50 innovative ideas – MN gets nod for rural broadband plan

Fast Company just published a list of “50 projects that are really making America great again” – one for each state. Minnesota gets a mention for the Border to Border broadband grants.

A high-speed hookup for rural residents
More of Minnesota will soon have access to what’s become a necessity: reliable, affordable high-speed internet. In January, the state announced its latest Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant to expand service to some 16,000 households and 2,000 businesses in underserved areas.

Not all of the ideas were technology related – but here are the ones that were (with abbreviated decsritions)…

A push for faster classrooms
The state’s effort to bring high-speed internet to all K–12 schools will be complete by summer. …
A statewide embrace of blockchain
With last year’s Delaware Blockchain Initiative, the state became the first to adopt distributed-ledger technology, to underpin its public archives. …


A technology employer for all
Richmond’s Maxx Potential is a five-year-old tech company whose workers are paid (starting at $12 an hour) to learn on the job. …


A help desk for citizens
New Haven resident Ben Berkowitz created the SeeClickFix app to allow locals to quickly report nonemergency issues (broken meters and streetlights, potholes, and even excessive noise from ice-cream trucks). …


New Hampshire
A bridge with a mind of its own
… sensors along the span that gather data on everything from structural soundness and traffic patterns to the effect of the bridge on the marine life below.


New York
A big-city tech-talent pipeline
…steeps students in digital product development and entrepreneurial thinking while giving them an appreciation for the real-world needs of society…


A lifeline for rural hospitals
… a tech platform that connects remote clinics with primary and specialty care from bigger facilities, eliminating the need for long drives or costly transfers….


A database for smart cities
…opened its data to residents so that they can access traffic patterns and find available parking spots. It’s also sharing its information with other cities to help them develop best practices.


A digital connection for seniors and their families
…LifeLoop, a web-based platform that connects employees at senior-care facilities directly with residents’ families. The LifeLoop site offers relatives real-time updates on their loved ones’ daily activities, along with the ability to send messages to staff…


A marketplace for adventure
…inviting ski coaches, yoga experts, musicians, and more to list their services on its app and find eager clients. The app, which has developed a robust community with more than 1,000 experiences in the Denver area, is setting its sights on nationwide expansion.


A new lens for nature lovers
… an online platform that provides emerging shutterbugs with a million-person community and tools to perfect and sell their work, including online photo tutorials and preset Lightroom-editing filters.


A housing service that doesn’t discriminate
…NoAppFee.com, a platform that runs a background check on applicants and returns a list of buildings guaranteed to approve them.


A map of the natural world
… an interactive mapping system that encourages outdoor enthusiasts to contribute on-the-ground info and photos of the state’s trails. ..

Insufficient Internet means no more therapy for autistic boy in rural MN

Today I wanted to share a story from Kirsten K just outside Biwabik about her son Dalton. It’s a reminder that not everyone in Minnesota has access to adequate broadband – and not having access limits opportunities. Here’s Kristen’s story…

My son has autism, and because of our lack of sufficient internet service here, they dropped us from his ABA therapy program. Unfortunately, it has very noticeably affected his progress socially and behaviorally. Autistic kids learn extremely effectively by electronic methods, especially videos. However, since moving here from Eveleth a couple years ago, I am sadly unable to offer him the video options that would help him to further develop behavioral and living skills. Autistic children like mine, who usually have limited communication abilities, blossom under the help of therapists who cannot physically travel to my home, but who can bridge the distance with a laptop computer and a face-to-face video call app like Skype or Facetime.

We pretty much gave up on using the dialup. I think it’s pretty obvious to most people that it’s not even usable with today’s technology. We then tried Hughesnet which was extremely costly and worked a total of maybe 15 minutes per day. We finally gave up and turned off the service, losing over three hundred dollars in the process. We now have a small, closely monitored data package on satellite, but it crashes often and is too expensive to help my son with videos.

We had hoped that in due time, a company would want to serve the roughly two hundred households affected by our lack of internet options. We were wrong. We now have as few internet options living four miles from Biwabik as people who live in the middle of a desert or in a forest. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. I was told that Lake Connect gets so many calls from our area, but they don’t have money to come this far. They stop somewhere between Hwy 53 and Cedar Lake, which not far from us either.

Asian Penguins – St Paul middle school Linux group giving computers to kids

Your feel good story today comes from the Asian Penguins in St Paul. Middle school teacher Stu Keroff started a Linux user group. Kid joined. They realized that some kids in the school didn’t have computer – so they started to refurbish them and deliver them to families in the district. They even installed them and gave parents a quick lesson on how to use it.

Life of a Hackfest project after the Hackfest

In November, there was a Hackfest in Willmar hosted by Ridgewater CollegeMinnWestKandiyohi County EDCWork Up (local coworking space), Blandin Foundation and RITA Consortium.

Thanks to the folks at RITA and the Kandiyohi County & City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, we have a fun update on what’s happening with one projects from the event…

[Here’s] an update about the MNyou website that came from the 2016 Hack2o. Upon receiving funds from Blandin, we were able to utilize the majority of the funds by purchasing server space, web design work and coding work.

In January, we lost two of our most vital coders due to scheduling conflicts and building of the website came to a halt. In February, we brought on two coders interested in the project but had very little experience with the .net framework the original site was structured in.

After bouncing back and forth, one of the coders is continuing work in .net and learning as he goes; while the other switches formats. Our intention is to have the framework on both platforms ready to put on display at the MN Cup competition later this Spring.

On a side note, our group has turned the idea for this website into something much bigger. To accompany the idea for our “food facebook” website, we are also working with the MinnWest Campus and WDD to utilize their greenhouse and 4-acre plot of land to hire underrepresented youth to research, grow vegetables, both common and uncommon to Minnesota, and market those vegetables throughout the community to promote healthy eating. We have partnered with many markets throughout Willmar to fulfill their needs and have already recruited 16 youth to work on the project.

The website will be a great way to market our produce and to tell the story of the Willmar community while also giving the entire region a centralized location to find the foods they are looking for.

Fun to see the ripples from the project! Here’s a reminder of the original project

WiFi on School Buses – vendor details

I wrote about the Minnesota state grants to support wifi on buses and other ways to get hotspots to students without access at home when they announced the awards. I thought it might be valuable to other school districts or even community centers to share this press release from a vendor who is providing service to some of the grant recipients…

Districts Receive State Funding to Connect Students Outside the Classroom

MCLEAN, Virginia (PRWEB) February 27, 2017

Kajeet, the industry leader for safe, mobile student Internet connectivity, announces its most recent partnerships as a result of money allocated by the Minnesota Department of Education. Minnesota appropriated $500,000 to fund broadband connectivity to students without Internet outside the classroom. Up to $50,000 was available for each recipient. Of the 12 school districts awarded the Internet Broadband Expansion for Minnesota Students grant, six have already partnered with Kajeet to provide Internet access to their rural students.

“Part of our district has high-speed fiber, and part has nothing. But, with high poverty rates, people can’t always afford Internet,” said Matt Grose, superintendent for Deer River Public Schools. “Now we provide Internet connectivity for homework to kids in our district who didn’t have access at home.”

All applicants applied for the first grant, “Broadband Expansion and Off-Campus Learning,” which aims to enable student access to learning materials available on the Internet through a mobile broadband connection, such as a Wi-Fi hotspot. If eligible, applicants could apply to a second grant, “School Bus Internet Access,” designed to make Internet access available on school buses, enabling students to complete homework while commuting.

Deer River also connected their entire bus fleet, as some students spend over an hour commuting to and from school. “It’s a long time to be on the bus, which breeds trouble and wasted time. This [Kajeet] program is a natural extension of our student device initiatives,” said Grose. “We’re taking advantage of student time spent on the bus.”

Kajeet Education Broadband™ met the criteria for both grants with its Kajeet SmartSpot® and SmartBus™ solutions.

K-12 Broadband Equity Aid – schools need funding for broadband

Last week, the Senate introduced a bill for more funding for broadband for schools (SF 936)…

$9,450,000 in fiscal year 2018 and $9,650,000 in fiscal year 2019 are appropriated from  the general fund to the commissioner of education for K-12 broadband equity aid under  Minnesota Statutes, section 125B.26.
Any balance in the first year does not cancel but is available in the second year.

The bill was referred to the E-12 Finance Committee. What caught my eye was the supporting document submitted

Minnesota schools receive state support to help pay for the cost of high speed Internet access that remains after federal E-rate discounts have been applied. The annual appropriation for public schools was capped in 2010 and is $3.75 million. Total requests for this aid are nearing $10 million and steadily rising. the result is a proration amount of approximately 40% leaving districts to pay the remaining balance. In the graph below, the red line is state funding, the blue line is actual cost (after E-rate reimbursement) and pink is the trendline.


Internet access is mission critical for schools. Digital content, increasingly accessed over mobile devices, requires higher levels of bandwidth. Schools use the Internet in their daily operations including student instruction, food service, communications, transportation, accounting, and procurement.

Use of mobile devices has exploded over the past 2 years. This dramatic increase has severely taxed the capacities of both wireless infrastructure and bandwidth in general.  Minnesota schools need to greatly expand the broadband networks serving their institutions in order to keep up with the demands of their users.

Due to many factors including lack of provider competition, distance between schools and communities, and lack of regional infrastructure, the out-of-pocket cost to provide the same type of broadband Internet service to schools in some parts of the state is as much as 115 times or more per pupil than that of districts in the Twin Cities Metro and other larger communities.

● According to the latest statistics (FY2015) from the MN Department of Education (MDE), Ivanhoe public schools in Southwestern MN pays $140.37 per pupil (after E-rate and state funding) to provide broadband Internet services to their students and staff. This is nearly 2.5% of their total per pupil general aid.
● Suburban Columbia Heights schools pay $1.20 (after E-rate and state funding) per pupil to provide broadband Internet services to their students and staff. This is 0.02% of their total per pupil general aid.
● The average per pupil cost (after E-rate and state funding) in Southwest Minnesota is $49.01 per pupil while in the Metro region, the average cost is $5.95 per pupil.

Support for Digitizing Cultural Resources

Thought this might be of interest to some…

Council on Library and Information Resources: Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives
Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives, an initiative of the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), is intended to help digitize and provide access to non-digital collections of rare or unique content in cultural heritage institutions. Through this program, CLIR aims to enhance the emerging global digital research environment in ways that support new kinds of scholarship for the long term and to ensure that the full wealth of resources held by memory institutions becomes integrated with the open Web. Grants, ranging from a minimum of $50,000 to a maximum of $250,000 in the case of a single-institution project or $500,000 for a collaborative project, will be provided to colleges and universities, research centers, museums, libraries, historical societies, cultural associations, etc. To promote broad access, careful preservation, standardization, and usability, approaches to digitization should be coordinated across institutions when feasible. Online initial proposals must be submitted by April 3, 2017; final proposals are due September 20, 2017. Visit the CLIR website to review the program guidelines and application process.