Broadband in Swift County means Rick Molenaar lives local yet works out of San Francisco

Thanks to Swift County RDA for sharing this story. I love sharing stories of great use of broadband – so if you have one too, please send it my way…

Rick Molenaar has the best of both worlds. He lives in a place he loves and has a job that he enjoys. That’s all been possible thanks to Swift County’s border to border broadband. Swift County’s partnership with Federated Telephone has provided nearly ubiquitous coverage with speeds of 99.6%, making it the third-fastest county for broadband speeds in the state.

“I work for a company based out of San Francisco, but because of broadband a lot of that work takes place at my kitchen table,” said Rick. His company, Trace Genomics, takes agricultural soil samples, extracting the DNA and mapping the soil’s biology for farmers. It’s cutting edge technology that can have huge benefits for crop output. They already have a few early adopters within Swift county, along with many clients throughout the Midwest.

For Rick, the ability to be close to farmers and to food sources was important for his career, but also for his family. “I like that my children can see how the food we eat is produced at the local level. This is something I value and it is rare. Knowing the story of where your food comes from and how it is produced is healthy for kids and teaches them values,” he said.

Still, if it weren’t for fast broadband speeds in Swift County, Rick wouldn’t have the opportunity to live so close to the farming community. “Broadband has widened my opportunities tremendously. It has enabled me to have the role that I have. Broadband came to Swift County, in part, due to the work of the RDA. I wanted young people in our county to know that they can work for virtually any company while still living in Swift County – thanks to broadband. That’s why I joined the Swift RDA board – to spread the message that you can live in Swift County and have a career you love,” he said.

As a family, the Molenaars have all benefited from Rick’s ability to work remotely from Swift County. Joquel Molenaar grew up in the county, is a local school counselor and the volleyball coach. As a couple, they decided to raise their four boys in Swift County – close to her parents and to the activities they love. They are ten minutes from their lake cabin, with summer and winter activities right out their front door. Within their neighborhood, they have an added advantage of fifteen kids under ten living within a mile of the house – perfect playmates for their boys. “We get to have a lot of fun as a family. Living in Swift County has been ideal for us,” he said.

When asked why other families and young professionals should consider living in Swift County, Rick said, “Living in a small community and getting to know your neighbors is very unique. We know everyone and have built a lot of trust and our kids are able to be involved in every activity they are interested in. It’s also nice to have no traffic and be close to the fun activities we love to do.”

Live in Swift County, Work Anywhere

With border to border broadband and lightning-fast upload and download speeds, Swift County is the ideal place for telecommuters to live. A telecommuter can easily attend video conference calls, upload and email large files, work on video and graphic files, etc. Anyone who wants to live where they play, be able to purchase their dream home at an affordable price and live in a community where neighbors know each other’s names can do so while still working for employers locating somewhere else.

We invite you to consider the many benefits of living and working in Swift County by exploring our website and looking at available properties. Swift County’s broadband provides opportunities – you get to define them!

Science Kits for Public Libraries Grant Application deadline January, 19, 2020

Big tip for libraries (or potential library partners!!) from the Minnesota Library Association…

The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Science Kits for Public Libraries (SKPL) Grant is offering up to $2,000 in funding to public libraries in the Midwest for the creation of circulating math and science collections). The grant seeks to be a catalyst for educating students about how math and science are used for the benefit of humanity and to provide seed money for the creation of a science kit collection that will make a lasting impression on the community.

Past grants have allowed several Midwestern libraries to develop science kit circulating collections and give students access to prepared experiments and science materials that they might not encounter in the traditional classroom. Additionally, these libraries have created educational programs that allow students to conduct experiments at the library with the guidance of a librarian. This is a program of IEEE-Region 4 .

Visit http://www.sciencekitsforpubliclibraries.org for application forms, grant criteria and to learn about the successes of past grant recipients. Send your completed application to:

Dr. Douglas De Boer, P.E, IEEE-Region 4 SKPL Grant Application Chair Science Kits for Public Libraries project Douglas.DeBoer@Dordt.edu

Partner with a MN Library – Girls Who Code 2019-2020

Let’s get this going in rural areas around Minnesota. Contact your local library as a potential partner!

State Library Services is partnering with Girls Who Code (GWC) this year to bring free computer science learning opportunities to your community.

Girls Who Code Clubs are free after-school programs for girls in grades 3–5 or grades 6–12. Please note, this program targets, but is not limited to, girls.

Participants will join a sisterhood of supportive peers and role models and use computer science to change the world. Participants learn not only hard coding skills and computational thinking, but also project management skills, collaboration, bravery, resilience, how to positively impact their community, and so much more.

Apply now with the brief GWC Clubs Application through our partnership! When you start a GWC Club, you’ll gain access to free resources, flexible plug-and-play curriculum, funding opportunities, ongoing support, alumni opportunities for your young learners, and more! There’s no computer science experience needed to get started; GWC is there for you every step of the way.

Tekne Awards – the Oscars of MN Tech world – lots of winners & good advice

Last night I was lucky enough to attend the 2019 Tekne Awards. I brought my 15 year old, who is interested in STEM. It was fun to watch it from her eyes. She was excited to hear about what each company was doing and even more interested in hearing about the undergraduate scholarships. Great to see the lineup of recipients with diversity of age, gender, ethnicity. Some were first generation college attendees (and first generation Americans), some were parents, some looked same age as my daughter. But you could see the impact of the funding and the prestige of an MHTA scholarship.

Phil Soran graciously received a lifetime award for his entrepreneurship and generosity. He had advice for the room. For entrepreneurs he said – focus on go-to market. For established businesses he said – make room and opportunity for the up and comers. To everyone he sad – strive. Two public servants received awards – Steve Grove at the Department of Employment and Economic Development and Senator Eric Pratt. These awards emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships in all facets of technology, economic development and education.

I want to give a special congratulations to PCs for People for their award. They have been long time partners with the Blandin Foundation on many projects. Lots of first-time computer owners in rural Minnesota can thank PCs for People and the Blandin Foundation and that’s where entrepreneurship starts – with a computer at home, whether it’s selling your art on Etsy or, like Mr Soran, building a billion dollar business in your basement!

Because in MN we can all be winners (or at least finalists), here’s the list of possible winners going into last night…

Categories and finalists for the 2019 Tekne Awards are: Continue reading

NTIA Launches Minority Broadband Initiative – for Southern US

Big news from the NTIA on their Minority Broadband Initiative…

Today, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) launched a new Minority Broadband Initiative (MBI) focused on solving broadband deployment challenges in vulnerable communities. NTIA announced the initiative at the 2019 Carolinas Alliance for Success in Education (CASE) Summit held at Johnson C. Smith University. The program seeks to ensure that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) can successfully advance broadband connectivity on their campuses and in their surrounding communities, enabling the participation of all Americans in the digital economy.

To prepare students and surrounding communities to lead in the digital age, this year’s CASE Summit highlights the importance of HBCUs as force multipliers for economic growth and rural prosperity. The summit is committed to building strategies to compete successfully for federal and public-private resources to fulfill HBCUs’ historical mission. …

Broadly, the MBI seeks to achieve the following strategic policy objectives:

  1. Convening a forum where stakeholders can explore options for leveraging HBCU broadband infrastructure to connect neighboring communities of vulnerable populations; and

  2. Using broadband infrastructure investment as a catalyst for adoption that will result in job growth and economic development and deployment of advanced mobile technologies primarily in the economically distressed communities of the rural South.

NTIA’s work on the Minority Broadband Initiative complements the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which supports the nation’s priorities of fully deploying 5G and improving the prosperity of economically distressed and unconnected rural communities. The CASE Summit and Smart HBCU planning teams will facilitate conversations among North Carolina and South Carolina HBCUs, local community leaders, and state stakeholders to ensure affordable broadband in their communities, especially rural areas.

I read it with great interest as I know we could use a push in reducing the achievement gap in Minnesota and broadband would be a great tool. But after reading the report mentioned above that the intention isn’t to impact Minnesota. The report is more focused on the MBI’s strategy policy objective…

Using broadband infrastructure investment as a catalyst for adoption that will result in job growth and economic development and deployment of advanced mobile technologies primarily in the economically distressed communities of the rural South.

It feels like maybe we could call this a Minority Broadband Initiative for the South, which is great but that might indicate that one was in the works for the Midwest and North as well.

Rural students need broadband to prepare for college like suburban and urban peers

The Chronicle of Higher Education newsletter recently included an article by Goldie Blumenstyk  on rural college preparedness and broadband. They set out the problem…

A report on the state of rural education came out last week, asserting that some schools and places “face nothing less than an emergency in the education and well-being of children.”

Part of that emergency is the low level of “college readiness” in many of these rural districts, which enroll nearly one in five public-school students in the United States.

They had me at “emergency.”

And places broadband in the middle of the equation…

For matters like college preparation, one of the biggest obstacles that students still face is a lack of ready and reliable broadband access to the internet. In urban areas, that’s often an issue of cost. In rural areas, it’s often actual access as well. “It’s a huge deal right now,” said Klein, noting that for tests like the SAT and ACT, “a lot of the prep tools are online.”

As it happens, Klein spoke to me this week from San Diego, where he was attending the annual meeting of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, where he heard a presentation on a creative broadband-access project sponsored by the extension service at Oklahoma State University. It gave portable Wi-Fi-hotspot devices to local libraries, which then offered them to patrons for checkout.

OK, broadband is a start. The bigger question is: Even if rural students are college-ready, will there be college-level jobs waiting for them back home when they graduate? Clearly, colleges aren’t the only organizations that have a role here. But certainly they can play a part. They can do more to ensure that high-school students understand the ways a college education can be used in rural settings. As Klein noted, many agricultural industries today rely on people with knowledge of chemistry and GIS mapping skills, for example. “Those are some serious college-level tools,” he said.

I know there are university leaders out there right now pondering the question of how their institutions can be more relevant in their rural communities. (I had a long conversation on that topic with one of them just last week.) And Klein told me he hoped that the new report “excites some strategies.” So I expect this to be an issue that I and my colleagues continue to mine in the months to come.

I think a key here is helping students and local businesses understand the power of broadband. We don’t know what we don’t know and in a world where broadband is limited it can feel like a waste of time to learn how to make use of it. Why build demand when supply is already low? Unfortunately that does leave some areas behind. Whereas an influx of students who know the hometown and its industry return from school with some innovative ideas – that might build demand and a buzz for getting better broadband.

Broadband Imperative III Driving Connectivity, Access and Student Success – Recommendations and MN Take

State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) just released the a report on broadband access and education, Broadband Imperative III Driving Connectivity, Access and Student Success. Minnesota is a featured case study,

A look at State support…

From a state level, agencies such as the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) provide funding through grant opportunities and aid programs to help communities, schools, and public libraries achieve high speed broadband access. The Minnesota Office of Enterprise Technology (MnIT) provides a backbone network (leased, not state owned) throughout the state to deliver connectivity to cities, counties, public schools and libraries in various areas of Minnesota.

State Funding…

Minnesota provides state funding directly to the district for external broadband connections and directly to the regional networks. Through regional partnerships, the median cost of broadband (per mbps) in Minnesota schools has dropped 84% from $15 in 2015 to $2.35 in 2018. While cost has decreased, the amount of bandwidth necessary for students to participate in digital learning has increased. In the same period of time, the median bandwidth speeds available on a per student basis has increased almost four fold from 226kbps to 890kbps. Minnesota currently provides limited state funding for connectivity on buses and previously provided one-time grants that could be used to obtain hotspot devices for students to use off campus. Minnesota does not provide funding for internal wireless connections.

Regional support…

Minnesota provides education broadband connectivity through 19 regional networks. … Most school districts rely on the federal E-rate program to afford high speed broadband, so they use the corresponding competitive bid process either independently to choose a regional network or the regional network completes a competitive bid process through E-rate for the regional broadband network as a wide area network for all members. The networks are coordinated by a cooperative or nonprofit education agency that provides services to the K-12 education system. Minnesota estimates that 50% – 74% of districts participate in a regional network.

They highlight programs and projects such as Southwest West Central Service Cooperative (SWWC)’s recent upgrade from a microwave network to fiber. They also look at remote music classes through MacPhail Center for Music and of course they mention redesigned Minnesota snow days. And they talk about off campus access…

In Minnesota, other state agencies, libraries, community-based groups and the state broadband commission work together to coordinate efforts to support student access to off campus connectivity. The state is promoting strategies, both formally and informally, for access to affordable out-of-school broadband for students, especially in low-income and rural areas through legislated funding; promotion of discount/ free options; community partnerships; connecting anchor institutions; and Wi-Fi on buses. Off campus access strategies are driven by availability and affordability in rural areas; minimum broadband standards, such as speed, safety and security, as well as limited service options for consumers. Specifically, through efforts by the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband and the Office of Broadband development, statutory goals were put in place calling for all homes and businesses to have access to broadband service of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload by 2022 and that by 2026 all homes and businesses would have access to broadband service of at least 100 Mbps download and 20Mbps upload from at least one provider. To help incentivize the deployment of broadband in rural areas, the state funded grant programs and projects that offer new or upgraded broadband service to unserved and underserved areas of the state. Grant programs have totaled $85.6 million to date and $500,000 was awarded to provide schools with mobile hotspots available to students without adequate broadband access at home. The grant programs were administered by the Office of Broadband Development and funding for the programs has been consistently supported by the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband. Grants have also been awarded to provide schools with mobile hotspots for students without adequate broadband access at home.

And future plans…

Minnesota’s regional broadband networks will continue to seek cost-effective broadband solutions for all Minnesota school districts by leveraging state and federal funding initiatives and local partnerships with an eye toward always providing the bandwidth that districts need to fully participate in digital learning and utilize digital resources. Additionally, the regional networks will continue to expand enterprise level services designed to share resources that are expensive for smaller, often rural, districts to afford on their own. Services that will improve network and data security, provide access to online resources, bring educational opportunities directly to the schools and improve administrative procedures within districts.

The report also include a series of recommendations…

Technology and Pedagogical Approaches

Districts and schools are in different stages when considering access to and the utilization of digital tools. The integration of technology for learning is a unique journey that each school or district may embark upon differently. Leaders must focus on academic goals and leverage technology to support student learning experiences in preparation for college and/or careers in the digital age.

Digital Access and Equity

Addressing digital equity for all students continues to be a challenge and stakeholders must ensure that we consider equitable student access to broadband and devices both on and off campus. Every child, regardless of background, race or economic status deserves equitable access to personalized, student-centered learning experiences to prepare for life and work in the global economy.

Planning Infrastructure for the Future

Schools and districts should strategically plan for reliable, high speed networks to support sustained, seamless access to the internet for the implementation of administrative tools, the Internet of things and teaching and learning activities, without disruption. Districts should consider the recommended peak utilization bandwidth capacity goals and WAN implementation considerations as a guide and then plan according to their current and future needs as they move to teaching and learning environments that mimic the corporate structure.

Building Networks for the Future

In order to create sustainable, robust and reliable networks, administrators and technology leaders must look at the level of digital learning implementation and the administrative and security services relying on the network. Additionally, education organizations must implement the most effective security practices to protect their communities.

Policies and Funding Federal: The federal government should continue to expand federal funding options to support:

(a) state, regional and district broadband networks,
(b) districts and schools increasing bandwidth capacity to and throughout each campus, (c) communities in providing access points at anchor institutions, such as libraries and community centers. State: As schools increase digital learning opportunities, states need to demonstrate leadership to support high-speed broadband connectivity by leveraging policies, networks and purchasing options to support increased broadband access in schools.