FCC Should Assess Making Off-School-Premises Access Eligible for Additional Federal Support

Federal funding is the reason than so many schools and libraries have adequate access. It’s a boon to those communities. But there’s still a huge gap between students with access as home and students without it.

I have three kids. I work full time. I have lots of volunteer gigs. If I had to take them to the library to get homework done we would all be less productive citizens. So I was pleased to see the US Government Accountability Office ask the FCC to look at federal support for home broadband access for students.

Here’s their recommendation…

Recommendation: The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission should determine and execute a methodology for collecting and analyzing data—such as conducting a new pilot program regarding off-premises wireless access or analyzing other data—to assess the potential benefits, costs, and challenges of making off-premises wireless access eligible for E-rate program support, and publish the results of this analysis. (Recommendation 1)

More recommendations are promised once the that step is completed. They also post an easy chart that outlines the downsides of having to leave home for access.

Finding sufficient funding available, FCC directs USAC to fully fund E-rate funding requests

From the FCC

In this Notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) announces that there is sufficient funding available to fully meet the Universal Service Administrative Company’s (USAC) estimated demand for category one and category two requests for E-Rate supported services for funding year 2019.1 On April 1, 2019, USAC submitted a demand estimate for the E-Rate program for funding year 2019.2 It estimates the total demand for funding year 2019 will be $2.896 billion, which includes estimated demand for category one services of $1.91 billion and of $985 million for category two services.3 The Bureau announced that the E-Rate program funding cap for funding year 2019 is $4.15 billion.4 Additionally, according to USAC projections, $1 billion in unused funds from previous years is available for use in E-Rate funding year 2019.5 The Chief of the Bureau is delegated authority to determine the proportion of unused funds needed to meet category one demand and to direct USAC to use any remaining funds to provide category two support.6 In light of the current funding cap of $4.15 billion and available carry forward funding of $1 billion, there is sufficient funding to fully fund all category one and category two funding requests. We therefore direct USAC to fully fund eligible category one and category two requests, using the $1 billion in E-Rate funds unused from previous years, and any additional funds needed under the current cap to fully meet demand for such services.

A quick reminder for those of us less steeped in e-rate, category one services include telecommunications, telecommunications services and Internet access. Category two services include internal connections, basic maintenance of internal connections and managed internal broadband services.

Strut Your Stuff Tour in Swift County – hybrid welding classes, 4H app, STEM for kids and more!

We ended the Blandin Broadband tour this week in Kerkhoven, in Swift County. It was fun to hear about new projects such as a free, 4-week welding class. The class is half online and half in person but they graduated 13 people, who are likely to have better jobs soon. Another project that caught my eye was a 4H App that they will be using at the county fair. Parents in the room nearly cheered to hear that there will be one organized place for schedules and updates and winning announcements. I foresee more 4H groups adopting that app as soon as it’s available.

You can learn all about those projects below. Unfortunately the video I took didn’t save. (Using Facebook Live to archive works about 90 percent of the time in my experience.)

4H App

We have Facebook and email to reach out to families. It’s OK but not great so we thought an App that’s a one-stop-shop at the Fair would be helpful. It’s a great way to connect and maybe save on printing.

We reached out to Iowa Extension to help. We are piloting the app for the U of M.

The response from 4H parents in the crowd indicates that this will be well used!! And folks are excited in the easier cleanup and knowing that there will “be enough copies” since apparently they run out. They can push our notifications.

There should be sufficient broadband on the county fairground to work. About 300 kids in Swift County are in 4H.

The cost to use the app software is $600 every 2 years. Then there’s the cost to be in Apple/Windows App stores.

CNH Weld Training

Used Tooling U via Ridgewater to offer free classes over 4 weekends. CNH donated welding equipment.

We got 20 applicants- 14 were certified. The students found it easy to use. We had PCs for People computers for people to use; but we didn’t need them. The hardest part was timing – it ended on prom weekend. The instructor was great.

We didn’t have firm requirements for students. We need to be on the same page with requirements. Age range was about 19-55.

There are a lot of companies in the area that need welders.

We would do this program again – but we’d need grant support because it is expensive. Final budget was about $40,000 – or $3000/graduate.

A traveling welder can make $60-70 an hour!

Community Websites

6 communities that previously didn’t have adequate websites.

All sites will be a part of a County website but can use their own URL.

It’s a wizard developed site but includes community calendar and e-commerce options. We can do reports using ESRI access.

We have encouraged community champions – often the mayor. SO we can customize based on any special ideas that make sense for an individual community.

Working on community marketing plans based on storytelling.

Digital Marketing for Business

Matching businesses with a consultant to help with all aspects of tech needs.
Currently working with the newspaper. The program is going well so far. She asks questions that we wouldn’t know to ask. We plan to work with the consultant for 4 hours.

There isn’t an hourly limit on consulting but they worked on a list of deliverables.
There are so many businesses that would benefit from this type of service, we just need to know how to convince them.

PCs for People

We have 28 families signed up for computers. We were going to align the computers with girls who had gone through horse training program that works on self improvement.

So now we might work on home empowerment program to match computers with new homeowners/renter and help new owners use the computers to access county pages and census.

We are still hoping to get something done this summer – but it’s difficult to work with schools in the summer.

STEM Camp for Kids

Camp is happening now. Partnered with Community Ed. Working with National Investors Hall of Fame. Kids love it. We surpassed the expectation for students.

There was a fee to use the curriculum. Teachers are paid. Everyone loves it! School opened up free space and we had some volunteers.

Total cost was about $5000

The challenge moving forward with broadband adoption programs is keeping the momentum. The key is creating programs that interest people.

Strut Your Stuff Tour in Cannon Falls – using technology to build a food brand and more!

’m out with the Blandin crew talking to communities that are part of the BBC (Blandin Broadband Communities) initiative to hear about the great stuff they are going in their town. Today we visited with Cannon Falls. You can watch the meeting in its entirely or read the notes below.

Local Food Market – Cannon Roots Continue reading

Event Sep 24-25: Internet2 Third National Research Platform Workshop

It’s nice to see this happening in Minnesota this fall

Building on the success of last year’s Second National Research Platform (NRP) Workshop, the Third National Research Platform Workshop will be held in Minneapolis, Minn. on September 24-25, 2019 at the Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel, the Depot. Organizations involved in 3NRP development are Internet2, Calit2/SDSC/UCSD/CITRIS, ESnet, CENIC, The Quilt, the Great Plains Network, and KINBER.

The NRP workshop (9/24-9/25) will be co-located with the NSF CC* and CICI PI workshop (9/23-9/25) and the Quilt meeting (9/25-9/26) with some shared sessions. View the Program Committee, and please see the 2019 NSF, NRP and The Quilt Co-Located Meetings home page for more information.

A Global Research Platform (GRP) Workshop will be held the week prior to the NRP workshop and it will focus on international Research Platform topics.

Plan to reserve your accommodations as soon as possible as lodging options that week will be limited in the Downtown Minneapolis area due to other citywide events.

Check out a hotspot from the Rock County library

Fun news for Rock County Library patrons (as found on their Facebook Page)…

The Rock County Library now has wifi hotspots to check out! We have five Verizon hotspots available for Rock County library card holders 18 years or older with cards in good standing (fees at $5 or below) to check out.

The hotspots check out for two weeks, can connect up to 15 devices per hotspot, and will work anywhere in the United States with Verizon coverage.

Our partnership with the Blandin Foundation and Rock County’s involvement as a Blandin Broadband Community has made this possible.

State K-12 Broadband Leadership 2019: MN Case Study

A new report from SETDA  highlights the importance of state leadership and the various ways states strive to support districts and schools. Here are some of the fun facts from the report:

FCC 2018 Broadband Deployment Report reveals that only 69% of citizens in rural areas have access to both broadband (25 Mbps/3 Mbps) and mobile services (LTE at speeds of 5 Mbps/1 Mbps) compared to 98% of citizens in urban areas.

Education Networks of America (ENA), based on its experience delivering connectivity to over 7,000 schools and libraries, continues to observe and projects into the future a bandwidth growth rate of 65% per year.

Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Student Access to Digital Learning Resources Outside the Classroom report states that the primary barrier to internet access at home is affordability, especially for children from low-income families.

The report outlines various types of networks and partnerships in different states, pointing out that no two are really alike. Here is what they say about Minnesota

STATE K-12 BROADBAND LEADERSHIP

Minnesota’s constitution calls for citizens to have access to an equitable public education system. As is the case with many states, Minnesota has concentrations of population in both urban centers and large areas of rural communities. Broadband access provides students with a wide range of educational opportunities both within and outside of their communities, regardless of whether they live in a large city or a small rural township. In addition, state leadership recognizes the significance of broadband connectivity for promoting economic development, employment, and business growth. 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.

Since 1993, at the regional level, the Minnesota Education Technology Networks (METN), a cooperative of regional networks, provides regional network development, support and leadership to Minnesota school districts. METN member cooperatives provide network coordination, procurement, and other support to help school districts acquire and manage broadband networks for instruction and education management. METN has also provided limited cooperative purchasing opportunities.

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.

STATEWIDE K-12 EDUCATION BROADBAND CONNECTIVITY

Minnesota provides education broadband connectivity through 19 regional networks. The process for joining a regional network varies slightly by region, but generally school districts join any network that can provide them with broadband services. 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.

Highlight

In Summer of 2018, Southwest West Central Service Cooperative (SWWC) completed a project to provide broadband services to approximately 50 sites, including schools, libraries and other government agencies. The newly awarded contract includes fiber-based Wide Area Network (WAN) connectivity among the schools and libraries and the SWWC’s data centers, as well as managed routers providing a level of cybersecurity. The new network replaced microwave links that previously served all but two of it’s 30 member districts, with fiber connections providing higher speeds, better reliability and unlimited potential. This project helped close the broadband gap, reaching 99% of the state’s school districts meeting current goals for broadband connectivity.

POLICIES//GUIDANCE FOR DISTRICTS

Minnesota coordinates with other state organizations to coordinate on campus activity to ensure that all students in Minnesota have access to scalable infrastructure, high-speed affordable bandwidth, and ubiquitous Wi-Fi for digital learning. In addition, these organizations provide value added services such as network security, digital curriculum resources, network management, distance learning support, and other enterprise level services. The Minnesota K-12 Connect Forward Initiative adopted the widely recognized goals for connectivity put forth by groups such as SETDA and the Consortium for School Networking (COSN) and has provided guidance to districts in reaching those goals. The Minnesota K-12 Connect Forward Initiative and Minnesota’s Educational Technology Networks do not have specific policies for wireless connections but continue to work with districts to leverage federal E-rate dollars to ensure that districts can implement wireless connectivity within their buildings in a cost effective manner.

The robust regional networks in the state have allowed schools to implement 1:1 programs and utilize learning management systems for instructional programs. Teachers and students have become more adept at utilizing digital learning both on and off campus. In some parts of the state, severe cold, blizzards and heavy snow impact school schedules. It is not unusual to have five to ten or more days of school canceled due to weather conditions. In 2018, the state legislature passed legislation that allows districts to implement up to five e-learning days per year when school would otherwise not be in session due to unsafe weather conditions. During e-learning days, students access instructional materials online and teachers are accessible via telephone and online means to assist students with their activities. Minnesota’s high speed regional networks allow e-learning options for students.

DISTRICT IMPLEMENTATION

MacPhail Center for Music is a community-based music education non-profit based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The center operates an online school partnership program that utilizes video conferencing over high speed broadband networks to bring renowned MacPhail specialists into classrooms throughout the state. Music specialists provide live clinics, sectionals, concert prep, professional development and individual lessons for vocal and instrumental music. Regional networks, such as the Little Crow Telemedia Network (LCTN) and East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative (ECMECC) and others have supported the participation of many schools in this program by providing equipment, training, technical and financial support. For example, students in Yellow Medicine East, MACCRAY, Braham and Hinckley-Finlayson rural districts (all districts of less than 1,000 students K-12) have received online group and private lessons from music professionals at the MacPhail Center.

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.

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.