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.

Dakota County approves $800,000 in CARES Act funding for broadband

Dakota County Commissioners meeting notes from September 15, 2020, indicate an approval for $800,000 of CARE Act funding for broadband investment…

On a motion by Commissioner Thomas A. Egan, seconded by Commissioner Mary Liz Holberg, the consent agenda was unanimously approved as follows:

Operations, Management And Budget

20-436 Authorization To Execute Agreement With Hiawatha Communications Ltd. To Implement Broadband Connectivity Improvements For COVID-19 Response, Amend 2020 Non-Departmental Budget And Amend 2020 Information Technology Budget

WHEREAS, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dakota County residents, families and schools are experiencing a greater need for affordable, fast and reliable internet connectivity; and

WHEREAS, Dakota County received funds to use through the Federal CARES Act; and

WHEREAS, the County Board has determined that assisting broadband carriers to implement immediate broadband connectivity improvements to unserved and underserved areas of Dakota County is a necessary and reasonable response to the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore eligible for the use of CARES Act funds; and WHEREAS, the County Board directed staff to seek out interest from providers in expending their network in unserved and underserved communities; and

WHEREAS, staff sent letters of interest to providers on July 28, 2020 and received six proposals; and WHEREAS, staff presented the six proposals to the County Board at the August 25, 2020 County Board meeting; and

WHEREAS, the County Board directed staff to award Broadband Connectivity funds to Hiawatha Communications LTD (HBC); and WHEREAS, speeds of service will be offered in Nininger, New Trier, Hampton and Miesville between 10 Mbps minimum and a maximum of 100 Mbps.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the Dakota County Board of Commissioners hereby authorizes the Chief Information Officer to award Broadband Connectivity Cares Act funds to and execute an agreement, approved as to form by the County Attorney’s Office, with Hiawatha Communications Ltd., in an amount not to exceed $800,000;

Minnesota “has become a state that others look to”

Broadband Breakfast reports on a recent presentation where Minnesota gets a nice nod…

“States play a very important role in expanding broadband access,” said Anna Read, officer of broadband research initiatives at Pew Charitable Trusts, during a webinar on regional and state broadband initiatives on Wednesday, which aired as part of Broadband Communities 2020 Virtual Summit.

And…

“Minnesota has been a leader in the space for a number of years,” said Read, detailing another successful state initiative.

“The state not only has a broadband grant fund, but has state established broadband goals,” said Read. The state has an interim goal of providing 25 download / 3 upload Megabit per second, Mbps, speeds to all Minnesotans, and a secondary goal of providing 100/20 Mbps speeds to state residents by 2026.

“By setting state standards, the state’s Broadband Task Force has been able to focus on making progress towards the higher speed goals,” said Read. According to Read, Minnesota “has become a state that others look to” when establishing broadband initiatives.

What I love is that she calls the 25/3 speed goals interim!

46 percent of MN school CARES funding so far going to technology

MinnPost reports on how CARES funding is being spent in the schools in Minnesota. First a quick summary of the programs…

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Minnesota schools have received access to three main buckets of federal funding to help get students back to school safely. That includes $244.8 million via the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), $38 million via the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, and $140.1 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) aid.

Each comes with its own parameters of allowable uses and timeline. The bulk of these dollars are allocated on a per pupil basis, with some priority given to low-income students. And while the amounts available are largely non-competitive, school leaders must still submit a budget application to the Minnesota Department of Education for approval in order to access their funds.

As of Wednesday, the state Department of Education reports that only $111 million in applications, across all three buckets of funds, had been approved. Since there’s a tighter deadline for CRF funds — in which applications must be signed and approved by Oct. 1, with funds spent by Dec. 30 — the bulk of applications received to date fall into this category.

There’s still a lot of money to be requested but early days, it looks like technology is the biggest request…

By the end of last week, the Minnesota Department of Education had only approved about $9 million in budget applications submitted across all three buckets of funding. Breaking that amount down into eight categories, about 46 percent of budgeted items fell into the “technology” category. Expenses in the “instructional support” and “operating” categories made up another 41 percent of that amount, with the remainder falling under the following categories: transportation, nursing, non-instructional support, contracts and other.

Koochiching County Chat: Broadband helps deal with COVID when affordable

Looking at the map from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD), Koochiching County is looks unserved, but 68.8 percent of the population has access to speeds of at least 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up. On the ground that means if you are in International Fall, you are served but get just three miles away and folks report they have trouble streaming Netflix. Fortunately most folks do live in town but for those who don’t there are some barriers. Affordability is another barrier exacerbated by COVID.

Koochiching County has been working on getting better broadband for a while. They are well organized and engaged through Koochiching Technology Initiative (KTI); they are a Blandin Broadband Community. They have done innovative work in providing access in the homeless shelters. They have been active in getting residents to take the statewide speed test. Last year, Paul Bunyan Telephone was awarded a Border to Border grant that will help deploy FTTH to about half of the currently unserved households. But that project competition date is a year from now (2021). So while good news it doesn’t help today.

Today I got to speak with Jim Yount, Isaac Meyer, Ariana Daniel, Derek Foss, Jaci Nagle and Kathy LaFrance – all from social services, healthcare, the county and an IT business. Everyone recognized that broadband was a help; they mentioned that there were “holes in the service” where residents lack broadband access and some areas where cell coverage wasn’t good but that didn’t seem to be the major issue – affordability was. The County is especially concerned with affordability and making sure that access is equitable.

Ariana and Isaac both talked about strides to reach folks on the far end of the digital divide. Ariana is  Executive Director of Servants of Shelter. She noted that at the onset of the pandemic less than 25 percent of their guests had a device aside from their phone. That makes it difficult to go to school, work or fill out necessary paperwork to get assistance. So they have been working to get affordable laptops through KTI. They have also been working on training guests on how to use the devices and making sure they have access while on site.

People experiencing homelessness were especially vulnerable during the strict shut down due to COVID. When libraries closed many lost their connection to broadband, which meant a break in some services and often the loss of social connections. It increased the onus on shelter and housing providers.

Jaci talked about the business of the County. They had two days to shift everyone from onsite to remote work. They did it but it was precarious. They were successful because they were prepared. But such a shift was unchartered water. Same with Derek in the healthcare world. It was thanks to broadband and Webex that they were able to even put together an Emergency COVID Response team. Meeting remotely they were able to assess needs and come up with solutions. The solutions were made more difficult because the access is not ubiquitous. Swaths of the county, especially Western Koochiching are served by satellite only. Also worth nothing, Koochiching is a border county, so not much relief or connectivity coming from the North.

The COVID Response team came up with a mobile emergency network – a redundant network that could be used in a healthcare facility if there was an unexpected outage.

Making healthcare work remotely was not only a healthcare concern, but as Isaac pointed out an economic concern as healthcare is a local industry. Insurance waivers to promote telehealth have been a boon and there are hopes that they will continue even in a post-COVID world to help with mental health especially.

We spoke briefly about local business. It seems to be going well. They have actually seen an increase in new residential recruits to the area from out of state. The beautiful Northwoods and broadband have been a draw.

There are some difficulties now with getting devices and technology tools, but that is not limited to Koochiching. There are also challenges with training, especially with seniors. Koochiching is looking for a COVID-appropriate way to deploy intergenerational learning. (We’d all love to hear that!) They see that more of life has moved online Kootasca Social Services has seen online traffic triple and calls to 211 have also increased. But as Jaci noted, people have also gotten nicer. People are ready to help each other and everyone, most notably policymakers are recognizing the import of broadband, which everyone thinks will help drive resources to improve coverage throughout the county.

Both candidates running for MN Senate in District 18 list broadband as a priority

The Hutchinson Leader covers the Senate District 18 …

Voters in Minnesota’s Senate District 18, which includes McLeod, Meeker and Sibley counties, as well as Cokato and Cokato Township, will have two choices in this year’s election: incumbent Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, and challenger Chad Tschimperle, a Democrat from Cokato.

They asked both candidates a series of questions; both mentioned broadband at some point…

  • If [re]elected, what would be your top priorities in the next four years?
    TSCHIMPERLE: I would like work on legislation to make health care more affordable for working people and the self-employed. The MNCare program has helped and could be expanded. There is a tremendous need for affordable health care in our district, and I would like to work on a solution.Another issue I believe is important is rural internet access. When student learning, social interaction and working from home became the norm during COVID-19, the inadequacy of Minnesota’s internet services was revealed. Border-to-border broadband is not a luxury, it is a necessity, and I will work to accomplish that goal.
  • What do you see as the most important step or steps to bolster rural schools in Minnesota?
    NEWMAN: 1. Provide broadband internet service to all rural schools. Without broadband, students are severely handicapped.

Monticello’s municipal network FiberNet is 15 years old – catch up with them via ILSR

From the unique pronunciation of Monticello (think “sello” not “chello”), the town has never been afraid to stand out. Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Chris Mitchell talks to City Planner Jeff O’Neill about FiberNet, Monticello’s municipal network. It has been the subject of talk since it started 15 years ago. Spoiler alert, it’s going well, especially in the time of COVID. Here’s the description of the conversation from ILSR -and know that it’s a fun quick listen…

Christopher and Jeff delve into the history and development of the network over the last fifteen years. They discuss how business leaders began calling for the city to look for a solution to poor Internet speeds all the way back in 2005, why the city ultimately decided to build its own network, and how FiberNet persevered in the face of an early lawsuit so that incumbent provider TDS could slow competition as it began its own fiber buildout. Jeff and Chris then talk about the network subsequently weathering a vicious price war with Charter Spectrum which contributed to the fracturing of its relationship with early partner Hiawatha Broadband, but which also brought significant savings and better customer service from incumbent providers to everyone in town.

They end by discussing the multitude of community benefits realized today by having three competing providers in Monticello — two offering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) in the city of 14,000 — and what it means for community savings and economic development for the city moving forward. Jeff ends by sharing some of the work he’s most proud of being involved in and what he sees as important for FiberNet in the years ahead.

What can Census 2020 teach us about online communication and the digital divide?

This week, the Daily Yonder posts an interesting look at moving the Census online. I wrote about the process at the beginning of the year and most of us have seen it as it rolls out. The Census assumed that 80 percent of us would want to take the Census online. So they sent cards to us. And then not everyone complied so they sent more. Still no movement in some areas. So apparently they sent paper version that look just like the reminders people had been ignoring.

Of course the situation was made much worse by COVID. Ironically the Census thought they could change society as COVID has by just expecting people to move to online communication without giving them a choice. It hasn’t worked…

The digital divide is far more complex than not having the availability of broadband infrastructure where one lives or works. Mere availability is a significant yet separate problem from personal affordability of broadband. Which is distinct from actual adoption and practical use of the expensive, fee-for-service communications infrastructure. All of which also require additional, expensive tools including fairly new hardware and very recent software, and a place where they are available.  Clearly, we have a long way to go to eliminate the challenges that will enable everyone to more fully embrace and participate in all things digital — including Census 2020.

This is why consumer advocates relentlessly explain to policymakers and companies that digital-only communications are not for everyone. Printed and digital options are necessary for full inclusion and broader participation in commerce and community. Collectively, we need to appreciate that so many of our neighbors report difficulties in accessing online technologies, have security concerns about online fraud or require paper communications for practical reasons. The digital divide is not limited to older adults, low-income households without computers or broadband service, people in rural areas where unreliable internet access is common, minority populations in urban areas with theoretical availability but not affordable access, and the one in four people living with a disability of some kind that are three times more likely to say that they never go online.

I share this for two reasons. First it’s a good reminder to those of us in the digital world that there are those who do not live here – some because of availability of broadband, devices or skills and some due more to choice, privacy or other concerns. So when we want to reach them, we need to give options. Sending paper census forms at the onset (with a link to take online) may have increased participation and at this point saved money.

Secondly, there are efforts to extend the deadline for the Census, which may be interesting to anyone working with a population they feel is going to be underrepresented for any reason. (And Census results will most likely have an impact on future broadband funding.)

The future of a vibrant, inclusive and fully counted America needs an accurate Census 2020 that is not irreparably damaged by unwavering plans and artificial deadlines. Our country cannot afford a lack of will to learn and adapt under urgent circumstances — and must take the additional steps with extended timelines to assure fully representative results. Keep Me Posted urges Congress to immediately pass legislation to extend the legal deadline for Census 2020 — and implores the Census Bureau to send a paper form to all non-responsive residences in an envelope clearly marked “Final Notice: Paper Form Enclosed — Postage Paid” along with robust and safe in-person measures to count communities historically known to be a challenge to include as required by our Nation’s founding document.

 

ConnectedMN Awards $2.1 Million to Orgs Serving Digital Access Needs of Minnesota Students

ConnectedMN reports…

To address digital inequities faced by students in Minnesota, Partnership for a ConnectedMN, a public-private partnership of private businesses, philanthropic entities and community leaders, today announced that it has awarded $2.1 million in grants to 23 nonprofits serving the connectivity needs of students and their families. ConnectedMN grants will support an estimated 154,000 students and families in urban and rural communities gain access to computing devices, critical support services and the internet.

ConnectedMN was founded by Best Buy, Comcast, Blandin Foundation, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Business Partnership, in collaboration with the administration of Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. In June, ConnectedMN announced that their goal was to bring technology and internet access to students most challenged by the sudden shift to online school, including Indigenous and students of color, as well as students from low-income families across urban and rural Minnesota.

The announcement was made at St Anne’s Place, which is part of Having Housing shelters in North Minneapolis. In the spirit of full disclosure, my worlds collided in the best way today when I got to cover broadband expansion and visit with my good friend Monica Nilsson, CEO of Having Housing. I have heard Monica talk about how hard it is for the kids at the shelter to go to school and do homework, especially during COVID. There may have been some camaraderie pre-COVID of everyone trying to work in the corner of the room by the window where you could get a signal – that is if you had a device. But with COVID, the kids are distanced and everyone needs a computer as most schools in Hennepin County are online or hybrid.

COVID is deepening the digital and opportunity gaps; today was a nice example of how we can try to stop that trends. Below Monica details what they are doing with labs, devices to check out and things like noise-cancelling headphones and laptop tables that help kids learn without barrier.

Grants have been awarded to:

  • Aeon Housing
  • Austin Aspires
  • Boys & Girls Club of Leech Lake
  • Centro Tyrone Guzman
  • CHANGE INC
  • East Central MN Education Cable Cooperative
  • FamilyMeans
  • Haven Housing
  • Itasca Area School Collaborative – Deer River ISD-317
  • Little Crow Tele-media Network
  • Local Initiatives Support Corporation – Duluth
  • Minisinaakwaang Leadership Academy
  • MN Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs
  • Neighborhood House
  • New Vision Foundation
  • Northfield Healthy Community Initiative
  • NW Links -Region 1
  • PORT Group Home Inc
  • Project FINE – Winona Co.
  • Project for Pride in Living
  • ResourceWest
  • South Central Service Cooperative
  • Southwest West Central Services Coop

MN Broadband Conference Highlight: Digital Inclusion Showcase Agenda 2020

The fall broadband conference is two short weeks away! We are excited to share more details, and today we unveil the Digital Showcase lineup. We will kick-off the conference on the morning of October 6 with brief (10 min) demonstrations, stories or presentation from folks on the front lines of helping people make better use of broadband. Some have ideas you might be able to implement tomorrow – some are intentionally stretch goals. They are all great examples of how broadband is changing lives. And you’ll get a chance to ask questions during the session.

We’ll be hearing from the following:

  1. PCs for People refurbishes donated computers to distribute to low income households. They also offer affordable tech support and Internet access (where available).
  2. Winona Friendship Center offers remote elder exercise online. Participants can see each other and the instructor for this one of a kind exercise program.
  3. Kairos Alive! transforms lives through dance and creative involvement and has regular online events to encourage participation with folks who might have difficulty attending on site.
  4. Minnesota Libraries & Libraries Without Borders bring literacy, digital literacy and library services to folks in and outside of a library. Learn about pilot projects happening in Minnesota – especially with laundromats and manufactured housing parks.
  5. Boreal Corps is a program that is using technology to help kids help others to tell stories. They have been working on COVID communication in their community.
  6. Wolf Creek Online is an innovative Online Public School Option for all Minnesota students grades 9-12 and up to age 21. They have been teaching successfully teaching students online for years.
  7. Online Gaming contest with Paul Bunyan; they have hosted several annual GigaZone Gaming Championships. Participants compete in online tournaments for real money.
  8. Precision Ag with Land o’Lakes; they talk about how their work with their members to use technology to streamline and improve agri-businesses in the field.
  9. Great Plains Telehealth Resource & Assistance Center (gpTRAC) helps healthcare providers develop and implement telehealth programs. Their mandate is to promote telehealth through training, technical assistance (consultation), and outreach activities.

Crow Wing Power on broadband updates in Crow Wing, Morrison, Cass and Aitkin Counties

In their most recent newsletter, Crow Wing Power spoke with local providers about broadband upgrades and expansion in the area, often spurred by great need in COVID.

From CTC…

  • Kristi [Westbrock, CTC CEO] explained that in mid-March, the company scrambled to extend finer to where it was needed and where they could reasonably expand, so students could have access to Internet for distance learning. It’s estimated that their efforts in the Brainerd ISD 101 school district provided broadband access to approximately 200 families in the region and set up 50 hot spots where kid cluster could go to study.
  • In 2019, CTC received an $830,587 MN Border to Border grant from the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to expand services to build to Ft. Ripley, and other areas in Crow Wing and Morrison Counties. This allowed CTC to build to 399 homes in portions of St. Mathias and Fort Ripley Townships, as well.
  • “Most recently, CTC received CARES Act funding from both Crow Wing and Cass County to build broadband to unserved areas of Welton Road, County Rd 10, Border Lake, Little Pine Road and unserved areas in Lake Edward Township. The funds must be used by December 1 so these locations will have access to fiber Internet.

From Emily Cooperative Telephone Company…

  • Five hot spots were also installed throughout the communities, which are still available. Josh [ECTC CEO] said they are updating 100 homes in the Crosslake area to finer services and reviewing other areas for 2021. ECTC also received a MN DEED grant of $376,000 to build fiber services to the Esquagamah and Round Lake area in Aitkin County.

COVID-inspired free tutoring for Minnesota kids preK-8 through AmeriCorps Serve Minnesota

There’s a story behind this initiative –based on students’ need and AmeriCorps talented team and infrastructure. For busy parents who are juggling working and trying to facilitate teaching from home, I have something that might help. Remote tutoring that’s free. You don’t have to drive a kid anywhere or worry about exposure to COVID. You don’t have to pretend to understand how new math works. All you need is sufficient broadband…

Do you want to learn more about this new initiative to bring Reading Corps and Math Corps directly to families? Here’s how to works:

If you are a Minnesota family with a child in PreK – 8th grade, it’s easy to get started:

  1. Visit Reading Corps/Math Corps online for a personal consultation – it’s FREE! — minnesotareadingcorps.org/families
  2. Meet with a literacy or math expert to discuss the needs of your learner(s)

Based on the identified needs of your student, you’ll either:

  • Be matched with a reading/math specialist who will work with your learner(s)directly
    to provide skill building and practice (likely in a virtual setting) and/or
  • Receive resources and activities you can do at home to support learning

Schools across the country rely on Reading Corps and Math Corps to support students who need extra help. Our highly trained specialists focus on skill building and use research-based activities proven to work. For homework help and other assistance, please contact your child’s school.

Le Sueur County uses CARES funding for wireless towers in Tyrone Township

Le Sueur County News reports…

One of Le Sueur County’s top priorities for the year is to expand broadband into under-served areas. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in planned and proposed broadband projects are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year through federal funds from the CARES Act.

Le Sueur County received $3.4 million from the federal government. One of the first projects approved with that money is a $140,000 proposal to bring high speed wireless internet to Tyrone Township in partnership with Netwave Broadband.

Netwave, a subsidiary of Access Networks Inc., brought a proposal to set up a 5G 900 Mhz wireless tower. The tower would provide 100 mb speeds for up to 218 homes in a 7-mile coverage radius from a tower off Hwy. 169 near the Cambria Processing Facility.

And here’s what it will look like to customers and the provider…

On the customer side, it would cost $299 for a basic one-time installation fee. Customers would be charged $99.99 per month for 100 mb of service in a three year contract. The $99 would only cover internet, but NetWave also has a phone service and is in the process of setting up television services.

In the deal, NetWave Broadband would take on most of the risk for keeping the wireless tower operational.

“All the risk as far as the tower maintenance, keeping everything afloat as far as tower rent, power, the responsibility is all on us,” said Steve Herman with NetWave Broadband. “We’re just asking for capital investment to provide service in the area and then we’ll take all management and everything over from that point.”

NDIA looks at worst connected mid-large cities 2019 – includes some Minnesota cities

National Digital Inclusion Alliance reports on the worst served medium and larger cities. Some Minnesota cities are listed – but none are in the top 100 list. St Cloud is close at 102 but the list is long. Maple Grove makes the list but it’s ranking is in the 600s.

So I share this information more to let folks know what’s out there and because it’s nice to have specific data on cities. Here’s the background from the NDIA…

According to the latest data from the U.S. Census, at least 30% of households in 185 large and medium-size U.S. cities still lack a wireline broadband connection in 2019.

These are NDIA’s Worst Connected Cities of 2019.

Released by the U.S. Census Bureau in September 2020, the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) One-Year Estimates includes household Internet access data for a total of 625 U.S. cities or Census designated places with populations of 65,000 or more.

NDIA has ranked all 625 of these communities by two categories:

  • the percentage of households without Wireline broadband subscriptions, defined by the ACS as “Broadband such as cable, fiber optic or DSL,” and

  • the percentage of each community’s households that lacked broadband Internet subscriptions of any type, including mobile data plans.

And here are details on MN cities…

MN college students donate devices to help senior connect with doctorsKSTP TV reports… The pandemic has left many people feeling lonely and often, it’s our seniors who are especially isolated. Now a group of Minnesota college students is providing technology to keep them connected to their doctors. “It’s just really fulfilling,” said Saketh Kollipara, Sophomore at Emory University. On Friday the students made a special delivery dropping off used iPads, smartphones and laptops. “A lot of our patients don’t have access to these types of devices,” said Abbie Zahler, director of Community Health and Grants Management at the Neighborhood Healthsource Fremont Clinic. It’s all part of the student run, national non-profit called Telehealth Access For Seniors, and local students raised money to make sure local patients at the Neighborhood Healthsource Freemont Clinic and Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis have the resources to better connect with their doctors.

KSTP TV reports…

The pandemic has left many people feeling lonely and often, it’s our seniors who are especially isolated.

Now a group of Minnesota college students is providing technology to keep them connected to their doctors.

“It’s just really fulfilling,” said Saketh Kollipara, Sophomore at Emory University.

On Friday the students made a special delivery dropping off used iPads, smartphones and laptops.

“A lot of our patients don’t have access to these types of devices,” said Abbie Zahler, director of Community Health and Grants Management at the Neighborhood Healthsource Fremont Clinic.

It’s all part of the student run, national non-profit called Telehealth Access For Seniors, and local students raised money to make sure local patients at the Neighborhood Healthsource Freemont Clinic and Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis have the resources to better connect with their doctors.

Biden visits Duluth and mentions broadband as tool to put people to work

Duluth News Tribune reports on a recent visit from presidential candidate Joe Biden to Hermantown, outside of Duluth…

Biden’s economic plan called for a now-familiar tax increase for people making over $400,000 per year. Money raised would go toward putting tradespeople to work by modernizing infrastructure, bringing broadband internet to all homes, and reinforcing existing homes and structures.