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.

Nominations Open: Benton Digital Equity Champions deadline Dec 19

From the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society…

We’re Now Accepting Nominations for the 2023 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Awards

Do you know someone who should be recognized for their work in digital equity? Or someone who has brought a fresh, innovative perspective to the field? NDIA is now accepting applications for the Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Awards. Named in honor of Charles Benton, founder of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, the awards recognize leadership and dedication in advancing digital equity: from promoting the ideal of accessible and affordable communications technology for all Americans to crafting programs and policies that make universal broadband a reality.

Nominees are being accepted for two awards: the Digital Equity Champion Award recognizes an outstanding individual who has made a difference in the field of digital equity, while the Emerging Leader Champion Award acknowledges an up-and-coming digital inclusion practitioner. Winners will be announced during our Net Inclusion conference on Feb 28-March 2, 2023.

Nominate yourself or an amazing colleague by Dec. 19!

OPPORTUNITY: MN PUC is looking for members

The Secretary of State reports…

The Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State today released notice of vacancies for various state boards, councils and committees that are accepting applications. Minnesotans are encouraged to apply and serve in demonstration of public service. The newest vacancies are listed below, and the full list of 792 vacancies / 1312 positions can be found on our website Open Positions.

Applications may be submitted online, and must be submitted within 21 days of the “Publish Date” listed on our Open Positions page, to be assured of full consideration by the appointing authority. Appointing authorities may choose to review applications received by the Secretary of State after the 21 day application period.

One open position is at the Public Utilities Commission

Web Site

Supporting Entity/Enabling Legislation Supported by Public Utilities Commission

ENABLING LEGISLATION
MS 216, 216A, 216B, 216E, 216F, 216G, 216H, & 237
Enabled: 08-01-1980

Note: It also looks like there’s a opening in the Broadband Task Force but that has actually been filled.

Benton Institute offers four broadband adoption lessons for policymakers

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society took a look at the great increase in broadband adoption during the pandemic (Broadband Benefit Programs are Helping to Close the Digital Divide: Four Lessons for Policymakers). They looked at where increases were greatest, what connections were most popular and tracked what seemed to encourage greater use. They came up with four lessons:

1. Discover, grow, and replicate

The data show that progress is possible. State broadband planners should determine where it is happening, build upon it, and replicate it in other parts of the state.

2. Do not grow complacent—subscription vulnerability is a persistent problem

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is scheduled to sunset when funding runs out—which could occur sometime in 2024. Policymakers should extend the program beyond its current funding limit.

3. Focus more on affordability and less on technology

Adoption patterns have shifted under the  ACP. Through September 2022, 56% of the 13.5 million ACP enrollees are wireless users, with 43% having enrolled in wireline service. These shifting adoption patterns indicate that the ACP-eligible population is using the subsidy to satisfy their affordability needs as they see them.

4. Take a bow, but don’t take a rest

We are in an era when the potential to tackle the digital divide has never been greater. Maintaining funding to help households address affordability challenges is a looming concern.

As part of the process, they looked at adoption rates in major US cities. Here’s what they found in Minneapolis:

Population 188,681
Percent At or Below 125% Federal Poverty Level 19.1%
Wireline Change 2019 to 2021 6.2%
Wireline Change 2017 to 2021 7.1%
Desktop/ Laptop Change 2019 to 2021 5.6%
Cell Only Change 2017 to 2021 0.4%
Cell Only Change 2019 to 2021 −2.3%
Tablet Change 2019 to 2021 4.0%
Smartphone Change 2019 to 2021 2.4%

 

Minnesota approved for $44 million in Capital Projects Fund

Broadband Breakfast reports…

The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday announced the approval of broadband projects in an additional six states under the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Utah.

Together, these states will use their funding to connect more than 180,000 homes and businesses to affordable, high-speed internet.

The Capital Projects Fund provides $10 billion to states, territories, freely associated states, and Tribal governments to fund critical capital projects that enable work, education, and health monitoring in response to the public health emergency. In addition to the $10 billion provided by the CPF, many governments are using a portion of their State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds toward connecting to affordable, reliable high-speed internet.

This is what is happening in Minnesota…

  • Minnesota is approved for $44 million for broadband infrastructure. Minnesota’s award will fund two additional broadband infrastructure programs: Minnesota’s Line Extension Program, a competitive grant program designed to address the needs of individuals who are located near infrastructure for high-quality broadband service but where the cost of the last mile connection is a barrier; and the Low-Density Pilot Program, a competitive grant program that provides financial resources for new and existing providers to invest in building broadband infrastructure in low-density areas of the state that currently lack high-speed internet. Funding from CPF will help Minnesota continue its efforts to provide reliable internet access to predominately rural locations previously facing cost barriers. Both programs are designed to provide internet service with speeds of 100 * 100 Mbps symmetrical to households and businesses upon project completion. Minnesota submitted plans for the remainder of their CPF funds and these applications are currently under review by Treasury.

Criticisms of the new FCC Broadband maps and challenge process

GNC reports on public reaction to the new FCC broadband maps…

Just days after the Federal Communications Commission released an initial draft of a national map showing the availability of broadband internet, some groups are criticizing what they see as the map’s shortcomings.

A letter from open internet nonprofit Public Knowledge dated Nov. 22 called for various improvements to the FCC’s mapping process, which it said had some “inaccuracies.”

Public Knowledge said the procedures for states, local communities and even individuals to challenge the broadband availability map needs to be clarified, as many stakeholders expressed “confusion” over the challenge process. The group also said that the FCC should better explain how it would use local challenges against speeds, if the reported speed on the map is not actually offered by internet service providers.

The organization questioned the satellite broadband availability data, which it said “misleadingly indicates that the vast majority of the country is served.” Instead, Public Knowledge said the FCC should update its maps to provide a “more realistic picture of broadband availability.” While satellite internet has shown promise, the nonprofit said, in practice satellite providers cannot serve most locations in the country with broadband.

Additionally, community institutions like schools and libraries were left off the FCC’s maps of residential service, Public Knowledge said. The FCC apparently assumed that those buildings receive commercial broadband service, when, in fact, many anchor institutions use residential service and should be included in the map.

These criticisms align with what I’m hearing from folks on the frontlines in Minnesota.

What is the American Connection Corps? And what do they do?

The Farmer posted a nice article on the American Connection Corps (ACC). I have had an opportunity to work with ACC; they are impressive and energetic and doing great work in the community. The Farmer reports

ACC specifically focuses on supporting its fellowship program that places young adults in rural areas to work alongside local community leaders on broadband development, digital access and digital literacy.

ACC falls under the umbrella of Lead for America, co-founded in 2018 by four young college-educated adults interested in returning to and revitalizing their home communities. One of the cofounders, Benya Kraus Beacom, returned to her family’s sixth generation farm near Waseca, Minn., in 2019. Once considering a career in international relations, Beacom redirected her interests after her college junior year, when she spent the summer at home. …

Beacom reached out to Tina May, Land O’Lakes Inc. vice president of rural services, who shared similar interests in small community development. The co-op also had been working to improve digital connectivity in rural communities. They decided to pilot a cohort, and in August 2021, along with the Mayo Clinic, Midwest Dairy and Scoular, placed six ACC fellows in Redwood and Ottertail counties, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe community, the East Iron Range and the cities of Warroad and Fairmont.

Today, ACC has 250 fellows across 40 states.

What do they do?

When fellows start working in a community, their focus is threefold — on broadband development, digital access and digital literacy. They work at coordinating all providers in the area, obtain accurate digital maps, work with engineering firms to determine fiber needed, and engage with the community, Beacom explains.

What do they do in Redwood County? Led by Patrick Garry…

The county’s largest project currently underway, referred to as the “Cadillac Project,” looks to serve 30% of the county with fiber. The $4.4 million project pools the county’s American Rescue Plan funds, internet provider contributions and the state’s Border-to-Border Grant. Population-wise, it serves 1,870 structures making up eight cities.

What do they do in Ottertail Count? Led by Carter Grupp…

ACC fellow Carter Grupp, based in Fergus Falls, Otter Tail County, has an impressive resume of accomplishments in his first year, too. He has helped establish 10 Zoom conferencing rooms and built an app to use them. He developed STEM curriculum and kits for three county libraries. He promoted a speed testing campaign to get real data on how his community was being served by internet service providers.

And more…

Closest to his heart these days is promoting computer science as a potential career to high school students — his second pilot project. Grupp teamed with Luke Heine, who works for Microsoft and last year, held the first remote statewide youth computer science training program — the Northland Hackathon. The educational event teaches youth how to code, design their own apps and websites, and showcases career opportunities with companies such as Meta, TikTok or Microsoft. Last year, more than 30 high schools participated virtually. The event in 2023 is set for April 23.

Digital Equity Ecosystems Measurement Framework: A tool to help you assess your community digital equity resource level

The opportunity for Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) funding has communities wondering if they are well poised and doing the right things to maximize their opportunity to get funding. Colin Rhinesmith and Rafi Santo have come up with a tool (Digital Equity Ecosystems Measurement Framework) to help communities assess their preparedness. The tool looks at three things:

■ Coalition Health – The coalition health level speaks to the coalition’s structure and enactment: to what degree are members participating in coalition activities? Do they have strong relationships? Do they believe they can accomplish the goals they set out together? Is effective and equitable governance in place?

■ Member Strength – The member strength level speaks to the ability of coalition member organizations to carry out activities that promote community level outcomes: what issues are member organizations focused on? Where do they work, and with whom? How strong is their capacity in different areas?

■ Community Impact – Finally, the community impact level speaks to the on the ground issues that are of primary importance to the coalition: what is the nature of digital access issues in the community? Do community members have the digital skills they need to participate in society? Is the community collectively empowered in relation to the technological world?

The worker-be in me loves the worksheet-style information that includes aspects to measure and how to measure them. You can see a sample below:

There are recommendations for moving forward…

1. As coalitions move forward and aim to bring the ideas shared in this report into practice locally, there are several critical steps that we recommend: 1 Establish a collective process for determining why your coalition wants to engage in measurement, and what should be measured to achieve those ends. Questions of how and what data will be collected, how it will be analyzed and by whom, and many other important implementation issues around measurement in practice are downstream from these foundational questions. Establishing why a coalition wants to engage in measurement should serve to specify what kinds of indicators are important to collect data on, which can then help specify an overall approach to measurement. Critically, in coalitions, the process of answering these questions can be one that all stakeholders can be involved in in some way. While backbone organizations are often the natural stakeholder to lead such a process, as with other areas of governance, determining a high level measurement strategy is both more equitable and effective through the participation of members and other stakeholders. This is especially important if part of what will result from a new measurement strategy is members being asked to participate in things like surveys and coalition self-assessment activities, not to mention the creation and use of shared data collection mechanisms.

2 Articulate a coalition theory of change and associated logic model. As noted earlier in the report, if a coalition does not already have a developed theory of change and logic model, the process of developing a measurement strategy presents an important opportunity to do so. Articulating short term, medium term, and long term outcomes, as well as how specific coalition activities aim to “move the needle” on them, can provide an important localized model to guide measurement that can draw on the DEEM framework. With a logic model in hand, a coalition can then determine which areas of activity are most important to focus on within a data strategy based on the measurement uses it’s identified.

3 Develop data collection, analysis, and use plans. Having answered questions about why it wants to engage in measurement and what measurement should focus on, a coalition is then ready to begin determining how to go about measurement activities including data collection, analysis, and use. This includes matching indicators to potential data sources and measurement approaches such as tracking databases, surveys, publicly available data, etc. Plans around how these data will be analyzed, and then the contexts of data use and representation should be well envisioned as part of this stage of developing a coalition measurement strategy

4 Actively incorporate plans around data consent, privacy, harms, and security. As digital equity advocates know well, histories of harm are all too common when it comes to uses of data. A key element of a coalition measurement strategy should be a clear articulation of what data will be collected, how it will be stored securely, how it will (and will not) be used, how privacy will be protected, and how those providing data will have fully informed consent within data collection activities. Within this, questions of data de-identification, especially around data from vulnerable populations, should be paramount. 5 Engage in iterative development of measurement strategies. The process of developing and implementing a coalition measurement strategy is not a ‘one and done’ activity. As with all other work, measurement strategies require iteration in order to both improve existing approaches as well as to modify focus based on shifts in coalition activity. Creating mechanisms for reflection around a coalition data strategy can help articulate the utility and limitations of certain measurement approaches, as well as help identify new areas of need when it comes to measurement.

Senator Klobuchar talks about importance of precision agriculture

KRWC AM 1360 reports

The 2023 Farm Bill will likely include programs to expand broadband access to more homes, farms and businesses in rural America.

During a recent Senate Ag Committee hearing, Senator Amy Klobuchar talked about the importance of high-speed internet for “precision” agriculture.

Precision agriculture management uses things like drones, GPS, and irrigation technologies. The USDA’s Rural Development program has been awarding loans and grants to expand high-speed internet infrastructure.

Kandiyohi is frustrated with broadband flurries but moving forward where they can

West Central Tribune reports…

Frustrations about broadband boiled over recently during a meeting of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission ‘s joint powers board.

Opportunity seems to be drawing more attention than action…

The EDC is currently working with cooperatives from neighboring counties to build out the broadband network in order to get fiber to homes everywhere. Two major projects the broadband committee was able to secure will have ribbon-cutting ceremonies in December, according to EDC Executive Director Aaron Backman.

The main frustration among members of the EDC joint powers board is that private entities — which have promised in the past to increase broadband access to rural areas and then not followed through — are suddenly commencing projects during a time when government funding is available due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This has created problems with the planning of grant-funded, cooperative projects on which the EDC staff and broadband committee are actively working, and has wasted the time and energy of EDC staff and the broadband committee.

A little background on Kandiyohi might help explain why they are concerned. Back in 2017, they (with CTC) were awarded a Border to Border grant to deploy fiber but in the end, the project never happened. The quick version was that CTC needed community support in the form of subscriptions with a down payment. They didn’t get the support they needed, although it was very close. One factor is that an incumbent provider (TDS) campaigned heavily against the project. They have been frustrated by provider intervention in the past.

Some of the projects are going…

Updating his fellow joint powers board members about the progress of border-to-border broadband in the county, Kandiyohi County Commissioner Rollie Nissen noted there is a lot of activity happening for broadband, especially around Nest Lake in New London.

He also noted that additional broadband projects for Arctander, Mamre and Dovre townships have been submitted to Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, which funds the expansion of broadband service to areas of Minnesota that are unserved or underserved.

Some are not…

Another project the broadband committee had been working on that was all ready to go was in Lake Andrew and Norway Lake townships. That work turned out to have been wasted effort with the announcement of a project by TDS.

“TDS came along with a plan and kind of blew that apart, I’ll put it that way,” Nissen said, noting TDS had put out a news release regarding that project.

A Duluth stargazer view of Satellites: will too many spoil the view?

I loved astronomy as a kid. One of my favorite things about heading outside of the Cities is the clear, starry sky at night. So I have to admit, I do wonder what will happen to the night sky as humans keep launching satellites. So I was fascinated to read about what Bob King, a photographer from Duluth, was noticing.

The Duluth News Tribune reports

Back in September I described a new 4G broadband satellite cellular service planned by AST SpaceMobile. At the time, their prototype unit, BlueWalker3 , orbited the Earth but had yet to unfold, the reason it was too faint for most casual skywatchers to track. That’s changed. On November 10, the company “unboxed” the satellite — basically a squash-court-sized antenna array — which greatly increased its surface area and therefore its capacity to reflect sunlight.

The very next night, the first reports trickled in, describing BlueWalker 3 as brighter than most stars. I’ve spent the past few evenings observing passes of the satellite from my driveway here in Duluth, Minnesota, and can confirm those observations. I’ve seen it now on three occasions. During each appearance it showed up on time and grew as bright as magnitude 1.3, equal to Deneb in the Northern Cross and very easy to see with the naked eye even through light cloud and moderate light pollution.

The satellite circles the planet in low-Earth orbit between 312 and 327 miles (508-527km) altitude or about 60-75 miles higher than the International Space Station. Why should you care? BlueWalker 3 is the predecessor of a new “constellation” of some 110 larger satellites (called BlueBirds) that will launch aboard SpaceX rockets in the next few years. The first five are slated for liftoff in late 2023 .

Being larger they’ll likely also be brighter. As skywatchers I think it’s important to know about any new project that adds more machines to the night sky so we can see what’s happening with informed eyes. Like most people I enjoy satellite-watching but fear we’ve reached a saturation point. There are now so many “moving lights” up there they distract from our appreciation of the wild essence of the night.

The author admits that we all want better broadband or a cellphone with coverage everywhere but he recommends contacting the FCC and requiring companies to find ways to lessen the impact of their bright and growing satellites.

FCC to collect data on ACP recipients, subscriptions and offerings

The FCC reports

The Federal Communications Commission has adopted an order creating the Affordable Connectivity Program Transparency Data Collection, a statutorily mandated annual data collection describing all internet service plans subscribed to by households enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).  Congress, through the Infrastructure Jobs and Investment Act, required the Commission to collect this data for all service plans subscribed to by an ACP-enrolled household.  Providers must also submit plan characteristics including speed, latency, and bundle characteristics, and a unique identifier associated with a broadband label if applicable, as well as certain aggregated plan enrollment subscriber data.

“To find out whether this program is working as Congress intended, we need to know who is participating, and how they are using the benefit,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel.  “So we’re doing just that.  The data we collect will help us know where we are, and where we need to go.  We’re also standardizing the way we collect data, and looking for other ways to paint a fuller picture of how many eligible households are participating in the ACP.  We want all eligible households to know about this important benefit for affordable internet service.”

The Order would require ACP providers to submit annually data on price, plan coverage, and plan characteristics of their broadband internet services subscribed to by ACP-enrolled households.  A Further Notice seeks comment on subscriber enrollment data, digital divide metrics, metrics related to low-income plan and connected device offerings, and on the merits and burdens associated with the collection of subscriber level information.  The Further Notice also seeks comment on whether the Commission should collect information related to the digital divide, including whether an ACP subscriber is a first-time or existing broadband subscriber or is subscribed to multiple plans.  In addition, the Further Notice seeks comment on the collecting information related to providers’ low-income broadband plan and connected device offerings.

It would be nice if there was a way to invite the household to also take a speed test. Then we’d know what they are paying for and what they are getting. It seems like with the public money being invested that both parties (provider and subscriber) could be enticed to provide as much info as requested, certainly in terms of the service.

Barbara Dröher Kline is newest addition to MN Governor’s Task Force On Broadband

Big news for broadband advocates, there’s a new member of the MN Broadband Task Force…

Barbara Dröher Kline – New Prague, MN

Governor’s Task Force On Broadband

Member

Effective: November 28, 2022

Term Expires: April 2, 2023

Replacing: Bernadine Joselyn

Barbara is an excellent addition to the Task Force. She has lived on the wrong end of the digital divide quite recently and still has the fire to want to make it better for everyone in her community. She has the drive, the experience and the expertise to make a difference.

Senator Putnam chosen for MN Agriculture, Rural Development and Broadband

Senator Aric Putnam was chosen for the MN Agriculture, Rural Development and Broadband. The Duluth New Tribune reports

State Sen. Aric Putnam admits he doesn’t know a lot about farming, but as a scholar, he’s ready to take a crash course to prepare to lead the Minnesota Senate Agriculture Committee.

Putnam, a Democrat from St. Cloud, was named to his leadership post just before the Minnesota Farmers Union state convention and went to the event Nov. 19 to be introduced.

“The first thing I said was, ‘I don’t seem like a clear fit for this,’” Putnam said. “I still think that the committee is a space to do great things for the whole state. So the full title is Agriculture, Rural Development and Broadband, so there’s a lot of stuff in that jurisdiction that I think I can help with.”

Putnam was elected to his second term in the Minnesota Senate in the November general election, which saw the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party flip enough Senate seats from red to blue that the party now controls both houses of the Legislature and saw Gov. Tim Walz win a second term.

Why do farms need broadband? MN farmers will let you know

KSTP TV reports on the need for broadband in rural areas…

Growing up, Joe Sullivan envisioned a life behind the wheel of a tractor.

But the farmer from Franklin, Minnesota spends most days at a computer with his smartphone nearby.

An app tells Sullivan the location and status of every piece of equipment on the farm. Software maps every acre of land, revealing detailed information about crop yields and soil health. Each building, including the large pole barns that store tractors, is hooked up to Wi-Fi.

“We’ve been pretty early adopters of technology,” Sullivan said. “It’s a complete game changer once you are connected and can actually utilize all the tools that are out there.”

Many other farmers in rural Minnesota want to incorporate the latest technology into their operations, like Sullivan, but unreliable internet and non-existent broadband infrastructure make that impossible.

“It is a huge, huge disadvantage if you’re the ‘have nots,’” Sullivan said.

$4.8 M Aitkin County Broadband scheduled completion in fall 2023

Mille Lacs Messenger reports

The final engineering plans have been created and the project is moving forward and on schedule according to Aitkin County Economic Development. This $4.8 million project is scheduled to be completed by fall of 2023. The McGrath project is the purple shaded area above.