It’s time for the MN Broadband Model to bring broadband to communities without ability to ask

The Duluth News Tribune posts a letter to the editor from David Beard, who teaches writing and communication at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He outlines some projects that have done a great job bringing broadband to some parts of the northland but the letter is a reminder that we are not all there and until we are, we need to keep working…

Imagine if you had to drive to your local library to virtually visit with a therapist about your increasing anxiety during the pandemic. Or imagine if you had to drive to the community center to ask your doctor to take a look at the mole that appeared on your forearm. It sounds inconvenient, invasive, and awkward.

And yet, for as long as one in 10 Minnesotans lacks access to broadband internet, we are telling our (mostly rural) neighbors that we don’t care how inconvenient, invasive, and awkward it can be for them to see their doctor.

Broadband internet access is a health care equity issue, and we need to do more.

Tool Template: Finding the Broadband Internet Service That Works for Your Family

There is a great template for schools (or others) to help you help your students or other folks get the broadband they need. It’s called Finding the Broadband Internet Service That Works for Your Family. My colleague Bill Coleman created it with feedback from Marc Johnson at ECMECC walks folks through better understanding the technology and who to call to get better service or help. You can customize it based on what is available in your community or through your school. So it’ll take a little time to make it most useful but it seems like that there’s someone at your school or office already answering these questions on a regular basis so it might be an easy way to quit reinventing the wheel!

EVENT Sep 18: National Day of Civic Hacking

An invitation from the Code for America Team…

Whether you’ve attended one Code for America Brigade meetup, or you’re a regular attendee, we wanted to make sure you knew about our upcoming National Day of Civic Hacking event on September 18. This is an opportunity to use your time and skills to help transform our 911 emergency system. Right now, our 911 system often deploys an armed law enforcement response as a one-size-fits-all solution regardless of the caller’s needs.

But what if our country’s emergency response system were “people-first”? There is a growing movement to reimagine this system, starting by understanding its levers for change. That’s where the Code for America community comes in.

Register now to join National Day of Civic Hacking 2021. On Saturday, September 18, join fellow civic leaders, public servants, designers, coders, data scientists, and activists for our 9th annual National Day of Civic Hacking—a day of action to partner with local communities and tackle some of our toughest challenges.

This year our theme is “Reimagining 911.” We’ve partnered with Transform 911 to understand, evaluate, and reimagine a human-centered approach to the emergency response system.

This virtual event kicks off with a panel at 9 a.m. PT / 12 p.m. ET followed by working time, an optional lunch-and-learn, and closing remarks. Participants have the option to work independently or with their local Brigade, community group, or assigned volunteer group.

During working time, our coordinated action teams will participate in the following actions:

– Open Data: Research & Scorecard

– Data Analysis

– Prototyping: Case Studies & exploring “How Might We” Statements

We welcome people of all skill levels as well as new and returning volunteers alike. While “hacking” is in the name, you don’t need to know how to code to participate. There will be actions available to leverage different skills, technical and nontechnical. Check out our FAQs to learn more about National Day of Civic Hacking.

See you on the 18th,

The Code for America Team

To reply to this message, please contact

New FirstNet Cell Site Launches Near Baudette to Support First Responders in Northern Minnesota

Latest news on FirstNet from AT&T

Northern Minnesota’s first responders are getting a major boost in their wireless communications thanks to the FirstNet® network expansion currently underway by AT&T. We’ve added a new, purpose-built cell site located just south of Baudette near the North Branch Rapid River in Lake of the Woods County.

This FirstNet site will provide coverage when traveling along County Highway 84 and County Highway 1 near the Town of Carp in northern Minnesota. It will also give first responders on FirstNet – America’s public safety network – access to always-on, 24-hours-a-day priority and preemption across voice and data.

Why is this important? We look at FirstNet as the most important wireless network in the country because it’s serving our first responders. And unlike commercial networks, FirstNet provides dedicated mobile broadband. To ensure AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) are putting coverage and capacity where first responders need it most, the FirstNet build is being done with direct feedback from state and public safety officials. This helps ensure Minnesota first responders connect to the critical information they need – every day and in every emergency. Other FirstNet sites already launched in Minnesota include Bagley, Blackduck, Cloquet, Echo Trail (northwest of Ely), Finlayson, Graceville, Grygla, Hovland, Isabella, Kellogg (Hwy 42), Kjostad Lake, Lewiston and Williams.

What are the benefits to first responders? Building upon AT&T’s current and planned investments in Minnesota, we’re actively extending the reach of FirstNet to give agencies large and small the reliable, unthrottled connectivity and modern communications tools they need. These sites were constructed using Band 14 spectrum, as well as AT&T commercial spectrum. Band 14 is nationwide, high quality spectrum set aside by the government specifically for FirstNet. We look at Band 14 as public safety’s VIP lane. In an emergency, this band – or lane – can be cleared and locked just for FirstNet subscribers. That means only those on the FirstNet network will be able to access Band 14 spectrum, further elevating their connected experience and emergency response. Band 14 has been added on more than 600 existing sites across Minnesota, including markets such as the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester, the Iron Range, St. Cloud and the Brainerd/Baxter area.

How does this help Minnesota residents? This new infrastructure will also help improve the overall coverage experience for AT&T wireless customers in the area. Residents, visitors and businesses can take advantage of the AT&T spectrum bands, as well as Band 14 when capacity is available.

Are you ready for Digital Inclusion Week Oct 4-8?

There’s still time to plan so I wanted to share info from NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance) on Digital Inclusion Week 2021…

Digital Inclusion Week is an annual campaign that recognizes local digital inclusion organizations and special events that promote digital equity across the country.

Please join us October 4-8, 2021 – this will be our biggest Digital Inclusion Week ever, with seasoned practitioners and newly launched programs hosting virtual and in-person events. DIW aims to raise awareness of solutions addressing home internet access, personal devices, and local technology training and support programs.

Here’s how it works:

  • Create or find an activity in your area that builds inclusion by providing computer training, media literacy, affordable devices, or internet access to people on the wrong side of digital divides – or builds public awareness.

  • Use the social media kit to raise awareness around the digital divide and the incredible work your community is doing to reach digital inclusion.

  • Connect with colleagues around the country to share ideas through our mailing list.

  • Use hashtags #DIW2021 and #digitalequityNOW during the week of October 4th to join the conversation and celebrate progress.

Learn more – and get resources to help!

Telehealth in MN – how to find it, what insurance pays for, how to get it

The UpTake has a useful article on the how-tos and some of the whys of telehealth policy during/because of COVID. It might be helpful to folks you know (or you) but also I think it’s helpful as a policymaker or community leader to think about telehealth from the perspective of the patient or provider.

How does insurance coverage for telehealth work in Minnesota since the pandemic…

Minnesota has been following the federal recommendations for COVID-19 emergency telehealth coverage since March 2020, including requiring that insurers cover telehealth sessions at the same rate as in-person appointments. At the time this article is written, clients’ homes are still considered an appropriate originating site for telehealth appointments.

This means that your insurance company should continue to cover your telehealth sessions at this time, and you would have the same out-of-pocket expense as if you had come to the office in person. It also means that your insurance will not require you to travel to an approved originating site.

Currently, Minnesota’s emergency telehealth coverage is tied to the federal state of emergency. Coverage is ongoing, as the pandemic is ongoing. States that have made changes to these policies have given a minimum of 30 days notice, and providers have a responsibility to be attentive to these regulations. As changes occur, providers will give their clients as much notice as possible about how this might impact their treatment and options for services.

How does it work for telehealth work for providers…

The state of Minnesota requires that clinicians submit a statement indicating that they are qualified to provide telehealth services. This is something that clients do not need to do, and the therapist has the responsibility to take this step prior to providing telehealth services.

What if my provider is not in MN…

Since before the pandemic began, licensure requirements for mental health professionals have been based on the client’s physical location at the time of service. This means, as a therapist, I must be licensed where my client is when they check in for a telehealth session.

Previously, Minnesota had allowed out-of-state providers to offer telehealth services to Minnesota residents due to the COVID-19 state of emergency. This has been important for those living near boarders who had received in-person services in another state but now needed to be seen from home for safety reasons. However, this reciprocity is no longer in effect.

This means that providers in South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, and Wisconsin now need their clients to either come in person to the office or use an approved originating site across the border based on that state’s guidelines.

How can I get the services I need…

If you are uninsured, Walk-In Counseling Center continues to offer telehealth services in Minnesota, and Open Path Collective offers a national therapist directory to help individuals find low-cost therapy services.

If you have insurance, you can reach out to your insurance company to see which Minnesota providers are paneled with your plan. You can ask questions about which services are covered and whether you have to meet a deductible or will have a copay for each visit.

Essentia Health in Duluth gets nearly $1 million from FCC for telehealth

The FCC reports

The Federal Communications Commission today approved an initial set of 62 applications for funding commitments totaling $41.98 million for Round 2 of its COVID-19 Telehealth Program.  Health care providers in each state, territory, and the District of Columbia, including those previously unfunded in Round 1, will use this funding to provide telehealth services during the coronavirus pandemic.  The FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program supports the efforts of health care providers to continue serving their patients by providing reimbursement for telecommunications services, information services, and connected devices necessary to enable telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, access to health care has proven to be not only a national issue, but also a local issue, and it is imperative that every community is given the tools to access this care as safely and effectively as possible.  The FCC is committed to ensuring that every state and territory in the United States receive funding as part of this program,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.  “The FCC took action earlier this year to establish a system for rating applications in Round 2, factoring in the hardest hit and lowest-income areas, Tribal communities, and previously unfunded states and territories.  Now even more doctors and nurses in every corner of our country can establish or expand telehealth services to support patients and their families.”

This first set of awards will go to applications that qualify for the equitable distribution step, as required by Congress and outlined in the FCC’s rules, to ensure nationwide distribution of funding to health care providers in each state, territory, and the District of Columbia.  This step funds the highest-scoring applications in every state, territory, and the District of Columbia plus the second highest-scoring application from the states and territories that did not receive funding in Round 1, if multiple applications were submitted from those areas.

Round 2 is a $249.95 million federal initiative that builds on the $200 million program established as part of the CARES Act.  Now that funding has been committed to the highest-scoring applications from each state, territory, and the District of Columbia, the next funding awards will commit funding to the highest-scoring applications, regardless of geography, until at least $150 million has been committed.  The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau will then announce an opportunity for all remaining applicants to supplement their applications, as required by Congress.  After all remaining applicants have the opportunity to supplement, the remaining program funding will be committed.

Here’s the Minnesota recipient…

Essentia Health in Duluth, an integrated health system in Minnesota, serving patients in the upper Midwest, was awarded $981,204 to support the acquisition of remote monitoring devices and video carts with peripheral cameras and stethoscopes/EKGs for care during the pandemic, and to increase wireless broadband coverage at eight clinics to allow for additional space for telehealth patients.

OPPORTUNITY: Free Chromebooks for MN Families in Need

From Minnesota Afterschool Advance

Minnesota Afterschool Advance (MAA) is here to help your family get a device to assist your student’s education! By using both the K-12 Education Tax Credit and scholarship dollars from Youthprise, we’re committed to getting even more Minnesota families a Chromebook.

How can MAA help?

If your household income is under $33,500 in 2020 and 2021 and you file taxes, MAA can use a tool called the K-12 Education Tax Credit plus scholarship dollars from Youthprise to get you a Chromebook for no additional cost, plus save you 75% or more on afterschool and summer activities like tutoring, music lessons, and driver’s education. Learn more about how MAA works by watching a short animated video.

We are limited to one device per household due to tax credit rules.

How can I get a Chromebook?

  1. Apply to MAA

    The first step is to apply to MAA, so we can determine your eligibility.

    Since the computer hardware option is limited to one per family, you only need to submit an application for one eligible student, but you may apply for additional students if you want to use MAA to pay for afterschool and summer activities as well. We will generally review your application within a few business days.

  2. Select Your Chromebook

    Once approved, we will send you a special link to order your Chromebook and have it shipped to you.

  3. Receive Your Chromebook

    In most cases, shipping takes around one week or less depending on your location.

  4. Watch for Additional Instructions from MAA at the End of the Year

    MAA gets repaid by the State when you file your state income tax return at the end of the year. The Department of Revenue will directly repay the amount MAA advances to you from the Tax Credit dollars (these are additional dollars on top of your regular refund). To help with tax filing, MAA will provide instructions to assist you and also let you know about available free tax preparation services.

Is my student eligible?

For a limited time, we have expanded eligibility rules to qualify for a Chromebook!

Students are generally eligible if:

  • They are in grades K-12.

  • Your household income in 2020 and 2021 is under $33,500.

View detailed eligibility rules and guidelines.

Minnesota can fund broadband AND electric vehicles

Twin Cities Business reports…

With the recent Senate passage of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, states are looking for what level of federal funding they might expect for their own projects. The Biden Administration released preliminary numbers last week, giving Minnesota a glimpse at projects it might be able to complete after final passage of the infrastructure package. Some big-ticket items were $4.5 billion for highways, $302 million for bridge repairs and $802 million to improve public transportation across the state.

In addition to those funds, the White House said Minnesota can expect to receive $68 million over the span of five years to “support the expansion of an [electric vehicle] charging network in the state.”

This is a relatively small investment compared to the rest of the cash Minnesota could receive, but experts say this would be a huge opportunity to get more Minnesotans to drive EVs and reduce their carbon footprint.

An interesting note from the article was Senator Dahms suggesting that broadband funding might be used to fund EVs…

[State Sen. Gary] Dahms pointed to broadband — another big infrastructure bill spending area — as an example of a state priority taking years to achieve and lagging behind in rural areas.

“We put a lot of money into broadband, I’ve been working on broadband for 11 years,” Dahms said. “In Minnesota, we still have areas that do not have broadband. But we spent a lot of money, we have spent a lot of money in the metro area and we have a lot of good reception of broadband there. Shift that to electric cars.”

Access to broadband is credited for drawing in new residents to help boost population

Duluth News Tribune reports on the impact of broadband on population shifts in Northern Minnesota…

The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday released data showing population changes over the last decade.

As a whole, the 11-county Northland region of Northeastern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin only decreased slightly, with a combined population of 431,134 on April 1, 2020 — down 171 people from the last Census conducted a decade ago.

As a state, Minnesota saw a population increase of 402,000 residents — up 7.6% — since 2010 while Wisconsin saw nearly 207,000 more residents — a 3.6% increase.

The Northland county with the largest growth as a percentage of population over the last decade came from Cook County, which grew by 8.2%, or 424 people, to 5,600. Bayfield County grew by 8% — from 15,014 to 16,220 over the last decade.

They credit broadband for being a draw…

Mary Somnis, executive director of the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority, said area real estate agents have been incredibly busy lately and credited the county’s access to “excellent” broadband for drawing people in.

“We have really good broadband and it’s really beautiful here,” Somnis said.

Meanwhile, the largest drop in population came from Koochiching County, which saw its population fall 9.4% — from 13,311 in 2010 to 12,062 in 2020.

It’s worth noting that as of last measure in 2020, Cook County ranking 14th (out of 87) and  Koochinching ranks 59th for broadband access.

Paul Bunyan Communications Opens Apple Service Center in Grand Rapids

It’s fun to see what the community can do with fiber …

Paul Bunyan Communications has opened a certified Apple Service Center in their new office at 510 SE 21st Street in Grand Rapids. The cooperative has been northern Minnesota’s certified Apple Service Center for several years out of the Bemidji location.

The Apple Service Center provides both in-warranty and out of warranty service on Apple products and computer repair including hardware or software problems, spill damage, screen replacement, virus removal, upgrades, and accessories. It is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. -5:30 p.m.

“It’s exciting to open up another Apple Service Center. People rely on a lot of devices and when they don’t work properly it isn’t fun.  When that happens, we’re here to help.” said Leo Anderson, Paul Bunyan Communications Technology Experience Manager.

“We’ve built one of the largest all-fiber optic rural gigabit networks in the country that offers the fastest internet speeds available.  It will provide optimum performance for the devices our customers use but not if they aren’t working right.  Now they can bring them to our Grand Rapids Apple Service Center to get checked out,” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager

Making the case for ongoing telehealth: the flu is contagious

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Visiting a doctor’s office after a patient with flu-like illness appears to be a risk for getting sick, according to University of Minnesota research that could have implications for infection control and the use of online visits for primary care.

Researchers from the U, Harvard University and athenahealth, reviewed electronic medical records for 6,709 U.S. primary care clinics in 2016 and 2017 and found that people who visited their clinics the same day after patients with flu-like illnesses were more likely to return within two weeks with their own respiratory ailments.

The risk is only slight, as the rate of post-visit illnesses was 2.9 per 1,000 in people who visited clinics the same day after flu patients, compared with 2.2 per 1,000 in patients who visited clinics before flu patients. However, lead author Hannah Neprash said the nearly 32% difference in the rates was significant and provided some of the first documented evidence that clinics can be infection sources for patients — not just hospitals.

Seems like a good reason to promote continued telehealth, especially with folks with flu-like (or pandemic symptoms)…

Doctor visits in the study occurred well before the declaration in early 2020 of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Neprash said lessons learned in the pandemic could likely address the causes of infections in clinics. Mask-wearing in clinics could be one solution along with the continued use of telehealth services for basic primary care when appropriate.

“Maybe some of it should stick around even after we emerge from the pandemic,” Neprash said.

MN ranks 30th for broadband for students

Clayton Daily News reports

HeyTutor used the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, released on May 5, 2021, to rank the states according to which ones have the best internet access. The 50 states and Washington D.C. are ranked by the percentage of households that responded as “always” having internet availability for education purposes. Ties are broken by the percentage of households that responded as “usually” having internet availability for education purposes.

Each state also includes information on general computer availability in the household, as well as who pays for the internet and whether internet services are available in the home. Note that households that said they “rarely” or “never” have internet or computer availability were not included in this article, but they are part of the total percentage of households surveyed.

Minnesota ranked 30th; here are the reasons…

#30. Minnesota

– Internet availability for education purposes:

— Always: 79.6%; Usually: 17.4%; Sometimes: 0.1%

– Computer availability for education purposes:

— Always: 84.4%, Usually: 12.4%, Sometimes: 0.8%

– Who pays for education-related internet service:

— Household or family: 96.6%; Child’s school or school district: 0.3%; Another source: 0.6%; Internet services not available in home: 0.5%

About 3% of Minnesota’s students didn’t have internet access when schools went online in spring 2020. That number increases to 17% of families in rural communities around the state.

Word from Farmfest: “Broadband is crucial”

KEYC News reports on the first day of Farmfest…

Panelists also expressed the importance of broadband infrastructure, something Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D – Minnesota), who is participating in Farmfest virtually this year, is working for in the federal infrastructure package.

“It’s $65 billion and the money is to be used to get higher speed Internet and then to areas that have no Internet at all,” she said.

Broadband infrastructure is something farmers, like Perry Oftedahl, say is crucial.

“We need it out there in rural Minnesota. Farming has gotten to be so much precision agriculture, so there’s a lot of need for the iPads and cellphones the guidance systems are on. We need better connections out here,” he said.

OPPORTUNITY: Statewide Telecommuting Survey from UMN Extension

University of Minnesota is working on research related to telecommuting. Their work is important in helping us understand what we need and want in Minnesota to make best use of broadband. Help them help all of us by taking their survey…

“Have you wondered about Minnesota employers’ and workers’ experience of telecommuting before, during, and after the COVID-19 pandemic? The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is wondering the same, which is why MnDOT is partnering with the University of Minnesota Tourism Center on a research project to find out! And now, the project needs your help.

Make your and your organization’s experience count by completing the worker survey and the employer survey. Forward the survey links to your colleagues and friends, so their voices can be heard, too! All these contributions are vital to the project and much appreciated.