About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

Recognizing that rural connectivity doesn’t equal urban connectivity

The Center for Rural Policy and Development looks at the need for broadband in the time of pandemic and the difference in rural, town and urban broadband connections…

In rural areas, having a subscription to an internet service doesn’t equal a quality connection. Counties outside of the seven-county metro have a noticeably lower percentage of households with access to broadband or, in some cases, any internet at all. Figure 1 provides the average percentage of households by internet connection type by county group. The more rural a county is, the more likely it is to have a significantly lower percentage of households with an internet subscription. In fact, Minnesota’s most rural counties can have a percentage of households with an internet subscription that is 10 to 20 percentage points less than entirely urban areas.

The percentage of households who are subscribed to a broadband service decreases significantly as a county becomes more rural. In addition, the percentage of households relying on their cell phone data plan or dial-up connection increases with rural-ness. Data: U.S. Census Bureau, ACS 5-year (2013-2017).

What I find fascinating is the perentage (low as it is) of dial-up connectivity!

The article goes on to detail good works by local and national providers in improving access in Minnesota – a fleshed out version of what I’ve been tracking on the blog too – super helpful if you want to know exactly what folks are offering.

Augmented Reality Tool for local governments and first responders: Edgybees

I’m not a big TV detective show fan but Edgybees seems to be the tool that all of the fictional police departments have to compile disparate info into a picture or video that solves the mystery in real time. Or as they put it…

Edgybees augments live video feeds with precise geo-information layers captured from any camera, human input or other data sources.

Our Augmented Real-time Intelligence™ fuses computer vision, multi-sensor data analytics and 3D video generation to provide a simple visual layer of highly accurate, real-time information. The result is instant clarity and collaboration within even the most complex operational environments.

Here’s a video on their work:

 

The internet superhighway isn’t going to shut down but your last mile might falter – especially uploading!

Internet infrastructure is getting a workout these days. According to a recent article in Vox, internet traffic in the US is up 18 percent from Jan 1 to Mar 22, 2020. But as the article points out, we are unlikely to break the internet…

The internet itself is an incredibly robust and resilient network that was specifically designed to adapt to huge spikes in traffic just like the one we’re living through. The platforms and apps that make the internet useful, however, are less tested. So the good news is, America’s internet is better prepared for this pandemic than you think. The bad news is that Mark Zuckerberg and others are worried that their platforms might not be able to handle this. Lucky for you, many experts think that everything will be fine.

In fact, overall performance hasn’t suffered…

Even still, so far it looks like performance hasn’t noticeably suffered. Ookla recently published a dataset that shows the mean download speed in the US on March 22 was actually about the same as it was on December 15. In the past few days, it has been trending down slightly, but we’re talking 10 megabits per second of difference. Just for context, the average download speed for fixed broadband in the US is about 140 Mbps, so that variation is pretty insignificant.

That’s good but it turns out that what we experience at home might not reflect this not-much-change status…

The “last mile” is where you might start running into some problems right now. It’s the part of the internet infrastructure that consumer-facing ISPs like Spectrum or Comcast control. If there’s going to be a bottleneck for traffic anywhere, there’s a good chance it’s either going to be along the last mile or even inside your home.

Let’s start with what could go wrong on the last mile. If you work for a big company, there’s a good chance that your office internet is a fiber connection that theoretically has unlimited bandwidth. Your work computer might even get gigabit speeds for downloads and uploads, which is plenty fast enough to have a high quality Zoom call.

The situation at your home is different, however. Most residential broadband connections link the larger internet, which is fiber-based, to your home through an aging cable infrastructure. This cable system was designed to carry TV signals into your home, not carry information out of it. That’s why, if you’ve got a cable connection and run a speed test, you’ll see a huge difference between your faster download speeds and your slower upload speeds.

“I think that if there is going to be one place that we do see bottlenecks, especially in the US or other markets that are primarily served by cable operators, it’s going to be in that upload capacity,” Prince said.

Upload capacity is key to video conferencing services. So if your Zoom meetings aren’t going so well, you might be maxing out what your old infrastructure can handle. But if you’ve got a fiber connection, you should ask your ISP about getting symmetrical upload and download speeds. Verizon Fios and Google Fiber are a couple of ISPs that offer this.

Now, even if we assume you have unlimited bandwidth, you still might run into problems at home. Network congestion is an obvious consequence of increased usage, and that can lead to latency, which is the amount of time it takes for a packet of information to get from its source (a server) to its destination (your computer). A stuttering or out-of-sync video chat, for example, is a sure sign of high latency, which means that packets of data are probably getting backed up along the way. This might be because those packets have to travel through multiple routers before arriving at the one in your house, and due to congestion, each of those stops slows it down by a few milliseconds. In keeping with the highway metaphor, think about cars trying to get off a highway at a crowded exist. So even though you may think you have plenty of bandwidth and should therefore have fast internet, there’s a chance your connection just feels slow because high congestion is causing latency issues.

“The thing that I’m more concerned about with the load on the internet that we’re seeing right now is not that it’s going to stop working or even that we’re going to get low quality videos,” Justine Sherry, an assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, told Recode. “What I am worried about is that we’re going to see higher and higher latencies from these queues building up in the network, making it harder to do things like video conferencing.”

If you think you’re experiencing latency problems, the first thing to do is check how many devices are connected to your network. If you’re streaming Netflix on your smart TV, someone else in your house is streaming video gameplay on Twitch, and someone else is having a FaceTime conversation at the same time, you might have a problem. More connected devices doing high-bandwidth tasks typically means more congestion on your home network, and, therefore higher latency.

These latency issues can happen at either side of the connection. While big internet companies like Amazon and Facebook have sophisticated server setups that route and reroute traffic in real time, smaller operations can easily get strained by a surge in traffic. Sherry offered the example of her local library website grinding to a halt in the early days of the pandemic as the entire neighborhood tried to check out books at the same time. So if you’re dealing with smaller websites like these, you might just have to be patient.

I’ve often heard people say, download is for consumers and upload is for producers. The Minnesota broadband speed goal (100 Mbps down and 20 up by 2026) is an example of assuming greater consumption. I remember when they talked about the discrepancy, many people noted that the upload they selected was asymmetrical abut that 20 Mbps should suffice for most users. It will be interesting to see, if/as we spend more time online – working, learning and keeping ourselves entertained, whether that 20 Mbps still seem sufficient.

Webinar Archive: Broadband and Education in the Time of Coronavirus

Thanks to the presenters and attendees of today’s webinar on what we’re doing in Minnesota to set up families and students to be successful during the coronavirus slow down. Here’s the description and links to speakers:

Schools are going online. Are your students prepared? Are your schools prepared? How can schools create digital equity quickly while planning for the future? In this webinar, we’ll talk about access to devices, making broadband affordable, and plans to extend broadband in the short and long term with an eye toward what you can do now and what you should be thinking about moving forward.

PPTs:

And finally the live chat during the session: Continue reading

Tools that local government can use to monitor and respond to social media chatter

The coronavirus sheltering and distancing is bringing technology (and access to broadband!) to the forefront in so many ways. Today I have a bunch of tools designed for local governments, although probably just as useful to other organizations.

Starting with – Zencity

Zencity’s platform monitors and aggregates online discourse in real-time. The platform provides insight on what people are saying on specific topics from a range of social and local media channels. This allows city leaders to quickly respond to residents’ real concerns around COVID-19 without guessing about what is important to them. Geolocation data pinpoints discourse according to specific neighborhoods, so that localized resources and outreach can be targeted and efficiently allocated.

EVENT Mar 30: Human Services’ Calls with the Governor’s Office

The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Reports

The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, in conjunction with the office of Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, is pleased to host a series of four weekly Calls with Governor’s Office featuring updates for nonprofits on Minnesota’s response to COVID-19.
The Governor’s office values the state’s nonprofit partners and would like to easily give information as news is breaking in this changing environment. Each free virtual chat will take place over the next four Mondays from 11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. and will feature Gov. Walz, Lt. Gov. Flanagan, or both.
The first call will focus on information for, and questions from, nonprofits in the human services sectors. Visit MCN’s event page in the coming weeks for information on future calls.

On the face of it, this isn’t necessarily broadband-related, unless of course you had questions about the inequity of broadband connectivity in rural areas impacting ability to access government services or adhere to sheltering in place executive order.

Minnesota is looking to telehealth to support mental health during coronavirus quarantine

Keeping mentally healthy is a challenge and noble goal in these days of sheltering in place. Both the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Post Bulletin (via Duluth News Tribune) are highlighting what people are doing to keep healthy around the state.

A Star Tribune article reports

As one way to adjust, Valkyrie started the Minnesota Mutual Support group on Facebook earlier this week to help people stay connected to resources and to each other. More than 600 have already joined.

“I don’t have access to my normal support,” Valkyrie said. “It’s been reaching out a lot online, to be honest, and helping others. And creating that group actually helps my mental health quite a bit.”

And more formal recommendations to find support online…

Mental health providers are also scrambling statewide to triage care and treatment for patients as the pandemic continues. They are directing patients to telehealth counseling and fielding calls from patients unsure if they should still go to therapy in person. Providers are working to keep their employees safe and reassured, but some have considered laying off staff they cannot afford to pay.

The coronavirus crisis has also put Minnesota’s shortage of mental health services on display. Even as providers urge clients to move to telehealth services, they acknowledge that not every household has internet, a computer or a smartphone. And a remote counseling session won’t necessarily have the same benefit as an in-person session for a patient.

Clinics are embracing technology to provide services…

One clinic has given laptops to clients for telehealth services. Another is working on YouTube videos to share with clients and staff on breathing and self-soothing resources. But all three said they continue to tell Minnesotans who need help the same thing: Keep calling

The Duluth New Tribune talks about what’s happening in Rochester (MN)…

On Thursday, March 18, Family Service Rochester announced the launch of new telehealth counseling services. The services are available for new and existing patients. Counseling sessions can be provided via internet connection on a smartphone, tablet or computer. The process, which is all completed from one’s home, starts with a phone call and completing a few online forms before the patient is scheduled to talk with a mental health professional.

And offers some pandemic mental health advice to tech users…

Stay connected but also disconnected, Sawchuk recommends. Staying connected to social support is incredibly helpful and therapeutic during difficult times, he said. With modern technology, it is easy to reach out to someone but it is important to make sure that those people you may be reaching out to bring you up, rather than down.