Free internet coming to Jasper’s campground (Rock County)

The Pipestone Star reports

The campground at Marilyn DeBates Park in Jasper will soon offer campers a new amenity — free wifi.
The wireless internet access was made possible by a $75,000 Blandin Broadband Communities grant that Rock County received in 2018.
“We completed a number of projects with this grant money, including installing wifi in every campground in Rock County,” said Rock County Community Library Director Calla Bjorklund Jarvie, who was the administrator for the grant.
Tim Totman, of TNT Services in Pipestone, have the fiber lines that will provide the internet to the Jasper campground in by the end of the day on Tuesday, April 6.

Doctor in Duluth asks policymakers to make COVID telehealth changes permanent

The Duluth News Tribune runs a letter to the editor from Dr. Sarah Manney is the chief medical information officer at Essentia Health in Duluth…

We didn’t conduct our first virtual visit until mid-March 2020. Within weeks, we were performing thousands per day, peaking at more than 3,500. One year later, we have surpassed 400,000 virtual visits. Further, 80% of our mental health encounters were done via virtual visits this last year. For those patients, when one of the biggest hurdles is simply getting out of the house to seek help, that initial obstacle was rendered obsolete by the accessibility of virtual visits.

We’ve also done more than 100,000 e-visits, which are targeted at 20 of the most common conditions, pushing Essentia’s telehealth encounters in a single year well north of half a million. And this was only the first year; imagine how many more people will benefit from these innovative offerings as they become more prevalent.

Right now in Minnesota, we have a tremendous opportunity to increase that access. We can make permanent some of the temporary advances that occurred because of COVID-19 through bipartisan legislation — specifically, Senate File 1160 and House File 1412. The bills are sponsored by Republican Sen. Julie Rosen and DFL Rep. Kelly Morrison, one of two physicians in the Legislature.

While previous law required patients to visit a health care provider site to access telehealth, this bill would continue to allow providers to deliver telehealth services directly to a patient’s home setting via audio-only telephone calls or secure two-way audio-video services on a tablet or computer. The legislation would allow scheduled visits to be conducted by phone when a patient does not have internet access or the appropriate electronic device.

These care-delivery practices are currently in effect due to COVID-19. But we feel strongly that they should become a staple of 21st century health care, even after the pandemic. They let patients receive treatment that may prevent the worsening of chronic health issues and may reduce potentially avoidable emergency-room visits.

Libraries Without Borders US and Blandin working to bring the library to patrons in rural MN

The last year of pandemic has shone a light on the need for better access to technology at the very local level. By access, I’m talking about that three-legged stool: broadband, device and the skills to use both. Those of us who have them take it for granted; those who don’t are in danger of falling farther behind especially as work, school and healthcare move online. This move didn’t start with the pandemic, but the pandemic accelerated it and exacerbated the divide between those to have and those who don’t.

The library has always helped level the playing fields for the have-nots. Libraries Without Borders US (LWB US) and Blandin Foundation are working on some ways to extend the reach of the library beyond the ways – to meet people where they are literally and in terms of where they are with their needs. (Do they need broadband, a device or training.) As LWB US reports on a project in Nobles County… 

So how can rural communities be connected to critical resources, considering obstacles that span from a lack of connectivity to finding a way to get to a local library? Our answer: by bringing library resources directly to these communities. LWB US, the Blandin Foundation, and local partners have teamed up to design and implement digital literacy labs and pop-up libraries, equipped with digital resources and programming ranging from monthly story time and ESL classes to workforce training and digital literacy workshops. 

Both organizations focus on creating solutions with the local organization, not for, and that’s the special sauce here. LWB US and Blandin have expertise and experience but the people on the ground know the needs and trusted places. LWB US spoke to participants working to develop the digital pop-ups. 

Andrea Duarte-Alonso, Lead for America Hometown Fellow at the Southwest Initiative Foundation commented…

The [Southwest Initiative Foundation’s] interest came from wanting a creative and innovative idea that would support community members through resources that are often not accessible to them. This support also encourages closing the technological and educational gap for families. It provides literacy to families without transportation or other needed amenities to access books and technology. 

 Katherine Craun, board member and past president of the Nobles County Library and alum of the Blandin Leadership program noted… 

Access, Access Access.  All citizens need to be connected and involved in community activities. First individuals and families need the hardware and software to connect.  Second, they need a location to connect.  Pop-ups would be a great way to meet needs of isolated housing units, small towns/villages, and rural farms. 

The project is shifting from design to deployment. I look forward to finding out how, where and when the digital labs pop up and about the difference they are able to make to the patrons! (For more details and more on participant interviews, please check out the original article from LWB US.)

MN Report on Automated Vehicles mentioned 10 year investment in fiber

Transportation Today reports on the Minnesota Gov’s Advisory Council on Connected and Automated Vehicles 2020 annual report…

The Minnesota Governor’s Advisory Council on Connected and Automated Vehicles said in its annual report Monday that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the state was able to move forward toward readiness for Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAV).

Also…

The report noted that the state was able to test new cellular vehicle communications technologies that connect snowplows and avoid collisions by preventing red-light running. Additionally, the Advisory Council completed a 10-year investment plan for fiberoptic cable that will support CAVs and broadband and conducted the nation’s largest CAV survey to determine the attitudes Minnesotans’ have about CAVs.

I was interested in the 10-year investment in fiber so I checked out the report. Here’s what I was able to find…

  • Fiber and broadband: MnDOT, MnIT and Department of Employment and Economic Development are completing a 10-year investment plan for fiber optic that supports CAVs and broadband. The state also met with the private telecommunications industry to understand their broadband expansion goals and learn how to partner in future pilots.
  • Connectivity & Work Zone Safety: The FHWA granted Minnesota funding to test connected vehicle work zone safety applications. With the FCC ruling, the state is also looking into new cellular connected vehicle technologies, including those being piloted in Ramsey County in Roseville. DEED, MnIT and MnDOT are also partnering to deploy fiber and broadband in key areas of the state to advance CAV and rural connectivity goals.

I remember that MnDOT, MnIT and DEED had a broadband commission a few years ago that, as far as I knew, did not have public meetings. I don’t know if they are still around and I think it only included the commissions of each department. I also don’t know much about the 10 year investment in fiber and I wonder why the MN Broadband Task Force doesn’t factor that into the plans to get everyone connected.

Aitkin County interested in extending waivers that support telehealth

Aitkin Age reports

Last March, Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime state of emergency, issuing waivers to health care providers that temporarily granted them increased flexibility in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Across Minnesota, standard regulations for treatment location, telehealth services, and administrative activities were relaxed.

The state of emergency is set to expire on April 14. It is not known whether Walz will extend it beyond that date.

Cynthia Bennett, the director of Aitkin County Health and Human Services, said that a number of the waivers, such as more flexibility in terms of remote work, should stay in place.

“We had to make all these adjustments because we were not supposed to be face-to-face and we needed to comply with the governor’s executive orders for social distancing,” she said. “And it worked out well, so we would like to continue that, because we found cost savings for taxpayers.”

The waiver are what made telehealth possible and affordable during the pandemic. The increase in use is one of the silver linings of the pandemic allowing more patients to be seen and reducing drive times for patients and often for family or friends who would drive them to appointments out of town.

Sen Klobuchar hears that some students may want to continue online post-pandemic

West Central Tribune reports…

The mental health of students and teachers, free and reduced lunches, and the possibility of distance learning into the next school year were at the top of local school leaders’ concerns in a conversation with Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Wednesday, March 31.

Klobuchar met in a conference call with the superintendents of four northwest Minnesota school districts — East Grand Forks Public Schools, Stephen/Argyle Central School District, Park Rapids Area Schools and Greenbush Middle River School District — to discuss how the districts have fared during the pandemic, as well as their concerns going forward. The intent was to help guide Klobuchar’s legislative priorities in Washington.

They discussed topics I expected…

The superintendents also brought up the issues of rural internet access, which is still limited in many areas of northwest Minnesota, and of mental health, which impacted every level of the school communities during the pandemic.

And one that I did not…

The discussion was expected to cover distance learning, high-speed internet, nutrition and mental health, according to a media advisory. But other topics arose and seemed to take the senator by surprise, particularly a concern raised by East Grand Forks Superintendent Mike Kolness, who worries some students who have found they thrive in a virtual setting may depart from the district next year in favor of a virtual academy.

“I get asked this question probably daily about are we going to have to continue with distance learning next year,” Kolness said. “And that’s a big question for families and educators and, whether it be mandated by state or federal government or just by the loss of students, if we don’t provide that service and we have 100 students still want to participate in distance learning, we’re going to lose those students to a virtual academy somewhere. That’s concerning.”

There are approximately 2,000 students in the East Grand Forks district, Kolness said, and the district transitioned back to full-time in-person learning for all students after middle and high school students spent the first semester in a hybrid learning model. However, he estimates there are still about 150 students who have opted to remain in a full-time distance learning program.

A decline in the student population could bring financial impacts to the school district, as some state and federal funding is based on student enrollment. This semester, East Grand Forks schools already reported their lowest enrollment numbers in several years.

I am envious of a family that likes distance education but I understand the conundrum. It is a reminder that “going back to normal” post-pandemic is going to look at lot different and opportunities are going to look more similar in urban and rural locations – as long as there’s adequate, affordable broadband.

Blandin Broadband Communities Update: fun broadband project descriptions

Today members of the current Blandin Broadband (BBC) cohort met to catch up. Communities include Chisago Lakes Area, Le Sueur County, Otter Tail County, Red Lake Nation and White Earth Nation. This is a group that signed up with Blandin to do broadband planning and programming a little more than a year ago. They are the group that signed up for one thing and then COVID happened and they (and the Blandin team) did an impressive job recalibrating to Zoom meetings and stalled or modified projects.

Today they met to catch up a little and talk about projects that were working well for them and get help for ones that weren’t I thought it would be fun to share the conversation:

 

Some quick notes of projects that were discussed in my break out room:

Otter Tail County spent CARES money on upgrading video conference spaces in the libraries and creating two new spaces in newly formed libraries. These are places where area residents and visitors (Otter Tail gets a lot of visitors!) can use the broadband and the equipment. Picture a Zoom set up on steroids – or picture the Zoom set up you wish you had the last time you really wanted to impress people in the Zoom room. The spaces are free and open to the public – you just need to register.

Le Sueur County has been working a lot of access to support broadband use. They had projects planned to support wifi on publinc transportation but some have been on hold because of access issues and COVID. They have a LEAD for America consultant coming in to help with Digital Navigation through the schools. Good question was raised about getting Digital Navigators to people over 50.

Central MN Coalition on Aging stepped in with some of the work they are doing with older folks. They have been working with the AARP startup. They have started a survey and have learned that businesses in their area really need help. They want to find out what people want to learn and how can they best learn it. Another good question was about how we teach young people to use technology for the work world. Sometimes we assume younger people know how to use technology but they may not know tools like email, mapping or other workforce skills.

EVENT April 7: World Health Day Symposium 2021

Global Minnesota is hosting a meeting next week and broadband will be a featured topic – because broadband is key is health equity, especially during a pandemic..

Global Minnesota hosts an important virtual symposium to mark World Health Day on April 7. The official theme for the day is Health Equity.

This enormous topic extends all the way from local grassroots issues to global policy initiatives. With its reputation for health care, organizations and companies based in Minnesota are in a unique position to share expertise in improving global health. As the facilitator of this symposium, Global Minnesota serves as a conduit of information that can take local innovations and extend their reach across the world.

What projects around the globe can shape solutions that support developing health equity? How can the United States and Minnesota learn from global innovators?

Register now to hear the perspectives of local, national, and international organizations and corporations that provide leadership in health care, research, and policy.

The list of speakers include some folks well steeped in the world of broadband, such as…

  • Ali Dalio – Managing Partner, United Ventures; Managing Director, United Capital Group
  • Juan José Gómez Camacho – Ambassador of Mexico to Canada
  • Jean-Paul Smets, PhD – Founder, Nexedi; Founder RapidSpace; CTO, Blutel Wireless

EVENT April 27: Digital Inclusion + Human Connection: Libraries Serving Youth Meetup

This is an event for librarians but I thought some folks might be interested and/or some folks might be interested at least reading about libraries are doing these days…

Did 2020 leave your patrons and students struggling to connect to reliable internet? Are they in need of new devices to fully participate and engage in distance learning? Could they find the support and instruction they needed to use new virtual tools?

Ensuring equitable digital access has long been a focus of libraries, but the whirlwind of 2020 put a glaring spotlight on internet dead zones, inadequate equipment and insufficient support for youth and families.

The seventh annual Meetup for school and public library staff serving youth will feature speakers finding solutions to digital exclusion in Minnesota. Join us for an afternoon to hear from these amazing advocates and discuss how we can create and improve digital inclusion efforts in our communities!

When: Tuesday, April 27, 2-5 p.m.

Where: A Zoom link will be sent to registrants one week before the event.

Speakers and panelists include:

If you’re interested, please contact Ashley Bieber (651-582-8849) for assistance with any questions.

 

Ramsey County TechPak initiative: Tech for folks who needed it see $2.40 return for every $1 spent

TechPak was a program that helped get technology into the hands that needed it during the pandemic. Read below for details or watch the video but know that they report a great ROI…

The projected SROI for the TechPak initiative is $2.40 for every $1 dollar spent.

TechPak, a partnership between Tech DumpLiteracy MinnesotaSaint Paul Public Library and Ramsey County, is a new initiative bringing computers, internet and digital literacy training into the homes of Ramsey County residents who have experienced economic impacts due to COVID-19. The packs include a refurbished laptop, a hotspot for internet access and quick start guides.

During the upcoming enrollment period, Aug. 31-Sept. 2, TechPaks will be awarded to eligible Ramsey County residents who have experienced job loss, reduced hours, change of household income or have other barriers due to COVID-19. Additional application periods will be offered from September through December 2020. An anticipated 500 TechPaks will be distributed by the end of the year.

Laptop donations for this program are being accepted by Tech Dump. Laptops will be securely wiped of all data, updated and repaired, and then assessed for use. Donations can be made by contacting Tech Dump at techdump.org or calling 763-432-3117.

Additional information about TeckPaks can be found at ramseycounty.us/TechPak.

OPPORTUNITY: Government Experience Awards Call for Entries

From Center for Digital Government (CDG) …

The Center for Digital Government (CDG) invites nominations for its Government Experience Awards, where we celebrate achievements and learn best practices from U.S. state, counties, cities, and federal agencies. We will recognize entities that have gone beyond simply using the web to radically improve upon the experience of government and are pushing the boundaries of how services are delivered.

Nomination Deadline: Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Overall Experience Awards Nomination Form CLICK HERE
Overall Awards recognize the entire jurisdiction’s citizen/customer experience efforts. All U.S. state, county and city governments (includes townships and villages) may nominate their jurisdictions’ user experience in the overall categories of State Government; County Government, or City Government.

Project Experience Awards Nomination Form CLICK HERE

Project Awards recognize single-focus areas which may include more than one method of engagement such as mobile, web and social media, etc.
U.S. state and local governments, their individual agencies/departments, and U.S. federal agencies/departments may nominate their projects for the Project Experience Awards. A government may submit nominations for both the Overall award and for more than one project (nominate each project separately). The nominator/primary respondent must be a government official or staff.

A government may submit nominations for both the Overall award and for more than one project (nominate each project separately). The nominator/primary respondent must be a government official or staff.

FAQs: Use the Frequently Asked Questions to access both contests and the downloadable Word copy of the nomination form; and for more information including full input instructions.

Awards Event Sept. 15: Top government jurisdictions, agencies and departments will be featured in a virtual Experience Academy and will be honored at a high-energy, celebratory virtual awards. Winners will be featured in Government Technology and other publications.

CDG thanks our corporate members Accenture, Adobe, Amazon Web Services, Crown Castle, Dell Technologies, EasyVote, HP Inc., Infor, McAfee, Medallia, Microsoft, NIC, Oracle, Pure Storage, ServiceNow, SHI, Spectrum Enterprise, Team Dynamics, Verizon Enterprise Solutions, and Yubico.

If you have any questions, please contact Janet Grenslitt, Director of Surveys and Awards, jgrenslitt@centerdigitalgov.com.

COVID19 opens the doors for continued legislative support for telehealth

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

The use of electronic devices in patient care, known as telehealth, has long held promise as the next big thing in the industry, but not until the coronavirus hit, raising a host of safety concerns, did it become commonplace.

Nearly 30% of health care visits are now conducted electronically, much of it made possible because federal and state regulators, as well as insurance providers, responding to the pandemic emergency, relaxed some of the rules and requirements that made it more difficult to use telehealth.

For example, under Minnesota law, some patients had to drive to a clinic or hospital to use that facility’s secure telecommunications equipment if they wanted to talk with a doctor located at another site. In the past year, that rule has been waived.

As the number of COVID-19 cases begins to rise once again in Minnesota, there is bipartisan support at the Legislature to make permanent many of the changes that have driven the increase in telehealth, with both chambers advancing bills to rewrite the state’s telehealth laws.

That’s quite an increase…

Before the pandemic, telehealth accounted for 3% of patient visits, according to a Minnesota Medical Association survey.

And there are benefits…

“The addition of virtual care clearly was a benefit to the patient, their satisfaction went up, quality went up and overall costs went down because we really architected our system to take advantage of virtual care,” he said.

The virtual visits worked best with patients who already had an established relationship with the physician and clinic and where hands-on care, such physical exams or blood draws, were not needed.

Telehealth also has been extremely popular in mental health and substance use treatment, with many health care systems reporting high volumes of therapy visits.

But providers need the reimbursement to make it happen…

Providers say it is important that they get the same insurance reimbursement payments as in-person visits because overhead costs are the same for virtual visits.

“It is not bricks and mortar costs as much as the infrastructure and all the people behind it to do that work,” said Ingham. “You can’t have virtual visits without those foundational costs.”

St Cloud reader thinks broadband is for folks who can afford it – and a few counter points

St Cloud Times posts a letter from a reader…

I personally think it’s unnecessary to spend state tax money on the internet so everyone has a chance of using it. I disagree with [Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake] comment about how it’s important for every citizen to have good and reliable internet. I think that those that deserve it need to work for it, and should be able to pay for it themselves.

I understand rural areas have higher likeliness of poor broadband speeds but that’s partly due to the fact that people cannot afford to buy it themselves. Money for the broadband should be going towards other projects, so there can be better management around the home.

Once this COVID nonsense blows over, students will be back in schools and able to use the networks the districts provide. This can be looked at as motivation to get back in the classrooms and stop being so afraid of the “modern flu.”

I haven’t seen a response like this in a few years. I wanted to offer what I hope are constructive reply options:

There’s a hole in the bucket

Remember the song – There’s a hole in the bucket? I’ll recap: Henry finds a hole in the bucket. Liza says fix it. After much consternation, Henry say he can’t fix it because he can’t get the water he needs to do the job because he needs the bucket to get the water. Broadband isn’t a reward, it’s the means to become economically more solvent. Conservative report say households with broadband enjoy $1850/yr in economic benefit – but I’ve seen that number go as high as $10,500/yr. Broadband is a means to further education, provides access to more jobs and just access to learning about more jobs.

Only as strong as the weakest link

I spoke with communities last summer about how they were able to survive the pandemic shut down. Rock County has almost ubiquitous broadband. So when schools moved to distance education, they had minimal effort to ensure that all households had the connectivity and computers, which means teachers could teach online. Kanabec County, on the other hand has spotty coverage. There are areas where even the mobile hotspots were not reliable. The issue was not household affordability – it’s availability. School was different for them. Teachers had to teach online and prepare paper packets for kids without access. Whole communities were held back because some households  didn’t have access.

Uneven playing field

In urban areas, the market takes care of the broadband expansion. Companies can make money building and serving broadband to customers because there are so many darned people in Minneapolis and St Paul. That’s how a company like US Internet can charge $50/month for 300Mbps connection! It is difficult to make as much money in a rural community because there are fewer people and the population density is much lower. (Population density in Ramsey county is 3,064.9/sq mi and it’s 1.6/sq mi in Cook County.) There are some rural counties with amazing broadband. It is usually because they have a cooperative broadband provider but when there’s a commercial provider the incentive is not there to upgrade. Cooperatives aim to meet the needs of their members; commercial providers aim to make money. (Even when profit isn’t the primary aim, providers still need help to deploy better broadband.)

We all pay when someone doesn’t have broadband

Finally, government services are often cheaper when people can access them online. One timely example is the COVID at-home tests; cheaper, safer and easier for everyone but you need broadband to do it. But it’s also true for healthcare, telehealth saves money. Reducing the cost of government services, reduces the needs for taxes. It’s a dated story now, but in 2012, Mayo announced expected savings of $172.8 million for taxpayers as a result of the $60 million investment. These economic benefits don’t stop with government. Businesses benefit when customers are online too – especially in the last year. Communities where customers could order online were in a better place to shift sales rather than lose them.

To think that broadband is only for those who can afford it is short sighted. Broadband is not a luxury, it is a necessity. In 2011, the UN declared it a human right and just a few weeks ago, a survey showed that 68 percent viewed broadband as a utility and 77 percent thought it was essential to achieving the American dream. By definition, the American dream is not just for those who can afford it.

OPPORTUNITY: 2021 MN Cup: Calling all entrepreneurs!

From the Carlson School…

Minnesota Cup (MN Cup) is kicking off our 17th season! Applications for the 2021 competition are open from March 15 – April 16. MN Cup is here to connect current and aspiring Minnesota entrepreneurs to education, mentorship, seed capital, and the broader community. You do not need to have an entity formed or be earning revenue to apply – all Minnesotans and Minnesota-based businesses earning less than $1M annual revenue are eligible. MN Cup has given away $4 Million in non-dilutive seed funding since 2005, and plans to award at least $400,000 this season. We hope you’ll share this free, accessible, supportive opportunity with founders and innovators in your network!

Click here to apply

Click here to register for office hours or an info session

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