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.

How can Minnesotans get in line for the new federal broadband discounts? Let’s figure it out together

Earlier today I posted about the new federal discounts for broadband (FCC adopts federal broadband discount program: up to $50/month, $75/month on tribal lands and $100 for device).

The natural follow up is – hey how can I/we/my people get that? Turns out CTC Technology & Energy is already thinking about that.

Localities and states can take action now—before the FCC even issues its rules—to begin to help residents maximize their potential benefits under the new Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. For more details on the program, see our explanation here. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have additional questions.

The big issue is having to figure out if you’re eligible and how apply for the funds. It can be tricky for a family to figure it out. It can be tricky for smaller broadband providers to figure it out. (Larger providers will have an easier time especially if they are already connected to the Lifeline verifier.)

CTC has a way for government to help…

On the surface, the Emergency Broadband Benefit program involves only ISPs, customers, and the FCC: A customer calls the ISP, the ISP verifies their eligibility, and the ISP is reimbursed by the FCC. The reality is that local and state governments can play a key role in helping their residents make the most of this opportunity—rather than assuming the FCC and large ISPs will take on those responsibilities—and in the process, narrow the digital divide in their communities.

 

They recommend three ways:

  • Develop consumer education and outreach materials
  • Engage with ISPs—particularly small, local operators—to support their participation
  • Consider offering bridge funding for ISPs and residents

The article provides more details but I wanted to invite folks to post a comment or contact me atreacy@treacyinfo.com if they are interested and/or planning to take any of these actions. I’ve already heard from a very knowledgeable engineer about this. I’d hate to see people inventing wheels all over the state when we could build one wheel together more easily.

OPPORTUNITY: Libraries without Borders need a Technology and Design Manager

From Libraries without Borders…

Technology and Design Manager
The Technology and Design Manager will work closely with Libraries Without Borders US staff to incorporate a human-centered, design-based approach to develop technology and tech-based solutions for our growing portfolio of programs, with a strong focus on the Wash and Learn Initiative (WALI) and COVID-19 pandemic response. This person will be responsible for leading strategy, research, prototyping, testing, ideating, and implementing clear and thoughtful design solutions that support our team’s national efforts.

FCC adopts federal broadband discount program: up to $50/month, $75/month on tribal lands and $100 for device

Here’s the quick take…

The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will provide eligible households with discounts of up to $50 a month for broadband service, and up to $75 a month if the household is on Tribal lands.  It also will provide a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible households.

The FCC reports

Today, the FCC voted to formally adopt a Report and Order that establishes the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a $3.2 billion federal initiative to provide qualifying households discounts on their internet service bills and an opportunity to receive a discount on a computer or tablet.

 

“Today the Federal Communications Commission made history.  It adopted rules for the nation’s largest-ever program to help households nationwide afford broadband service.  This $3.2 billion program was designed to lower the cost of high-speed internet service for those struggling to get the connectivity they need during the ongoing pandemic.  It’s a challenge that is all too real for too many families.

“This is a program that will help those at risk of digital disconnection.  It will help those sitting in cars in parking lots just to catch a Wi-Fi signal to go online for work.  It will help those lingering outside the library with a laptop just to get a wireless signal for remote learning.  It will help those who worry about choosing between paying a broadband bill and paying rent or buying groceries.  In short, this program can make a meaningful difference in the lives of people across the country.  That’s why our work is already underway to get this program up and running, and I expect it to be open to eligible households within the next 60 days as providers sign up and program systems are put in place.  I have confidence in our staff that we will do this carefully, swiftly and the right way,” said Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will provide eligible households with discounts of up to $50 a month for broadband service, and up to $75 a month if the household is on Tribal lands.  It also will provide a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible households.

Under the law, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is open to households that participate in an existing low-income or pandemic relief program offered by a broadband provider; Lifeline subscribers, including those that are on Medicaid or accept SNAP benefits; households with kids receiving free and reduced-price lunch or school breakfast; Pell grant recipients; and those who have lost jobs and seen their income reduced in the last year.

OPPORTUNITY Wednesdays: Net Inclusion 2021 Webinar Series

Looks like a good series…

Every Wednesday from April 7 – May 26 at 1 PM ET
The Net Inclusion Conference has been a staple in the Digital Inclusion community since 2016, bringing hundreds of practitioners, advocates, academics, internet service providers, and policymakers together to share their knowledge.
With social distancing still in place, NDIA will once again hold an online version of Net Inclusion to substitute the in-person conference. We look forward to seeing our community in person again as soon as it is safe for everyone to travel and gather.
This Series will include eight one-hour webinars, every Wednesday from April 7th through May 26th at 1 PM ET. All webinars include an additional 30-minute wrap up for conversation and Q&A with panelists and fellow participants. Attendees who register before 3/15 will receive stickers and a thank you letter.
Registration is now live and speakers are in the process of being confirmed. Stay tuned!

Congrats to Alexandria Lakes Area in MN – recently named to Smart21 Communities of 2021 from ICF

The ICF (Intelligent Community Forum) is a strategy and award that helps communities around the world strive to be smarter through the use of broadband technology. Each year they whittle down to the top community, starting with the announcement of the Smart21 Communities of 2021, which they did yesterday.

Big news! Alexandria Lakes Area in MN made the top 21 list.

It’s a big honor. Now we have someone local to cheer on as the race progresses. The Blandin Foundation has long been a proponent of the ICF model. The early MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) program, a precursor to the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) programs that Blandin hosts now. In fact, Blandin encourage and supported Alexandria Lakes Area in MN’s application.

Here’s the full list of the Smart21:

  • Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
  • Alexandria Lakes Area, Minnesota, USA
  • Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
  • Binh Duong Smart City, Vietnam
  • Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
  • Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil
  • Regional Municipality of Durham, Ontario, Canada
  • Fairlawn, Ohio, USA
  • Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada
  • Township of Langley, British Columbia, Canada
  • City of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada
  • Markham, Ontario, Canada
  • Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
  • Moscow, Russia
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  • Prospect, South Australia, Australia
  • Rochester, New York, USA
  • Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia
  • Townsville, Queensland, Australia
  • Wellington, New Zealand
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

I’ll paste more on the program from ICF below – but (especially) if you’re in Minnesota you have a unique opportunity to learn more through a series of webinars presented as part of the  AIR initiative, a partnership between Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation and Blandin Foundation. In fact, the there’s a webinar this afternoon:

  • 24: Connectivity: The Foundation of Digital Opportunity.
  • 25: Knowledge Work: Creating a Ladder of Opportunity.
  • March 2: Innovation: Building the Ecosystem from Growth.
  • March 4: Inclusion: Overcoming the Digital Divide.
  • March 9: Sustainability for Quality of Life, Engagement and Economic Growth.

More from ICF…

The Smart21 are selected by ICF based on quantitative and qualitative data related to the six Factors of the ICF Method. The data and information are evaluated by a global team of Analysts led by Columbia professor, former Cisco executive and former Westchester County (New York) CIO, Dr. Norman Jacknis. Dr. Jacknis serves as a Senior Fellow of the Intelligent Community Forum. The ICF Method provides the conceptual framework for understanding the factors that determine a community’s competitiveness in economic, social and cultural terms. Click here to learn more about the ICF Method.

Mankato Free Press Looks at various Broadband bills and issues

Mankato Free Press reports

GOP and DFL senators presented largely similar proposals before a Senate agricultural policy committee Wednesday that would call for $120 to $150 million spent over the next two years on broadband projects, with at least $30 million to $50 million going toward projects in unserved or underserved communities. That amount is largely in line with a House DFL broadband proposal made earlier this year.

They do a deeper dive into on of the bills (SF 1186)…

Draheim is calling for $50 million in grants to be spent in unserved or underserved areas throughout the state over the next two years. He’d also like the state to update its broadband service maps to differentiate between wired and wireless technology connections, as well as mandate state officials to conduct on-the-ground tests of broadband speeds throughout Minnesota.

They mention how similar the various bills are but also mention some of the barriers and controversies happening in broadband funding.

They allude to some CAF funding rounds…

Critics point out some federal grant programs come with matching fund requirements for communities and internet service providers, which state money can help address. In addition, some federal programs don’t meet Minnesota’s broadband speed goals of 25 megabits per second downloads and 3 mbps uploads by 2022, as well as 100 mbps downloads by 20 mpbs uploads by 2026.

They address RDOF projects in Minnesota…

One company, Nevada-based LTD Broadband, received about $312 million for broadband projects across the state. Yet experts say LTD Broadband is ill-equipped to tackle so many projects at once and may not pass federal requirements to get their projects going, leading some local officials and businesses to ask the state to fund broadband proposals in areas where LTD projects are set to start.

MN Dep of Human Services reports on increased telehealth in 2020 and lessons learned

The Minnesota Department of Human Services report (Telemedicine Utilization Report: Telehealth and Telemedicine during the COVID-19 Pandemic) looks at increased use of and decreased regulation on telehealth during the pandemic. Their high level assessment…

Recommendations for further consideration by DHS include:

  • integrating telemedicine as a permanent modality in delivery of services, developing specific guidance on licensing standards around telemedicine;
  • investing resources in understanding comparatively low level of utilization of telemedicine by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities;
  • advocating and prioritizing funding for telehealth infrastructure development; and
  • supporting legislation to allow Medical Assistance (MA) and MinnesotaCare enrollees to have more than three telemedicine visits in a week.

The report is direct, easy to read and includes information that supports the recommendations. I’m going to try to pull out the salient points by segment, which means I’m removing some context to provide a quicker look at the data but again, you can go to the full report for more detail.

From the Contextual analysis: a brief review of contemporary literature

  • Telehealth and telemedicine have shown to increase access to patients, communities, and vulnerable populations, including adolescents, adults, seniors, veterans, rural patients, persons diagnosed with a disability and/or a mental health condition, and persons with transportation barriers and mobility issues.
  • The provision of health care services via telehealth and telemedicine has been shown to decrease the wait times for emergency departments, an appointment with a general practitioner, and referrals to several medical specialties, such as behavioral health and Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT).
  • Telehealth and telemedicine can be utilized to provide prevention and early intervention services and to support follow-up care for chronic conditions.

From the Initial stakeholder feedback summary

  • Telehealth made it easier to access services, and easier to involve other family members in healthcare services.
  • Telehealth freed-up time to serve more clients/patients in need of services since healthcare staff could provide services from one location, eliminating drive-time between provider sites.
  • Patient/client attendance was improved by fewer “no-shows” and late arrivals.
  • Some patients who would otherwise not access care due to their illness, travel distance, lack of transportation, lack of child/senior care, or level of motivation, can more easily access services in the comfort of their home.
  • The input from metro county ethnic minority groups and rural tribal recipients were positive for telehealth service provision, noting that telehealth improves equity in access to healthcare.
  • Responses from ethnic minority groups and rural tribal recipient groups mentioned a preference that telehealth be provided by telephone and not via the internet.

From the Claims data analysis

  • Of the individuals who utilized telemedicine for all health care services, 20% used telemedicine-only, 15% started services after the PHE and have continued follow-up via telemedicine, approximately 50% of individuals stopped services (submitted no claims after the PHE).
  • Results indicate that of the 87.3% of individuals who received health care services, approximately 25% of the recipients engaged in telemedicine care. Moreover, 14.3% of patients receiving Medicaid who needed care and did not utilize in-person visits were able to utilize telemedicine-only services after the PHE. Further investigation on these particular utilization groups is warranted and could illuminate how to better engage individuals with telemedicine health care services.
  • Results suggest changes in telemedicine utilization which impact age groups differently. Specifically, individuals within age groups 0-5 years old and 66+ years old had more telemedicine claims compared to individuals 6-65 years old. This is inconsistent with the CMS Medicaid and CHIP snapshot data, which found that working age adults were more likely to utilize telemedicine services.
  • To measure provider and service patterns at a more gradient level, next steps will utilize longitudinal method with monthly and/or weekly time points starting in January 2020 to more accurately identify telemedicine trends in provider and services.
  • Age and additional demographics warrant further investigation based on volume based on services received.
  • Further examination on service patterns based on services being utilized by individual differences including racial and ethnic groups and geographic location.

From Focus groups (Provider recommendations)

  • Clear guidelines from DHS on billing and payment, patient notes and any other aspects of care or charting which may be audited or should be standardized across practitioners.
  • State assistance (grants, legislation, etc.) to ensure access to high speed Internet statewide, both for providers and facilities and for patients, especially in rural areas.
  • Providers particularly want to ensure that telephone continues to be viewed as a viable form of treatment and billable on par with video treatment options.
    • This is especially important as Internet availability and reliability continue to be a barrier for many patients in accessing remote medicine via video services.
  • Move to a single or greatly reduced number of HIPAA compliant, easy to use, affordable platforms as the vast number of different programs used currently can create difficulties in coordination of care among facilities, providers and other agencies as well as difficulties for patients who see multiple providers utilizing different systems.
  • One idea is to create a public- private partnership between DHS and a telemedicine platform company which would allow for a low-cost, HIPAA compliant system used by most Minnesota providers. o Pursue interstate licensure for telemedicine so providers close to state borders can serve more patients.
    • Promote collaboration with insurance companies and the state insurance commissioner to ensure equity in billing of telemedicine for patients across Minnesota-based insurance companies.
  • Interpreters are an important part of providing mental health and substance use care, and these providers urged that they be included in supporting a successful telemedicine model in Minnesota.
    • These providers stressed that interpreters who are providing ancillary support to providers should be included in any grant funding for devices, Internet provision or other technological assistance as they are currently left to cover these costs themselves.
    • Likewise, if there is to be any standardization of care guidelines or regulations created by DHS, they should take into account the need for interpreters and having a three-way video call, phone call or other means of utilizing interpreter services.

Lessons learned

  • Integrate telemedicine as a permanent modality in delivery of services
  • Provide training, assistance and clarification in provider manual regarding use of telemedicine
  • Offer specific guidance for Office of Inspector General on review of licensing standards around telemedicine
  • Invest resources in exploring reasons behind comparatively low level of utilization of telemedicine by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities
  • Use of telephone-only as a telemedicine modality for clinical services needs to be examined further and independently of other telemedicine modalities. o Possibly keep this as an option for future public health emergencies.

MN Rural Broadband Coalition Update: Senate Hears Broadband Bills

An update from the MN Rural Broadband Coalition…

Senate Hears Three Broadband Funding and Policy Bills
Saint Paul, Minn.—The Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy Committee heard SF 22, SF 946, and SF 1186 during its meeting today. You may recall our summary that was sent out earlier this week that outlined the bills currently moving through the legislative process.
Three of those bills were heard today:

  • SF 22 (Bakk) Broadband Funding
    • $120 million, biennial ongoing funding
  • SF 946 (Westrom) Broadband Funding + Unserved Targeting
    • $120 million, biennial ongoing funding
    • $30 million, biennial targeted to unserved areas
    • Projects that must go through an underserved area to get to unserved area would qualify
    • State match may be up to 55% if 10% comes from a non-state entity.
    • Language from last session/special sessions
  • SF 1186 (Draheim) Mapping Changes + Funding
    • Annual mapping contract, must collect data from “wired and wireless” providers, make maps public by April 15, annually.
    • $50 million, biennial one-time funding
    • Unserved only
    • “Must not be used in areas scheduled to be built out through federal assistance”

The Coalition submitted a letter to the committee outlining our testimony and position on the three bills. (you can read that letter here) We wrote in support of SF 22 and SF 946. We could not fully support SF 1186 because of the clause that prevents the state from investing in areas that are scheduled to receive federal assistance. We know that federal programs have not always met the high standards that the Border-to-Border Program has in place, particularly when it comes to broadband speeds.
All three bills were laid over for possible inclusion in a forthcoming committee budget bill.
We want to thank all three bill authors for continuing to keep broadband front-and-center at the Legislature as well as Sen. Torrey Westrom for dedicating time in his committee to hearing the bills. The next step is the February Revenue Forecast which will be revealed Friday morning (2/26). We will find out what the state’s finances look like and get a better idea in the coming weeks what the state budget will look like. Stay tuned for an update at the end of the week.
HF 686, Electric Cooperative Easements Bill Heard in House
Rep. Rob Ecklund’s bill that would allow electric cooperatives build broadband network on existing electric easements was heard today by the House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee. The bill was updated by the author to include several provisions, including clauses that require property owners along the easement to be notified by mail and allow for up to six months for property owners to take legal action against cooperatives over the easement.
The bill was laid over by the committee so that stakeholders could continue to work on their differences and come to an agreement on the bill.

Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch Digital Navigators: Archive

Thanks to everyone who joined the conversation on Digital Navigators today. We had a lot of expertise in the Zoom room; that led to some really good questions.

Thanks especially to Marc Johnson, Executive Director of (ECMECC) and Paolo Balboa, Programs and Data Manager for the National Digital Inclusion Alliance for getting us started. On a high level here are some of the topics that came up:

  • Description of Digital Navigators in a wide range of situations – from school to seniors
  • What we’re learned and shared based on escalated need in the pandemic
  • Who are the digital navigators? Are they certified?
  • How do we encourage BIPOC and people in communities that are not traditionally going for tech careers to get into digital navigation – especially if that’s a stepping stone to better jobs
  • How do digital navigators work with folks with limited English skills

I’m going to paste the “chat” from the meeting below. I was going to clean up or organize the various links but I think people get a flavor of the meetings if I leave it asis. Remember we do lunch bunch meetings twice a month. Here are details on the next meetings:

 From the chat Continue reading

OPPORTUNITY: Regional leaders gather to imagine a broadband-fueled economy

Happy to share the following invitation from IRRRB. The meetings have been going well and they are opening up attendance…

More than 100 economic and community developers from across the region gathered earlier this month for the Arrowhead Intelligent Region (AIR) kickoff event. Together, participants began imagining what a regional broadband-fueled economy might look like and how to get there.

The AIR initiative, a partnership between Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation and Blandin Foundation, is building on the momentum, and bringing to regional scale, the work and vision of 10 Iron Range Broadband Communities (IRBC) that have implemented nearly 125 projects in the past four years. IRBC broadband champions and regional developers are joining forces to think bigger about the role of broadband access and use in local economies.

To inspire and guide project development, Robert Bell of Intelligent Community Forum is hosting twice-weekly webinars through March 9 to introduce global best practices that can inform and be applied to regional broadband efforts. Last week, webinar participants discussed technology as a driver of change in local economies and how to engage community as part of that change.

Upcoming webinars include:

  • Feb. 24: Connectivity: The Foundation of Digital Opportunity.
  • Feb. 25: Knowledge Work: Creating a Ladder of Opportunity.
  • March 2: Innovation: Building the Ecosystem from Growth.
  • March 4: Inclusion: Overcoming the Digital Divide.
  • March 9: Sustainability for Quality of Life, Engagement and Economic Growth.

Community members who are passionate about broadband connectivity and its role in a strong regional economy are welcome to attend all webinars.

Register for the webinars.

On March 12, participants will gather for a project development meeting to learn about the grant process, brainstorm project ideas and begin forming small groups to lay out project implementation.

Learn more about the Arrowhead Intelligent Region initiative.

New Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity support policies – including broadband

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

Racism exists in all aspects of life, greatly affecting our overall economy and well-being as a state.

According to the Alana Community Brain Trust, the opportunity cost of racism in Minnesota, via loss of income, lack of homeownership, tax burdens and business losses, is estimated to be $287 billion.

A coalition has been formed to address these issues…

After the death of George Floyd, leaders from more than 80 Minnesota companies ranging in size and industry came together to form the Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity. While many have stepped into this space of racial justice in response to the events of last summer, our coalition’s approach is new. We meet this moment of reckoning in earnest, bringing together a cross-functional group of leaders to fuel a movement of sustained, real and meaningful action toward a better Minnesota specifically with and for Black Minnesotans.

The have assessed and support policies that close gaps, including policies that expand broadband…

In addition, we have identified issue areas aligned with our desired long-term outcomes as policy priorities for 2021. This state legislative session has been focused on mitigating the acute impacts of COVID-19, most of which already existed for a disproportionate number of Black Minnesotans, from housing instability to gaps in education opportunities to a lack of access to technology. That is why we are actively supporting legislation aimed at expanding access to quality child care and education opportunities, expansion of access to and use of broadband service and devices, and increasing investments in housing stability.

HealthPartners surpasses 1 million video visits in MN since COVID-19 began

WCCO Radio reports

When the COVID-19 pandemic took center state in Minnesota in March 2020, hospitals and clinics rushed to alter how they offered clinic visits due to worries about patient and provider safety.

Video visits quickly replaced traditional in-person clinic visits at HealthPartners locations in Minnesota. In fact, video visits reached their peak last May accounting for 50 percent of all visits.

“We were able to train 2,000 clinicians on how to do video visits and create training materials in the matter of days,” said Dr. Annie Ideker, a family physician at the HealthPartners clinic in Arden Hills. “Literally in one day a small team of us actually developed this strategy and completed five video visits by the end of the day. That was on March 19.”

As of February 15, HealthPartners had completed over 1 million video visits since the start of the pandemic.

While the numbers have dropped off, 22 percent of all visits at HealthPartners are done via video.

OPPORTUNITY: MN Safe Learning Survey

This is a slight wheel into another lane, except access to broadband impact the experience of online learning…

The University of Minnesota is working with MDE and launched the MN Safe Learning Survey in an effort to provide MDE, policy makers, and educational leaders a sense of how students, families, and educators are feeling about the school year. We are eager to get it out far and wide so that we get as many student, family, and educator responses as possible. Could you help us by sharing with your networks and on social media? Here is the link:

 

https://z.umn.edu/MNSafeLearningSurvey

COVID relief for emergency rental assistance – broadband relief is acceptable use

Thanks to the NDIA listserv, I found out about a way that the Emergency Rental Assistance can be used for broadband. From the FAQ regarding the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (published 2/22/2021)…

The Act provides that ERA funds may be used for “other expenses related to housing incurred due, directly or indirectly, to” the COVID-19 outbreak, as defined by the Secretary. What are some examples of these “other expenses”? The Act requires that other expenses must be related to housing and be incurred due directly or indirectly due to COVID-19. Such expenses include relocation expenses and rental fees (if a household has been temporarily or permanently displaced due to the COVID-19 outbreak); reasonable accrued late fees (if not included in rental or utility arrears and if incurred due to COVID-19); and Internet service provided to the rental unit. Internet service provided to a residence is related to housing and is in many cases a vital service that allows renters to engage in distance learning, telework, and telemedicine and obtain government services. However, given that coverage of Internet would reduce the amount of funds available for rental assistance, grantees should adopt policies that govern in what circumstances that they will determine that covering this cost would be appropriate. All payments for housing-related expenses must be supported by documentary evidence such as a bill, invoice, or evidence of payment to the provider of the service.