Task Force August Meeting notes & video

The Task Force met this morning. There is a new member, Jason Hollinday from Fond du Lac. They heard from Minnesota Department of Education Overview on CARES Act Funding for Distance Learning and from a few experts from the Department. The difficulty is balancing the immediate need for infrastructure with investing in infrastructure that will be around and sufficient for the long term. Bernadine Joselyn was able to talk about the ConnectedMN program that augments the federal funding.

The talked about the need to get started writing the annual report and Task Force members expressed an interest in engaging more in broadband activities in and around the state. And each of the subcommittees reported on their mid-meeting discussions:

  • Report out by Minnesota Model Subgroup (Chair: Brian Krambeer; Members: Steve Fenske, Theresa Sunde, Paul Weirtz)
  • Report out by Barriers and Technology Subgroup (Co-Chairs: Marc Johnson, Dave Wolf; Members: Nolan Cauthen, Steve Giorgi, Jim Weikum)
  • Report out by Economic Development and Digital Inclusion Subgroup (Chair: Bernadine Joselyn; Members: Dale Cook and Micah Myers)


Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Partnership for a Connected MN

Bernadine Joselyn led a presentation and discussion about the new public-private Partnership for a Connected MN initiative and how the effort hopes to benefit Minnesota students during the upcoming school year.

Here’s the chat log Continue reading

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

Save the month of October: 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!
First announced Keynote is Roberto Gallardo from Purdue University’s Center for Rural Development. He will be talking about digital infrastructure to transformation: leveraging broadband for community economic development. Also he and his team from Purdue are offering a unique opportunity for three communities to pilot an accelerated version of their Digital Ready Community program.

OPPORTUNITY: Partnership for ConnectedMN opens applications
ConnectedMN is a public-private partnership of philanthropic and business leaders from across Minnesota. They are providing funding to help students and families get the broadband and devices they need to participate in distance education. Applications are open until Sep 1, 2020.

OPPORTUNITY: Statewide Speed Test Initiative
The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition launches of the Minnesota Speed Test Initiative to find out exactly where broadband service is available in rural Minnesota and what speeds people are receiving.

OPPORTUNITY: MN Broadband County Profile Focus Groups
As part of the Minnesota Broadband Profiles this year, counties are invited to talk about their COVID experience based on broadband situation with one question, “Is broadband helping or hurting your community’s ability to function during the pandemic?”

OPPORTUNITY! MN Border to Border Broadband Grant Applications Available
The Office of Broadband Development (OBD) is soliciting applications for Border to Border Broadband grant funding of broadband infrastructure projects. The deadline for the applications is September 30, 2020.

State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Impact of COVID-19

Local Broadband News

Aitkin County
Aitkin County is moving forward with broadband in some areas – get the low down

Crow Wing County
Crow Wing County puts $1.5M of CARES funds into broadband & CTC

Lake Shore
Lake Shore City to seek bids from providers to extend broadband (Cass County)

Little Falls
Broadband Life in Little Falls – when the maps say you’re served and you know you aren’t! (Morrison County)

Rural MN
Many advantages to living in rural MN – broadband isn’t always sone of them

Twin Cities
Regional Economic Framework Draft by Met Council includes broadband SWOT

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Notes on previous Blandin Broadband Roundtables

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

I recognized a bit of the challenge that broadband providers face this weekend as I was thinking about upgrading my classic 1987 16-foot Lund fishing boat.  Someone made me a tentative offer, somewhat out of the blue.  It is a good boat with a new transom that I installed last year.  No leaks which is a big positive!  The vintage motor runs great once you get it started.  I have now got it set up the way I want with the right accessories.  A big advantage to this boat is there are no monthly payments!

To upgrade to a boat that is newer, bigger, faster, more features involves a lot of analysis, risk taking and expense.  To get a new boat that is similar in size and features to mine would be six times my current investment.  To get a used boat costs less but creates more risk and calls to mind the saying, “better the devil you know!”  Some boat brands have a great reputation but still all kinds of negative online reviews and problems.

I have learned from ISPs that getting people to switch services, either an upgrade from their existing provider or to a new provider is a tougher sell than one would think.  There is a lot of uncertainty in terms of installation, timing, new email addresses, expense.  Is the faster Internet worth the expense?  All kinds of questions.

There are all kinds of online forums that can provide comfort to the boat buying process.  You can get great feedback on boat models, motors and price.  I think that community broadband champions can play this role to advocate, especially advocating for new broadband competitive providers.  Think about how you can support the companies who have been willing to invest in your community by supporting their marketing efforts and ensuring their success.

By the way, I am sticking with my old boat, at least for now!

Partnership for ConnectedMN – edu tech grant applications are available online

In June I shared the news on…

a public-private partnership of philanthropic and business leaders from across Minnesota that aims to meet the technology and connectivity needs of families with school-aged children. Partnership for a ConnectedMN is led by Best Buy, Comcast, Blandin Foundation, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Business Partnership, in collaboration with the State of Minnesota.

Today I’m pleased to share that those organizations have just unveiled applications for funding to help get children and families online.

Their goals are

  • Students in high-need communities have tech devices, ensuring more equitable access to educational resources – now and in the future
  • Young people in both rural and urban communities have solutions to the lack of reliable, affordable broadband access
  • Students and providers have the tools to connect and engage around school, physical and mental health and future career pathways

You can get the RFP and FAQs online – and remember deadlines…

Applications will be due Tuesday, September 1, 2020 by 3 pm
Decisions will be made by Monday, September 14, 2020.
Funds will be distributed by the end of September.

If you want to learn more – you are welcome to join the Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Partnership for a Connected MN conversation tomorrow at 9am.

Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition Launches Statewide Speed Test Initiative

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

“The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition is pleased to announce the launch of the Minnesota Speed Test Initiative,” said Vince Robinson, Chair of the MN Rural Broadband Coalition. “There is no doubt that the lack of broadband in rural Minnesota hampers telework, distance learning, and telehealth.
Our goal is to find out exactly where broadband service is available in rural Minnesota and what speeds people are receiving.”
TAKE THE TEST: http://mnruralbroadbandcoalition.com/speedtest
A pilot program for speed testing is ongoing in St Louis, Koochiching, and Itasca Counties. The Range Association of Municipalities and Schools has been leading the way to create a different set of broadband maps based on approximately 7,000 broadband speed tests submitted by area residents and businesses.

These speed tests, mapped by GEO Partners, clearly show the speeds available in cities and townships across the three northern Minnesota counties.
“For years we’ve been relying on incomplete data to make big decisions on broadband infrastructure in Minnesota,” said Nathan Zacharias, Project Manager for the Minnesota Speed Test Initiative. “Most broadband maps stop at the census block, township, or county level. The Minnesota Speed Test Initiative will give us house-by-house data that just isn’t available anywhere else. We’re very excited to get this project in the field.”
The speed test can be taken with any device that has an internet or cellular connection and takes less than one minute to complete. No personal information will be collected. Testing data will be statistically valid and provide a map of what service levels are for any given area in the state. This information will be an important tool for communities that are planning a broadband expansion project through the FCC, USDA, or MN Borderto-Border Broadband Grant Program.
COVID-19 has shown us how important access to broadband is for every Minnesotan now that we’re being asked to work, learn, or receive care from home. Broadband is no different than any other basic utility that people need. It is an essential part of our daily lives.

OPPORTUNITY: Create a Digital Ready Community – pilot opportunity for 3-5 MN communities

As part of the Fall Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand conference, the Blandin Foundation is partnering with Purdue University’s Center for Rural Development‘s Roberto Gallardo and Annie Cruz-Porter to offer a unique opportunity for up to five communities to work on becoming a Digital Ready Community.

This is a chance to join an abbreviated and accelerated pilot program to create an initiative to take the reins on the digital goals and standards for your local community to help improve marketing to the folks outside the community, encourage community-wide digital inclusivity by actively inviting all corners of the community and build trust in local digital communication – by aligning local websites, Facebook groups, Twitter accounts and other existing assets. Imagine working together to build your digital reputation!

The program will include video lessons and/or coaching on:

  • Networking 101 – learning how to work
  • Digital Assets Group (DAG) – creating a local group that will lead the digital ready effort

DAG Operational Agreement – setting rules, procedures and bylaws that will guide the use of digital assets by the community in an effort to become more responsive and increase civic engagement and trust

Post conference, the communities will be encouraged to work on:

  • Community survey
  • Digital Engagement plan

What do we need from you?

  • A community leader to compile a team that is willing to work on this effort during the conference (October 2020) and beyond
  • A commitment to participate in sessions and keep up with outside work
  • A commitment to present development (ASIS) to conference attendees in final week of October
  • A commitment to check in with the Blandin/Purdue team six months after the conference to report in and offer feedback

How do you start?

The Blandin/Purdue team will host an introduction soon – watch here for that announcement. Join us and let us know you’re interested (memagnuson@blandinfoundation.org) Enrollment is open until three communities are selected.