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.

Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Auction short-form application Open yesterday (July 1) closes July 15

I’m a day off. Not too late but the window is closing as Multichannel reports

The FCC Wednesday (July 1) opened the short-form application window for phase one of its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) reverse auction (Auction 904).

All potential bidders must complete and submit such an application.

Carriers will be bidding on how economically they can deliver service that meets FCC speed and build-out metrics. The money is for fixed voice and broadband service to unserved, high-cost, areas at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps.

RDOF is the re-imagined Connect America Fund II subsidy.

RDOF, phase one, is the $16 billion over 10 years the FCC is spending to close the rural digital divide to get broadband to unserved areas. Phase two has another $4 billion to go to underserved areas.

The application window closes July 15 at 6 p.m.

On July 25, the FCC released an updated list of the census blocks it has determined lack the requisite service and thus are eligible for the “unserved” subsidies.

The FCC said that 5,392,530 unserved locations have been “deemed eligible” for carriers to bid on in the auction beginning Oct. 29.

Learn more on the FCC site.

Can we change habits with a hashtag? #MaskUpMN

The connection to broadband is tenuous here – except it’s a great use of technology to help keep our businesses open and our people healthy! Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development has started a social media campaign – #MaskUpMN…

With COVID-19 cases surging in other states, and with the busy Fourth of July weekend ahead of us, it’s more important than ever to take steps to protect your customers and your employees. One of the best ways to do this is to encourage customers to wear masks. The Walz-Flanagan Administration is helping businesses spread the word that by masking up, your customers are helping your business stay open.

We invite you to participate in the #MaskUpMN campaign this weekend to raise awareness that the best way we can keep our economy open is to wear masks. …

But masks are more than just a courtesy – they are the most effective tool we have against the spread of COVID-19. CDC recommends that you wear a cloth mask over your nose and mouth in restaurants, bars and all other public places where it is hard to stay 6 feet away from others. The Minnesota Department of Health offers up-to-date guidance on when and how to wear a mask here.

As Minnesota makes progress towards fully reopening the economy, we’ve continued to release updated guidance on best safe practices for businesses. From protocol for managing occupancy to general food safety, you can find stay safe guidance for businesses and organizations here.

They even offer a few suggestions, I’ll include my fave…

Please share the following social media messaging on your channels and encourage your networks to celebrate safely this holiday weekend. We’ve also provided some graphics to accompany these posts, which you can find here.

  • Happy Fourth of July, Minnesota! This weekend, please remember to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep your friends, family and neighbors safe. #MaskUpMN

This might be a message readers can share with their constituents, clients and favorite businesses.

Northern MN appreciates ConnectedMN state funds to get kids connected

WDIO interviews Bernadine Joselyn on the new ConnectedMN initiative…

Bernadine Joselyn is with the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids, the state’s largest rural-based philanthropy.

“Truly, the silver lining in the work from COVID-19 is that it has shown a huge light on the inequities at the heart of our public education system,” she said.

It’s led to an initiative called ConnectedMN.

The Blandin Foundation, along with private companies like Best Buy and Comcast, along with the state, are stepping in donating and raising money to help.

“Part of what we hope to do is invest in immediate needs and invest in longer-term solutions,” Joselyn said.

At Hibbing High School, some of those immediate needs this spring were hotspots for internet access.

State announces public-private partnership to help tech needs of families with children in school

The hotspots were what saved us the most with letting kids get on for their distance-learning,” said Hibbing High School Principal Mike Finco.

Telehealth more important during pandemic as facilities close – increasing need for adequate/affordable broadband across MN

Medical Express recently posted an article that reports that telehealth is an important tool for rural hospitals for treating COVID-19

Telehealth connects patients with doctors by computer or telephone when in-person appointments are not possible or safe from disease transmission.

“It’s a relatively easy way to expand access,” Feyereisen said. “More health care access is good. It’s one of the goals of the system.”

Minnesota is one of the states the publication recognizes as a leader…

Puro and Feyereisen concluded that talking with doctors remotely is an important part of improving rural health care. The odds of hospitals to provide telehealth services vary, with Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas leading the way among the nine regions designated by the U.S. Census.

While Becker’s Hospital Review reports further telehealth accolades for Minnesota…

Duluth, Minn.-based Essentia Health this month received Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota’s Trailblazer Award for its efforts to improve virtual care access during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Essentia Health launched its virtual visit program March 18, a month ahead of schedule, to accommodate patients during the healthcare crisis. The health system trained more than 1,200 primary care providers and physicians representing at least 60 specialties in how to conduct virtual visits.

“We knew we had to step in and fill a void that was quickly created by our patients not being able to come to see us,” Essentia Health CEO David Herman, MD, said in a news release. “We literally went from zero virtual visits to about 3,000 virtual visits per day in less than three weeks.”

The numbers are as staggering as the need. And diagnosing and treating people without exposing them to coronarvirus or other germs is obviously beneficial – especially (as I always add) for the folks who have adequate broadband to take advantage of the opportunities.

For those folks on the opposite end of the digital divide this pandemic has been hard with limited access to school work, economic opportunities and healthcare. It has meant sitting in library parking lots using their wi-fi, missing opportunities and longer drives to healthcare facilities.

And those drive just got longer as HealthPartners just announced that 7 of their clinics will not be reopening…

– Central Minnesota Clinics, St. Cloud.

– Highland Park Clinic, St. Paul.

– Park Nicollet Shorewood Clinic, Cottage Grove.

– Regions Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program, St. Paul.

– Regions Maplewood Behavioral Health Clinic.

– Riverside Clinic, Minneapolis.

– Stillwater Medical Group, Mahtomedi.

– Westfields HealthStation, New Richmond, Wisconsin.

HealthPartners says the pandemic has caused it rethink its business and where it needs physical locations, which comes amid a major increase in telehealth video visits as a result of the pandemic.

It really pushes the need to get everyone connected as it becomes a great healthcare concern. In rural areas, that often means making it available; in urban areas it means making it affordable!

 

Closing the digital divide for distance education estimated cost: $6-12 billion

Common Sense recently published a report on what it would take to close the digital divide in the age of distance learning

With the prospect of another distance learning school year on the horizon due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new analysis released today finds that a full 15 to 16 million public school students across the United States live in households without adequate internet access or computing devices to facilitate distance learning. The analysis, from Common Sense and Boston Consulting Group, also finds that almost 10% of public school teachers (300,000 to 400,000) are also caught in the gap, affecting their ability to run remote classes. The 32-page report, Closing the K–12 Digital Divide in the Age of Distance Learning, fixes a one-year price tag of at least $6 billion and as much as $11 billion to connect all kids at home, and an additional $1 billion to close the divide for teachers.

I’m more of a writer than a mathematician but that looks like $732 per unserved student and teacher. (That’s looking at highest estimate for cost and number of disconnected.) That doesn’t feel like such a high number – especially when you know that a house with broadband reaps an average ANNUAL economic benefit of $1850 – and that’s a pre-COVID number. Broadband is an investment is education and economic development. And especially during the pandemic, it can be a literal lifesaver to compromised patients who need healthcare services.

The report also pulls data out by state. Here’s how Minnestoa shows up:

  • Students without adequate high-speed connection 249,845
  • % Students without adequate high-speed connection 28%
  • Students without devices 162,607
  • % Students without devices 18%
  • Teachers without adequate high-speed connection 6,379
  • % Teachers without adequate high-speed connection 11%
  • Teachers without devices 1,046
  • % Teachers without devices 2%

The speed they are looking at for unserved is 25/3, which is the 2022 speed goal in Minnesota. In April, the Office of Broadband Development said 92.19 of Minnesota households were served – leaving 7.81 unserved.

So what’s the difference in these numbers? OBD is looking at available access only, which means if a household is in a served area. Not whether they get it or not, just if they could. Common Sense is looking at whether a household subscribes and do they have devices available to use it. Common Sense is looking at students and teachers access, not households. So the numbers tell slightly difference stories. Knowing the difference I think helps to frame the discussion of digital equity.

Broadband funding passing in US House – now to the Senate

NDIA (National Digitial Inclusion Alliance) reports…

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Moving Forward Act” (HR 2), a $1.5 trillion infrastructure funding bill that includes $8.8 billion for a new “broadband benefit” program to help low-income households and recently laid-off consumers pay for internet connections, as well as $1.3 billion in funding for state and community digital inclusion initiatives.

NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer enthusiastically welcomed the House vote. “This is an historic moment for digital inclusion practitioners and advocates, as well as for millions of urban and rural Americans who remain excluded from mainstream digital connection,” Siefer commented.

Here’s what it means…

HR 2, approved by a 233-188 vote cast along mostly party lines, incorporates all the provisions of the $100 billion “Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act”, introduced on June 24 by South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn and more than two dozen colleagues.  Those provisions include:

  • $8.8 billion for a new “broadband benefit” program that would reimburse internet providers for discounts provided to low-income households (eligible for Lifeline, qualified for federal school lunch subsidies, or receiving Pell Grants) and consumers who are recently unemployed. Bills for normal home internet service could be subsidized as much as $50 a month ($75 for households on tribal lands.)
  • $1.3 billion over five years for state and community digital inclusion initiatives. These include the State Digital Equity Capacity Program, an annual grant program for states to create and implement comprehensive digital equity plans to help close gaps in broadband adoption and digital skill; and the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program to further support these efforts through digital inclusion projects undertaken by local communities. (This is mostly the contents of the Digital Equity Act.)
  • $85 billion in grant and loan funding for broadband infrastructure deployments that bring at least 100/100 Mbps access to areas where those speeds are unavailable. Funded projects must offer affordable rate tiers.
  • $5 billion to support local schools’ efforts to invest in home connectivity for students and staff.
  • Federal protection against state restrictions for communities seeking to build their own broadband networks.
  • A requirement for the FCC to start collecting and publishing residential internet price information from all broadband providers.

Next step – the Senate, where Senators Klobuchar and Clyburn introduced The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act earlier today. It 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.

 

Klobuchar, Clyburn Introduce Comprehensive Broadband Infrastructure Legislation to Expand Access to Affordable High-Speed Internet

From Senator Klobuchar…

Today U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, introduced comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation to expand access to affordable high-speed internet for all Americans. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act 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 legislation in the House of Representatives is led by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and members of the House Rural Broadband Task Force.

In the Senate, the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is cosponsored by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mark R. 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).

“When we invest in broadband infrastructure, we invest in opportunity for every American,” Klobuchar said. “In 2020, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every family in America — regardless of their zip code — and this legislation is a critical step to help bridge the digital divide once and for all.”

“I am pleased Sen. Klobuchar is leading the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act in the Senate,” Clyburn said. “This legislation was crafted in collaboration with the House Rural Broadband Task Force and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee. It invests over $100 billion to build nationwide high-speed broadband infrastructure, and makes the resulting internet service affordable for all. Sen. Klobuchar understands the needs of underserved communities and has been a consistent champion for the expansion of high-speed broadband access. I look forward to working together to pass this critical piece of legislation in both chambers.”

“We are relying on the internet more than ever before. It helps people make a living, do their homework, receive health care services, and connect with each other,” Schatz said. “Our bill invests billions in areas that need it most so that everyone has access to high-speed internet.”

“The current health crisis has only underscored what we already know: that too many households across the country lack reliable access to broadband,” Warner said. “In Virginia alone, it’s estimated that more than 700,000 Virginians lack access to broadband, making it harder for families to access essential services during these unprecedented times. Access to broadband helps communities meaningfully participate in the digital economy. Individuals can apply for a job or submit a college application, families can connect with their health care providers without having to travel long distances, and teachers and students can advance and supplement their online learning. Accessibility to broadband is vital to increasing digital literacy, achieving economic stability, and advancing education, and this critical legislation will help bridge the gap for communities that still need access to this critical technology.”

“During the coronavirus pandemic, more than ever, we are seeing how necessary robust and affordable broadband is to the future of education, employment, and medical care,” Markey said. “Those living in lower-income and rural areas without sufficient broadband are being left behind. That’s why now is the time to recommit to the goal of universal connectivity and act boldly to finally close the digital divide. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing legislation that will ensure broadband access for all Americans.”

“Internet access is a vital economic necessity, especially during these unprecedented times as millions of Americans are forced to adapt to a new normal that for many means remote schooling, teleworking, and doctor’s appointments on the computer instead of in-person,” Booker said. “For decades, rural communities, low-income communities, and communities of color have been excluded from the internet revolution and COVID-19 has only exacerbated that trend. We need to close the digital divide and end internet inequality. Our bill provides $100 billion towards broadband infrastructure to help ensure that all communities have reliable and affordable access to the internet.”

“Underserved and rural communities don’t have access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet due to the shortcomings of our nation’s broadband infrastructure,” said Harris. “The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a stark reminder of how difficult it is for families to remain connected to school or work if they lack reliable internet. I am proud to join my colleagues in announcing this comprehensive legislation – it is past-time to make reliable high-speed internet a reality for everyone.”

“Our current public health and economic crisis has made it all the more urgent that we get affordable, high-speed broadband to every home and business in our country. Congress needs to pass the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act to ensure every family can access school, work, and health care through the internet,” Warren said.

“As the coronavirus pandemic has made more apparent than ever, in the 21st century, every family in the country needs reliable access to broadband,” Cortez Masto said. “The worlds of information that the internet opens are key to education, health, small business, and other essential parts of our communities across Nevada. I’ve been working on connecting more Nevadans to reliable, quality internet since coming to the U.S. Senate, and so I’m especially glad to see this comprehensive legislation to support those who need access in rural and urban areas alike.”

“This moment of crisis has made clear the realities of our nation’s digital divide, and we must take meaningful steps to address this disparity,” Rosen said. “Families in Nevada and across our nation rely on the internet to access public benefits, search for employment, learn from home, and obtain telehealth services. Our legislation would not only encourage investments in universal and reliable broadband accessibility but also help reduce cost. We will continue working on innovations to our nation’s broadband in order to improve the lives of Americans.”

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s most recent Broadband Deployment Report, 18 million people lack access to broadband, and experts widely agree that this number is understated.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act would do the following:

  • Encourage Universal Broadband Access by:
    • including $80 billion to deploy high-speed broadband infrastructure nationwide;
    • allocating $5 billion for low-interest financing of broadband deployment through a new secured loan program; and
    • establishing a new office within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to ensure efficient use of federal money.
  • Ensure Internet Affordability by:
    • requiring an affordable option for internet service plans offered on the newly-built infrastructure;
    • providing a $50 monthly discount on plans for low-income consumers; and
    • directing the FCC to collect and publicize data on prices charged for broadband service throughout the country.
  • Promote Internet Adoption by:
    • providing over $1 billion to establish grant programs for states to close gaps in broadband adoption, as well as digital inclusion projects for organizations and local communities to implement;
    • including $5 billion to enable students without internet at home to participate in remote learning; and
    • authorizing funding for Wi-Fi on school buses so students can stay connected, especially in rural areas where longer bus rides are common.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is endorsed by the Public Knowledge, Free Press, National Consumer Law Center, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, Consumer Reports, Schools, Health, Libraries, and Broadband Coalition (SHLB), Common Cause, Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, , Leadership Conference, Access Now,  Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Education Association, National Defense Industrial Association, Communications Workers of America, and North America’s Building Trades Union.

“Broadband access is a civil right that we can’t afford to lose, but one that millions of Americans, in rural and urban communities across this country, simply can’t afford. This legislation prioritizes broadband affordability and promises to make a real difference in the fight to close the digital divide,” said FCC Commissioner Geoffery Starks.

“Broadband is now essential for work, education, healthcare, and so much of modern life. So kudos to Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues for their efforts to develop a plan to connect us all. Working together like this we can solve the digital divide, fix the homework gap, and give everyone a fair shot at internet age success,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

“As providers based in the communities they serve, NTCA members are committed to ensuring rural Americans receive reliable broadband to engage with critical activities such as telemedicine, distance learning and remote work. Time and again, Senator Klobuchar has led the charge in highlighting the fundamental significance of broadband in all aspects of Americans’ lives and seeking to promote better connectivity for all Americans,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association. “We particularly appreciate her acknowledgment here of the need to ensure new networks will be built to meet the challenges of both today and tomorrow, and we look forward to working with the Senator and other policymakers to ensure any new programs to stimulate broadband deployment or make broadband more affordable complement and coordinate with existing deployment commitments and programs aimed at sustaining such efforts.”

“Millions across this country do not have access to broadband — leaving them struggling to work, learn, access medical care, and connect with loved ones. Closing the digital divide requires funding high-quality broadband deployment, ensuring that broadband service is affordable, and ensuring that individuals have the skills and devices they need to access it. This bill takes action on all of those fronts. By utilizing a comprehensive approach, we believe this legislation will significantly narrow the digital divide. We are glad to see this important legislation introduced in the Senate,” said Jenna Leventoff, Senior Policy Counsel, Public Knowledge.

“We commend Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues in the Senate for introducing this landmark legislation to ensure everyone is connected to affordable, high-speed, quality broadband. The Accessible, Affordable, Internet for All Act takes significant steps to address all aspects of the digital divide through provisions that provide robust broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved areas, affordable options to connect low-income communities, and digital equity programs to address systemic disparities in broadband connectivity disproportionately impacting people of color and other marginalized communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the fault lines in broadband connectivity our nation has faced for far too long, leaving millions of Americans unable to participate in our democracy and economy. Now is the time to pass this legislation and take significant strides in closing the digital divide,” said Yosef Getachew, Director of Media and Democracy Program, Common Cause.

“We applaud Senate leaders for introducing the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act. The legislation represents a comprehensive and targeted approach to closing the digital divide for anchor institutions and the people they serve. In addition to tackling the many obstacles to ubiquitous internet access, the bill recognizes that health clinics and hospitals across the country need more bandwidth to keep up with the increased demand for telemedicine. By embracing broadband solutions for telehealth and remote learning from home, this legislation will lead to a healthier and better educated America,” said John Windhausen, Jr., Executive Director, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition.

“Millions of Americans have struggled through the COVID-19 crisis without internet connectivity. Congress needs to do something to help these people, and we applaud Senator Klobuchar for stepping up. Her bill would make internet service more affordable and accessible, which is exactly what is needed right now. The Senate should pass this bill immediately,” said Joshua Stager, Senior Counsel, New America’s Open Technology Institute.

“Affordable broadband service is essential for access to opportunities. Black, Hispanic, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives have lower broadband subscription rates than their White counterparts, and one of the main barriers to broadband service is cost. The Broadband Service for Low-income Consumers program will help close the digital divide by providing low-income households with a $50 broadband benefit ($75 for households on Tribal lands) and the Digital Equity Program will ensure consumers have the digital skills necessary for full participation in our society. On behalf of our low-income clients, we commend the leadership of Senator Klobuchar in introducing this critically important bill,” said National Consumer Law Center Staff Attorney Olivia Wein.

“Millions of families in the United States do not have access to affordable, reliable broadband internet connections — totally unacceptable before, but especially unacceptable during a pandemic when many are being asked to stay at home to bend the curve to save lives. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act introduced today includes strong provisions to expand broadband access to rural communities and protect good union jobs across the country,” said Chris Shelton, President, Communications Workers of America (CWA).

“Free Press Action welcomes Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues’ introduction of this tremendous, comprehensive broadband package in the Senate, linking up with the legislation that Representative Clyburn and the House majority introduced last week and plan to pass as part of the Moving Forward Act. While the deployment and financing strategies will understandably draw attention in an infrastructure bill, its digital equity, affordability and pricing transparency provisions are just as essential or more so for getting everyone online. Lawmakers must recognize, as this bill does, that the vast majority of people disconnected today are offline because they cannot afford the high price for internet, which disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people, poorer communities, and exacerbates the digital divide and economic inequities,” said Matt Wood, Vice President of Policy and General Counsel, Free Press Action.

“The Senate version of the “Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act” includes all of the critical provisions of the House version, but goes even further to address this country’s gaping digital divide. Like the House bill, it addresses the twin problems of broadband affordability and lack of network infrastructure and seeks to promote competition in a consolidated market by preferencing open access networks and repealing state laws that prohibit communities from building their own broadband networks. In addition, the Senate bill would expand the FCC’s Rural Health Care program to provide funding for telehealth programs in urban as well as rural areas, and would create a fund to ensure that higher education students in need have access to robust broadband during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Gigi Sohn, Distinguished Fellow, Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law and Policy. “The pandemic has laid bare the need for every American to have robust, high speed broadband Internet access at home. Yet over 140 million Americans still are without a service that is essential to full participation in our economy, our education system, our culture and our democracy. It is long past time for Congress to act. Thanks to Senator Klobuchar and her Senate colleagues for co-sponsoring this vital legislation. The Senate should pass this bill without delay.”

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 May, Klobuchar and Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) introduced The Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act to establish a $1 billion fund at the National Telecommunications and 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 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.

In March, Klobuchar and Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure that students and low-income families have access to critical internet connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic. The Keeping Critical Connections Act would appropriate $2 billion for a temporary Keeping Critical Connections fund at the Federal Communications Commission to help small broadband providers sustain internet services and upgrades for students and low-income families during the pandemic. In April, Klobuchar and Cramer also led a bipartisan, bicameral letter urging congressional leadership to include funding for a Keeping Critical Connections fund in the next coronavirus relief package.

In March, Klobuchar and Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Thune’s bipartisan legislation to improve the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) broadband coverage maps was signed into law. The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act will 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.

In December 2019, Klobuchar, Senator John Thune (R-SD) and 46 of their colleagues urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a letter to promote the deployment of sustainable broadband networks as the FCC considers adopting new rules in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) proceeding.  The RDOF will award high-cost Universal Service Fund (USF) support to deploy broadband service in rural areas.

In June 2019, Klobuchar and Senator Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-WV) legislation to improve broadband connectivity passed the Senate. The Measuring the Economic Impact of Broadband Act would require the Bureau of Economic Analysis, in consultation with the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Technology, to conduct a study of the effects of the digital economy and the adoption of broadband deployment on the U.S. economy.

In May 2019, Klobuchar and Wicker’s legislation to ensure federal funds for broadband deployment are targeting unserved and underserved areas passed the Senate Commerce Committee. The Broadband Interagency Coordination Act would direct the FCC, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to coordinate and share information on their broadband deployment efforts.

In March 2019, Klobuchar, Capito, and Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Hoeven (R-ND) introduced bipartisan legislation to improve the FCC’s broadband coverage maps. The Improving Broadband Mapping Act directs the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to consider using consumer-reported data and state and local data from government entities to improve broadband mapping accuracy while also considering ways that both fixed and mobile coverage data can be challenged.

Klobuchar and Wicker also led the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act, which was signed into law as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. The bipartisan legislation directs the FCC to establish a task force to identify gaps in broadband coverage and encourage broadband deployment on farms and ranchland.

HBC Announces Extension of the Keep Americans Connected Pledge

The latest from HBC...

Hiawatha Broadband Communications, Inc. (HBC) is taking additional measures to protect customers, from losing essential broadband services, by extending the Federal Communications Commission’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge.
“Many of our customers continue to endure significant financial challenges because of COVID-19,” HBC President Dan Pecarina said. “HBC understands that and is
committed to helping our most financially vulnerable customers keep their services which have become even more essential in this pandemic environment because of online learning and working from home.”
Extension of the Keep Americans Connected Pledge means:
-Free broadband service to qualified low-income ouseholds. Eligible households must have school-aged children enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program or the
Telephone Assistance Plan (TAP).
-Temporarily suspending disconnections of service due to failure to pay and waiving late fees for customers.
-Maintaining free access to HBC Community Wi-Fi hotspots.
Since signing the initial FCC pledge in March, HBC has worked with 12 school districts across all its service communities to make sure each student, their families, and
teachers would have access to broadband for both education and working from home through its wired and wireless networks. HBC continues to make all its community WiFi access points available free of charge.
Throughout this pandemic, HBC Installation Technicians have been safely connecting and servicing customers while following strict safety protocols. All employees must pass a daily health screening which includes temperature checks, before being allowed to serve customers. All local HBC offices are open by appointment only with customers
being asked to answer several health-related questions prior to scheduling any appointment. These protocols will remain in place to protect our customers and employees and to help stop the spread of COVID-19. HBC is proud to report that these precautions have kept all employees healthy and virus free.
According to Pecarina, HBC will continue to implement these safety measures as long as they are needed.
“It is important that we do everything thing we can to be able to safely serve our customers and continue to provide them with the tools they need to be successful in both work and school,” Pecarina said. “HBC is committed to providing access to technology and high-speed broadband connectivity to make available learning resources required by families with school-aged children.”
HBC has also worked with local and area schools to provide live coverage of socially distanced graduation ceremonies allowing distant family members to celebrate this milestone event. In addition to being broadcast live on HBC Channel 25, ceremonies are also live streamed around the world where nearly 1,000 households have viewed these broadcasts.

OPPORTUNITY: Rural Tech Project $600,000 in grants for educators

I saw this notice in the NDIA online discussion list and thought folks might be interested…

The Rural Tech Project is a $600,000 challenge to advance rural technology education and prepare students for the careers of today and tomorrow. The U.S. Department of Education invites high schools and local educational agencies to propose technology education programs that use competency-based distance learning.

Quick facts:

  • Who should enter. The challenge is open to any publicly funded school or local educational agency serving students in grades 9-12 in rural communities. “Rural” is broadly defined as a non-urban, non-suburban area. An area may be considered rural based on its population density and/or distance from suburban or urban hubs. See the eligibility criteria for further guidance.
  • $600,000 in cash prizes. Up to five finalists will be selected to receive an equal share of the $500,000 Phase 1 cash prize pool. At the conclusion of program implementation, one grand-prize winner will receive an additional $100,000.
  • Two years of ongoing support. From January 2021 through August 2023, finalists will have on-the-ground assistance, expert mentorship, and access to virtual resources as they plan, run, refine, and report on their programs.
  • Deadline. Program proposals are due October 8.

Governor Walz announces Public-Private Partnership to Support Technology Needs of Minnesota Students

Excited to share the news…

Today, Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan announced 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.

Before the start of the upcoming school year, ConnectedMN’s goal is to bring technology and internet access to students across the state, especially communities most in need, including Indigenous students and students of color, students from low-income families, and families residing in rural Minnesota.

“I’m grateful to see Minnesota companies step up and help meet the needs of students,” said Governor Walz. “We need to work together — as individuals, state agencies, private companies, and schools — to face the opportunity gap and make sure that Minnesota is the best state for each and every child to grow up and receive the best education possible.”

“As the parent of a seven-year old, we endured our share of triumphs and challenges with distance learning this past spring,” said Lieutenant Governor Flanagan. “Those challenges are exacerbated for low-income families, Indigenous families and families of color, and families in Greater Minnesota who may not have access to technology that meets their work and learning needs. Whatever school looks like this fall, this partnership will help us fill in the gaps.”

“As someone who grew up in rural Minnesota in a family without many resources, I am aware of how important this effort is. Without it, far too many of our state’s students will be left behind as we face an uncertain school year, more reliant than ever on the tools and resources necessary to learn remotely,” said Corie Barry, CEO of Best Buy. “As a founding partner, we are pleased to work with the Governor and other organizations to truly ‘connect Minnesota’ and I call upon my fellow CEOs to engage however they and their business are able.”

“It is vital that all Americans are connected to the internet—for education, for work, and for personal health reasons, but unfortunately, many low-income families who live in our service areas don’t have internet at home and that’s where we can help,” said J.D. Keller, regional senior vice president, Comcast Twin Cities. “We are proud to be a founding partner of ConnectedMN knowing we can help through our Internet Essentials program, which is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program for low-income Americans.”

“Access denied is opportunity denied,” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement for Grand Rapids-based Blandin Foundation. “It will require partnership to make sure that every student, in every corner of every county, has access to the knowledge, learning and services for their success.”

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) estimates that at least 25,000 Minnesota students lack the technology and high-speed internet access essential for academic learning, out-of-school activities and critical services such as telehealth. These students are disproportionately students of color, Indigenous students, and low-income students. ConnectedMN aims to supply these students with technology before the start of the upcoming school year. In addition, the partnership will work to create solutions to the lack of reliable, affordable broadband access in communities around the state, so students have the tools necessary to connect and engage around school, physical and mental health, and future career pathways.

Business and philanthropic leaders have collectively raised $1.65 million to date. In addition to the founding partners of the initiative, other organizations contributing include Accenture, Andersen Corporation, Bush Foundation, Ecolab, EY, Land O’Lakes, Minneapolis Foundation, Protolabs Foundation, Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, Securian Financial, SPS Commerce Foundation, and Xcel Energy. These organizations will provide financial support and resources to this important initiative, including in-kind products, services or other support (e.g., hotspots, devices, connectivity, technical assistance).

The Governor and Lieutenant Governor have prioritized the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) dollars to meet technology and connectivity challenges, with approximately $14 million earmarked for districts to prioritize devices and connectivity. MDE has prioritized distributions of GEER and the discretionary Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund dollars to districts with the highest numbers of students receiving special education, students of color, homeless students, English language learners, and students who qualify for free-and reduced-price meals. Districts applying for these funds should visit MDE’s website .

Partnership for a ConnectedMN’s application process will be available later in July. The Governor and State do not have a role in fundraising or directing funds for the Partnership for a ConnectedMN. More information on ConnectedMN can be found at www.connectedmn.us .

What happens when the COVID-inspired free broadband expires?

The (Chicago) Daily Herald reports…

Thousands of people in communities across the country are about to grapple with a similar dilemma. Earlier this year, to help students and teachers finish the disrupted school year online, Charter, Comcast, AT&T and others began providing free internet. They also pledged not to cut off service or charge late fees to customers struggling financially because of the pandemic.

Now, several of those programs are set to end in the coming weeks — a looming expiration that, if left unaddressed, threatens to unravel a precarious thread of the social safety net at a particularly difficult time for many American families. Angela Siefer, the executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a nonprofit focused on increasing internet adoption, said that although the school year is winding down, the need for access to the web — and the challenge of affording it — have not gone away.

The industry’s charitable internet programs have been helpful, said Siefer, but ultimately amounted to a temporary “Band-Aid” on the still-gaping digital divide. “We had this problem pre-covid,” Siefer said. “All covid did was draw attention to it because of online learning. We have to come up with a substantial, long-term solution.”

They outline the number of families taking advantage of the free programs…

Charter said it expects to provide free internet to more than 400,000 students, teachers and their families. A Comcast spokesman said the company signed up 32,000 families for a free version of its low-cost service, known as Internet Essentials, at the end of March, just a few weeks after the lockdowns began. An AT&T spokeswoman said more than 156,000 customers have received financial assistance to stay connected to the company’s wireless, broadband and video services.

Several providers are extending the option…

Last week, Comcast announced it will be continuing its 60-day free internet offer through the end of the year. AT&T plans to extend free unlimited wireless internet for students until late August if schools request it by June 21. Similar free-internet offers from Charter and Altice USA Inc., another cable provider, are set to expire June 30. Cox’s program is ending on July 15.

The generosity of the providers has been great, but it seems like we need a national policy to ensure consistency and predictability for customers and reduce the responsibility for providers. The debate about whether broadband is a utility has ended with the pandemic. As a nation, we can’t afford to have the cost of broadband be the reason kids can’t get to class, older folks can get to the doctor and people qualify for fewer jobs. Helping someone get broadband is like helping them get a fishing pole – it pays off in greater self-sufficiency.

EVENT June 30: Broadband Roundtable on small-scale economic development strategies

A message from Blandin…

Join Blandin Foundation on Zoom Tuesday morning at 9:00 am for our weekly Broadband Roundtable conversation. This week, we will focus on small-scale economic development strategies perfect for any size community or neighborhood.

You can register for this and future Roundtables here

Wilderness health gets $800,000 for telehealth in Two Harbors (Lake County)

Fox 21 reports…

Wilderness health, a collaborative of independent health providers for rural communities, was recently awarded a grant worth nearly $800,000.

The grant will be used to support the development of a telehealth program to offer mental health and other services to be used within its ten health system network.

The funds will also be used to provide the proper equipment and training resources to provide the services to Wilderness Health patients.

The new program will allow patients who live in remote areas to have easier access to mental health services.

“There is just a tremendous need. We have rising rates of mental health in our region. We have rising suicide rates,” said Executive Director Cassandra Beardsley. ” Anything we can do to provide increased access is going to be huge.”

Wilderness Health plans to start a pilot launch at Lakeview Hospital in two harbors.

Is it time to change the definition of broadband? Currently it’s 25Mbps down and 3 up

Gov Tech asks – Does the Federal Broadband Definition Reflect Real-World Need?

The current definition, 25 Mbps download speed/3 Mbps upload speed, was set by the Federal Communications Commission, led by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in 2015. In an official statement, Wheeler noted that the previous standard, 4 Mbps/1 Mbps, had been established in 2010 and that “consumer behavior and the marketplace has changed.”

Five years after the 2015 revision, life as Americans know it has changed. Joe Freddoso, chief operating officer of broadband consulting company Mighty River, believes the uncertain state of the world points to a need to redefine broadband again.

Here are some of the views they share:

  • Freddoso said the 3 Mbps upload part of the definition seems especially behind the times, now that households are more likely to have multiple instances of two-way communication occurring at the same time.
  • “The county folks and state folks that I talk to view 25/3 as an absolute minimum,” he added. “That would be a minimal service they would expect for a constituent who didn’t have simultaneous demands on the Internet.”
  • Scott Wallsten, president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, studies what consumers are willing to pay for when it comes to broadband. He said whether someone needs service to surpass the 25/3 threshold remains an open question based on the individual. Wallsten’s research shows that consumers are generally willing to pay for a download speed of 50 Mbps. Beyond that, the willingness to pay decreases.
  • Jonathan Chambers, a partner with Conexon, said the 25/3 definition represented what “the telephone industry told the federal government it was capable of delivering with digital subscriber line.” …
    Chambers described the 25/3 threshold as more of a “negative definition,” given that technology, such as a fiber-optic network, can offer far greater speeds. He said 25/3 is too low of a bar for spending tax dollars.
  • Will Rinehart, senior fellow at the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University, doesn’t anticipate the FCC under the Trump administration to change the definition. However, he would predict pushback from some members of the broadband industry if the FCC proposed to increase the speed requirements.
    In particular, if a new definition involved symmetrical download and upload speeds, it could raise complaints about a lack of tech neutrality, as fiber systems tend to be the most adept at providing symmetrical speeds.

Does federal broadband funding discriminate against black Americans and people of color?

The NDIA recently released a report outlining how current broadband funding channels more funding to white, rural communities that urban dwellers of color…

The federal government’s existing broadband programs target tens of billions of dollars to expand broadband availability for residents of “unserved and underserved” rural areas, while studiously ignoring tens of millions of urban Americans who still lack high-speed internet service.

This policy framework is counterproductive for reducing the nation’s overall digital divide. It is also structurally racist, discriminating against unconnected Black Americans and other communities of color.

We present data below showing that:

  • most Americans who have a chance of benefiting from federal spending on rural broadband deployment subsidies are non-Hispanic white
  • Americans who lack home broadband service for reasons other than network availability are disproportionately people of color.

Conscious or not, the objective effect of current policy is that broadband investment – not just by the FCC and USDA, but by some states as well – is directed mostly to assisting non-Hispanic rural white people to get better internet connections.

Continued federal policies which direct federal “digital divide” spending only to rural infrastructure, and not to broader digital inclusion programs for both urban and rural residents:

  • are inequitable to communities of color, and

  • will help perpetuate the digital exclusion of those communities’ members from employment opportunities, education, healthcare services, financial and commercial access, and social and civic participation.