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.

Many kids in the Twin Cities are distance learning – tough for kids experiencing homelessness

I have been talking to folks in different counties about broadband and COVID. I think everyone I’ve talked to outside of the St Paul and Minneapolis has been using hybrid or full schedule in person classrooms. They are preparing for a change and most deal with families who opt for online only but most folks have kids in school at least part time.

That’s not the case in the Cities. My daughter in St Paul – all distance. Most of our neighbors – all distance. There are some exceptions. It’s hard all around but I think it’s hardest for the folks experiencing homelessness. MinnPost recently wrote about what’s happening to serve those in flux…

It’s the sort of resource barrier that districts are working to remove for many families. Both the Minneapolis and St. Paul Public Schools districts say they are checking in with their homeless and highly mobile families, to see if they still qualify for added services this year. But even that first step — simply connecting and sharing resources that are available, like hotspots — can be complicated, especially during a virtual-only start to the school year. Here’s a closer look at how both Twin Cities districts are supporting their homeless and highly mobile populations during distance learning at the outset of this school year.

Here is what they have been able to do…

Prior to the pandemic and resulting shift to distance learning, the St. Paul Public Schools district had already deployed a one-to-one iPad program, districtwide. District staff still had to troubleshoot internet access issues with families — and McInerney says she and her team have been helping deliver hotspots and devices to students who may be doubled up with other families in neighboring communities. But having that technology piece in place certainly made for a smoother transition.

In the Minneapolis district, students experiencing homelessness were among the hardest hit last spring. When schools shut down and all learning got pushed to a virtual format in March, Kinzley says her team identified about 1,600 students, out of about 1,900, without access to a computer or internet. “We had that gap to fill in a very short amount of time,” she said, noting engagement data dropped off initially and began to pick up again around week three, once more devices and hotspots had been distributed.

“We’re in a much better place this fall, but there are so many other barriers to engagement, beyond just making sure people have what they need,” she said.

Heading into the 2020-2021 school year, she and her team have been taking a pretty individualized approach, connecting with families to see how they can help remove barriers to distance learning. Sometimes that means sending a staff member out to a family, so they can borrow a cellphone, or arranging a cab so a parent can access registration or another school service. Beyond that, it’s more so a matter of getting word out about the various resources available to families — things like free school meal delivery for those unable to coordinate a curb-side pickup, and access to rental assistance through the Stable Homes, Stable Schools initiative, a partnership between the city, the district and other local entities.

Paul Bunyan Communications and CTC Receive FCC Honor

Two Minnesota providers have received honors from the Digital Opportunity Equity Recognition (DOER) Program. It’s a big deal and each cooperative has earned their honor.

First the spoiler – here are the hometown heroes…

  • Consolidated Telecommunications Co. (CTC) partnered with the Brainerd School District in Minnesota to coordinate in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Within two days, using data provided by the school district on all students that did not have access to a reliable connection, CTC plotted hundreds of students into its GIS mapping system and partnered with the District to contact all families within their service area. The information led to them connecting 100 students within a week without regard to their families’ credit rating, history with CTC, or ability to pay. By the end of April, CTC connected over 300 additional homes.
  • Paul Bunyan Communications and its cooperative members have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic including the transition to working from home, increased telehealth services, and distance learning. Paul Bunyan Communications worked directly with the school districts it serves to quickly develop creative solutions to ensure broadband access for students by installing multiple Wi-Fi hot spots so students and their families in unserved areas around the cooperative would not be left behind. The cooperative has now built one of the largest all-fiber optic rural broadband networks in the United States that is delivering broadband speeds, both upload and download, up to 1 gigabit per second to over 23,000 rural locations in northern Minnesota.

And here’s what the FCC had to say…

Today, Commissioner Starks announces the honorees of the inaugural Digital Opportunity Equity Recognition (DOER) Program, which was created to acknowledge the tireless efforts of Americans working to close the digital divide in communities without access to affordable, reliable broadband. The program honorees will be recognized at a virtual reception on October 1 at 12pm ET. Commissioner Starks issued the following statement about this year’s DOER honorees:
“It is clear that our long-standing digital divide has morphed into a monstrous new COVID-19 divide. From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic through now, I have heard stories about the innovative and rapid ways individuals, non-profit organizations, and companies are responding
to the connectivity needs of people across this country who are seeking access to medical professionals via telehealth services, education, and safe ways to communicate with family and friends. In response to these efforts, I put out an open call to hear about heroic DOERs who have stepped up in their communities to ensure that no one gets left behind because they lack broadband connectivity. The DOER Program received an overwhelming response to that call
with more than 60 submitted applications, each one impressive and laudable, and demonstrating a true commitment to serving communities through acts of substance and consequence, big and small, generosity and selflessness both during the pandemic and prior to the recent events that have changed our nation.
Because of all of the strong nominations I received, alongside my advisory board, narrowing down the honorees was very challenging. I believe every applicant is worthy of recognition but there were several that rose to the top because of the scope of their accomplishments and the impact they made. From rural areas to urban corridors, students to seniors, to say this year’s DOER honorees are a stellar group is an understatement. ,
Organization, and Corporation. Congratulations to all, and please keep up the hard work.”

OPPORTUNITY: ILSR is hiring a Broadband Writer and Editor

From the Institite for Local Self Reliance (Muninetworks)

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is looking for a Broadband Writer/Editor to join a small team within ILSR focused on ensuring all Americans have fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access.

With Katie leaving to add her acumen, insight, and research skills to ILSR’s Energy Democracy team across the virtual hall, there’s a signifcant void to fill. Coverage of electric cooperatives here might never recover, and we’ll certainly miss her.

You can check out the website for details on responsibilites and expectations. Here’s mor einfo on the job…

This position is full-time working with a team based in Minnesota, but we currently work remotely and welcome applications from anywhere within the U.S. Position includes 100% employer-paid health plan, generous vacation and holiday leave, and retirement contribution matching. Salary is commensurate with experience, in the $35,000-$45,000 range. We are a dynamic and friendly team dedicated to making the world a better place. ILSR takes professional growth seriously.

Applications are welcome from a broad range of applicants. ILSR is committed to providing employees with a welcoming work environment free of discrimination and harassment. All employment decisions are made without regard to age, race, color, religion or belief, gender identification, family or parental status. ILSR is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, or disability.

For what it’s worth – the team is great – friendly and smart. And if you get a chance to move to Minnesota, you should take it. Always.

CenturyLink is changing its name(s)

Telecompetitor reports on CenturyLink’s changes in name and focus…

CenturyLink unveiled a new branding strategy today, effectively breaking itself into two brands. The company introduced Lumen Technologies, or just Lumen, as its new brand for its largest business segment, enterprise and wholesale.

The CenturyLink brand will remain and will represent the company’s legacy residential and small business segments. Although, CenturyLink is also introducing a new brand for that unit, Quantum Fiber, for its growing FTTH network. Confused yet?

I think most readers will be most interested in what’s happening with residential services…

CenturyLink and Quantum Fiber will now be the face for residential subscribers. There has been some speculation that CenturyLink is looking to sell its residential and small business unit. This move might add some fuel to that speculation.

CenturyLink’s FTTH footprint is rather small, when compared to its entire residential footprint. It’s not entirely clear what the Quantum Fiber strategy will be. On a FAQ section on the company’s website, an explanation of Quantum Fiber is outlined as the following:

“Quantum Fiber will be coming soon to markets where we offer superior fiber-based internet services. Specific, market-level roll out plans are still in development. Eligible customers will be notified when services become available in their area.”

The website goes on to say Quantum Fiber will eventually be available in all markets where CenturyLink offers fiber-based internet services, but specific market roll out plans are under development.

Does that mean Quantum Fiber is simply the new name for CenturyLink’s FTTH service, or does it mean the company intends to expand Quantum Fiber into new markets? Or both? Hard to tell. I guess we’ll find out, assuming Lumen doesn’t spin off CenturyLink and Quantum Fiber.

Economic benefits and opportunities of telehealth especially in rural communities

Craig Settles is on a campaign to help communities see that telehealth is key to economic development and you can’t do telehealth without broadband. Next Centruy Cities higlihgts his reasoning…

Telehealth is more than video chat with your doctor. It means using intranets and Internet networks to observe, diagnose, initiate or otherwise medically intervene, administer, monitor, record, and/or report on the continuum of care so that residents can heal and stay healthy.

Telehealth increases broadband’s economic development impact, and can add revenue streams for the network and/or the community. For example, 26% of economic development professionals in a national survey felt using telehealth to attract doctors and medical specialists would have a definitive impact on local economies.

Another important benefit…

Broadband and telehealth can draw other healthcare professionals to your community. For example, “We have less than half of the psychiatric providers needed to meet the U.S. mental health demand,” says Encounter Telehealth CEO Jennifer Amis. “In the rural areas we may have less than 20% of the providers needed.”

And a list of telehealth benefits…

In addition to attracting medical professionals, telehealth’s economic benefits include (more details here about here [https://tinyurl.com/yxmevaq9])

  • Slowing or reversing hospital closings

  • Reducing unnecessary visits to the ER

  • Attracting medical research grants

  • More mental healthcare services staying local

  • Keeping seniors living at home longer

Does broadband policy matter? Turns out it does.

Last month, Telecommunications Policy posted a study from Brian Whitacre and Roberto Gallardo on the impact of state policies on broadband availability. The news is good for states and local governments who promote better broadband. And especially because Roberto will be one of our keynotes at the MN Fall Broadband conference I wanted to share the results.

Here’s the abstract…

We use a county-level panel dataset from 2012 to 2018 to assess the impacts of various state policies on total and rural broadband availability in the United States. The primary dependent variable is the percentage of residents with access to 25 Megabits per second (MBPS) download and 3 MBPS upload speeds via a fixed connection, with alternative specifications considering other aspects of availability such as technology type and competition. We control for the main determinants of Internet availability such as income, education, age, and population density. Our policy variables come from the newly released State Broadband Policy Explorer from the Pew Charitable Trusts and individual contacts from the nationwide State Broadband Leaders Network. Our primary policies of interest are those related to: (1) availability of state-level funding, (2) existence of a state-level broadband office/task force with full-time employees, and (3) restrictions on municipal/cooperative broadband provision. We find a positive and significant impact of state-level funding programs on general (and fiber) broadband availability, and a negative impact of municipal/cooperative restrictions. The findings are similar when the analysis is restricted to the rural portions of counties.

And to cut to the chase, here are the numbers indicating the impact of policy support…

  • We find that state-level funding programs increase general broadband availability by 1–2 percentage points.
  • We find that municipal/cooperative restrictions decrease general broadband availability by 3 percentage points.

Are AT&T and other providers changing their tune about mapping or changing their spin?

AT&T is getting a lot of heat after CEO John Stankey published a column in Politico. As Ars Technica reports…

AT&T—which has spent the past decade fighting US-government attempts to improve the country’s horrible broadband maps—is now claiming to be very concerned about the mapping problem that has helped thwart efforts to wire up millions of American homes without adequate broadband access.

AT&T CEO John Stankey this week published an opinion piece in Politico with the apparent goals of improving AT&T’s reputation, reducing government regulation, and getting more federal funding. The piece is titled, “A Game Plan to—Finally—Connect Every American to Broadband,” and the first item on AT&T’s game plan is “to identify where broadband is unavailable with geographic precision.”

Most of the heat stems from the fact that AT&T (and other broadband providers) have a history of not supporting mapping. So folks are questioning the change. Medium offers a high level framework upon which they build a case…

AT&T’s Stankey game plan has 4 goal posts.

  • POINT 1:“First, we need to identify where broadband is unavailable with geographic precision.”
  • POINT 2:“Second, the Federal Communication Commission’s program that supports connectivity for low-income households needs to be modernized.”
  • POINT 3:“Third, as Congress debates earmarking up to $80 billion for rural broadband as part of the next round of pandemic relief, we should give equal weight to wired and wireless options.”
  • POINT 4:“Lastly, Washington should enact a policy framework that incorporates sustainable funding mechanisms for the long run.”

Our take is different: America needs:

  • RESPONSE, POINT 1:A complete accounting of AT&T’s copper and fiber lines in service, “lit” or not lit, (known as “dark”, which are installed but not in use) needs to be done immediately in each state utility.

  • RESPONSE, POINT 2:An investigation to explain why America’s prices are 3–14 times more expensive that other countries, worldwide — with the goal: lower rates 50% or more.

  • RESPONSE, POINT 3:Go after the $95 billion in overcharging over the last 5 years from AT&T, Verizon and CenturyLink — and use the money to solve the Digital Divide, once and for all.

  • RESPONSE, POINT 4:New federal and state government oversight andenforcement with penalties and fines must happen now.

The situation calls for a high ranking ombudsman who looks out for the short and long terms needs of consumers and citizens. Or maybe, as is happening, it calls for broadband proponents to respond to Stankey’s position and start a conversation that moves us farther afield.

 

Midco brings fiber to Scandia (Washington County) with MN broadband grant

The Country Messenger reports…

Midco is furthering its mission to bring broadband services to areas of Minnesota that are unserved or underserved. A ribbon cutting is scheduled for Sept. 16 in which the City and Midco will celebrate the communications company’s expansion of its Internet services.

“I’m impressed with the expediency in which Midco has implemented its Internet expansion in Scandia.  From the award of the grant at the end of January, Midco is on schedule to complete this project by the end of October,” said Scandia City Council Member Patti Ray. “I’m also grateful to Midco adding even more homes to the project. This shows what a good corporate partner Midco is to Scandia. The City looks forward to working with Midco on future expansions because it takes a strong government/corporate partnership to cover the costly installation of high-speed Internet in rural Scandia.”

Some details from the project…

In January, Midco was awarded a grant through the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, allowing the communications company to expand services in five different parts of Scandia.

The broadband network project will improve access to critical e-learning applications and health care resources enable telecommuting options for residents and make businesses and city institutions more efficient. Midco’s high-speed broadband connection will exceed Minnesota’s 2026 speed goal.

EVENT Sep 16: Smart Agriculture: Driving Innovation in Rural America

An invitation from BroadbandUSA…

You are invited to join NTIA’s BroadbandUSA Practical Broadband Conversations Webinar 

Topic: Smart Agriculture: Driving Innovation in Rural America

Date:   Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Time:  2:00 to 3:00 p.m. ET

Overview: Farmers and ranchers use smart technologies to improve yields, reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and improve decision making. Join BroadbandUSA on September 16, 2020, to take a deep dive into the technologies being implemented to further these precision agriculture techniques. Speakers will also provide an update on the Precision Ag Connectivity Taskforce, co-chaired by USDA and the Federal Communications Commission, as well as an overview of the latest innovations from the Global City Teams Challenge Smart Agriculture and Rural SuperCluster, which encourages collaboration on innovative ag tech and rural projects.

Speakers:

  • Chad Rupe, Administrator, Rural Utility Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • Dennis Buckmaster, Dean’s Fellow for Digital Agriculture, Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Purdue University; Co-Chair, GCTC Smart Agriculture and Rural SuperCluster
  • Megan Nelson, Economic Analyst, American Farm Bureau Federation

Moderators:

  • Jean Rice, Senior Broadband Program Specialist, BroadbandUSA, NTIA
  • Karen Archer Perry, Senior Policy Analyst, BroadbandUSA, NTIA
    Please pre-register for the webinar using this registration link. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
    Want to access past Practical Broadband Conversations webinars? Visit our webinar archives for past presentations, transcripts and audio recordings.

St Cloud Times tells MN Legislature that broadband is key to rural success

In an editorial. St Cloud Times outlines the ways that broadband can help, especially during a pandemic…

We are a long way from learning all the lessons this pandemic has for us. But about this, there is no question: Access to reliable, high-speed data networks is the great equalizer. In these unprecedented times, it’s the difference between learning and earning — or not.

When the virus arrived in Minnesota, the workplace and the classroom changed in the blink of an eye. Decent internet service became the key tool for keeping workers productive, or even employed, and connected students to their teachers and classmates.

Less discussed but perhaps just as important was the internet’s ability to deliver services like a doctor visit online, a counseling session, a visit with an aging parent in a nursing home, a music performance or a virtual happy hour with coworkers. The network’s most tragic job has been connecting families to seriously ill or dying patients quarantined in hospitals.

But back to the economy.

As companies whose workforces were well-equipped for remote work sent their teams home, a defining factor of success became the speed and reliability of the data stream to their workers’ homes. As anyone who has lived through 6 months of video meetings knows, that speed and reliability leaves something to be desired, even in sizable communities.

They tell Minnesota policymakers to make it happen…

Minnesota has done good work. The state has even set a statutory broadband speed goal for all Minnesotans of 100 Mbps/20 Mbps by 2026. The Governor’s Task Force on Broadband in 2018 recommended $70 million per biennium in ongoing funding to provide businesses and households across Minnesota to access minimum broadband internet at speeds of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps through the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program.

But the 2020-2021 biennium allocation was $40 million, the most to date but not enough to help local governments and the private sector level the digital playing field for all Minnesotans.

With the pandemic forcing a mass, if involuntary, proof-of-concept for remote work at scale, all that’s left to do is close the gaps in our rural broadband and demand that lawmakers in St. Paul help fund it.

Mankato Free Press asks MN Legislature to act quickly and decisively on broadband

Mankato Free Press posts an editorial imploring legislators to spend CARES money on rural broadband…

We would argue broadband funding to expand coverage in the short-term and long-term should be a priority. Thousands of Minnesota workers and students now work from home and broadband has become as necessary as electricity.

While broadband coverage has slowly been coming up to state standards in rural areas, there remain large parts of area counties that aren’t up to snuff.

Blue Earth, Brown, Nicollet, Le Sueur, Martin and Waseca counties have between 13 percent and 17 percent of households without broadband that meets the state standards of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. Watonwan County (which has a large Hispanic population) has 20 percent without. Faribault County is the best with only 8 percent without high speed broadband.

These percentages of internet darkness are unconscionable for a modern society. And Democrats and Republicans need to step up and fill the gaps, which are not a problem in metro areas.

Lack of good broadband access is a strong predictor of childhood poverty: true in MN too?

Steven Ross at Broadband Communities has taken a deep dive into broadband and children in poverty and kids who take more than four years to complete school (or education). He looks at the top and bottom counties in each state in aggregate, he found…

Lack of good broadband access is a strong predictor of childhood poverty. That’s the finding of Broadband Communities’ recent analysis combining county-level broadband data it has collected since 2010 with comprehensive, county-level poverty data compiled by the nonprofit organization Save the Children.

These are pre-COVID numbers but he ascertains that the situation is likely worse now…

All data in this article refers to a pre-COVID United States, but broadband disparities now are even worse than they were at the start of 2020 given work-from-home and distance-learning demands brought on by the pandemic. In urban areas where access is available but not always affordable, providers usually have made it available free or at low cost during the COVID-19 lockdown. Almost half of all rural homes have no broadband at any price.

Ross goes on to look at rural versus metro and other interesting factors, but I’m always interested in the Minnesota perspective. So I’m taking a deeper dive based on his study. Because we have local mapping, I have used those rankings (25/3 and 100/20) to look at broadband. And I found percentage of children in poverty a little differently; I used SAIPE State and County Estimates for 2018 (same year as Ross) and their percentage of children (0-17) in poverty. I can pretend this was a check and balance but really it was an easier way to get very similar info with less math for me.

I looked at the top and lowest broadband ranking counties and it aligns with Ross’s work. The top counties had average lower poverty rates and the top counties with faster broadbnd (100/20 vs 25/3) had the lowest averate rates:

  1. Top 10 counties for broadband (100/20), the average poverty rate is 13.54 percent
  2. Bottom 10 counties for broadband (100/20), the average poverty rate is 16 percent
  3. Top 10 counties for broadband (25/3), the average poverty rate is 14.85 percent
  4. Bottom 10 counties for broadband (25/3), the average poverty rate is 16.47 percent
  5. The state poverty rate is 18 percent

I’ve included a table below that compares the broadband coverage and poverty rate. To get some broad swth view, I’ve highlighted in yellow the lower half of the poverty rates and the higher percentages of broadband coverage. So you’d like to see your county come up all yellow.

As Ross points out in his report, this doesn’t tell us cause or effect but there does seem to be a connection.

Senator Klobuchar promotes better broadband in Farmfest forum

The Land (out of Mankato) reports…

Senator Amy Klobuchar spoke as part of the Farmfest virtual “Current State of the Ag Economy” panel on Aug. 4. Presenting from her senate office in Washington D.C., Klobuchar proudly touted that she is one of the most-senior members of the Senate Ag Committee. That being her focus, she explained there’s a concerted effort to get some additional funding for ag in the senate.

She emphasized the need for expanded broadband…

Klobuchar believes not enough attention has been paid to the needs of rural areas and the vital role they play in sustaining this nation. “It gives us a really strong case to make, about why it’s so important that we have producers and growers in our own country.”

Klobuchar believes it’s not only the farm bill which is critical to our rural areas, but access to high speed internet as well. “Not only do we need a strong farm bill, but expanded broadband coverage. Kids in parts of rural America don’t have access to virtual learning right now due to the lack of high-speed broadband in areas. There’s a story in southern Minnesota of a kid taking her biology exam in a liquor store parking lot because it was the only place she could get that high speed. We’re working really hard to get some added funding in this next package when it comes to broadband,” Klobuchar said.

Update from MN Broadband Coalition: Fourth Special Session Begins Today, Broadband Bills Introduced

From the MN Broadband Coalition (via email)…

Saint Paul, Minn.—The Legislature returned, once again, to Saint Paul to convene what are now regular, monthly special sessions. Governor Walz’s emergency powers are set to expire and he must call the Legislature back into session so they can vote on another 30-day extension of the emergency powers.
We expect the session to be brief, likely lasting long enough for the House and Senate to convene and vote on the emergency powers extension. The GOP-run Senate will vote against extending the Governor’s powers and the DFL-controlled House will vote in favor of extension. Both parties are eager to get back on the campaign trail with less than two months before the election in November.
Broadband Bills Reintroduced
Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-Int’l Falls) and Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) have reintroduced their $27 million broadband funding bills from earlier this summer. You will recall this included $2 million for telemedicine, $15 million for education, and $10 million for a supplemental broadband grant program. This legislation in all likelihood will not be moving during the brief September special session (along with almost all other legislation). However, it shows that Capitol leaders remain engaged on the issue and are ready to continue working on it.
In the mean time, all eyes are on the federal government’s negotiation of a second round of coronavirus relief. If Congress allocates more funding to states like they did this spring with the CARES Act, the Coalition intends to ask legislators and the Governor to spend a portion of that money on broadband expansion. Thousands of students are headed back to school through distance learning and we believe it makes sense to have additional funds in the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. Look to the October special session for movement on that effort should Congress agree on a relief package in the next few weeks.

Sherburne County Chat: Broadband is OK, not a big hindrance nor a big help with COVID

Looking at the map from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD), Sherburne County is a mixed bag of served, underserved and unserved. They rank 49th in terms of county coverage at speeds of at least 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up.

It’s surprising given their proximity to the Twin Cities but the market has driven deployment, which means densely populated areas are served and other areas aren’t. But in terms of COVID response, they have one advantage and that is good cell coverage (with limited hills), which means you can get households decent coverage with mobile hotspots. But mobile hotspots don’t build for the future.

I met today with Dan Weber and Bruce Messelt from County Administration, County Commissioner Raeanne Danielowski, County Commissioner Tim Dolan, and David Roedel from Public Works. I have to say that these guys are no broadband freshman. They have upperclassmen experience and knowledge. They are acutely aware of the state, federal and industry policies that make things go smoothly and make things hard.

Five years ago the county had a feasibility study done. Subsequently, they have received some MN Broadband grants; they have (or are) taking advantage of opportunities such as the State Telecommuter Forward program and the chance to use CARES funding for broadband. They have seen COVID dramatically increase the need for broadband and it are reignited a fire under the team.

They recognize that broadband deployment has largely been led by the providers and that has left some holes. They are looking for ways to work with providers, such as building out conduit as they do construction to make it easier and cheaper for providers to extend services.

Not only has COVID reignited the interest in deployment but across the county people have experienced forced adoption as schools, jobs and services move online. COVID has accelerated the pace of technology adoption but the acceleration hasn’t been unilateral so the County is still required to provide services online and offline for folks who don’t have technology. It’s a tricky and expensive position.

The move to telework has also been uneven. They are working on managing productivity and equity of/in access. Some jobs are easier to do online; some jobs and more difficult. The county has had success with virtual interviews, visitations and courtrooms. While field social workers are finding that they would like to visit their clients, maybe not always but sometimes. Also, not everyone in a department has access at home, which leads to different workloads based on broadband access, which can create an imbalance that isn’t fair and/or doesn’t produce what needs to get done. They are working on fair solutions that get the job done.

Somewhat related, some folks have access to broadband but choose not to get it or choose lower tier services. Sometimes that’s a budget issue, sometimes it’s a priority issue, sometimes it’s a lack of understanding of needs. Especially for people working for the county, there are questions about who should pay for household connectivity.

They are also learning that while five years ago, they were focused on getting broadband to the businesses, now they are finding that the businesses are often at home. So they are full circle to looking for ubiquitous coverage and realizing that the county/community will need to get involved in a public private partnership if they want to see areas that aren’t economically viable get access.

The good news is that Sherburne is the fastest growing county in population. While there was a slow down in 2008, growth has caught up and new development is happening. Broadband follows new development; and development follows broadband but as growth continues those paths seem to catch up to each other.

Finally, right now schools are using a hybrid model for education for sustained continuity. It offers some wiggle room if COVID numbers increase. But they also have students who elect an distance-only path. So the schools and teacher accommodate them. In the spring they had homes without access and without devices but they were better able provide for those students because mobile hotspots worked for all of the students. That has not been the case for other counties.

It seems like the situation in Sherburne is that everything is OK but it’s not good. The difficulty with that is that it’s easier to let OK go than to let a problem fester. Hotspots work for the students but again, it doesn’t build infrastructure. I think it was Commissioner Dolan who said that 25/3 just isn’t enough anymore. They need to change the metrics, they need to focus on coverage for homes and businesses.