ConnectedMN awards $2.35 million in grants to get kids online

From the Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity

Community-led digital equity solutions reach more Minnesota students
$2.35 million in grants awarded through a joint effort of Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity and Partnership for a ConnectedMN will advance work of 29 community organizations
MINNEAPOLIS – For students to succeed in school today, access to digital tools, reliable internet and support services is crucial. Almost a year after the COVID-19 pandemic made glaringly obvious the long-standing digital inequities that affect many Minnesota students, community-led solutions continue to be most successful in addressing these disparities. Today, 29 Minnesota non-profits’ digital equity work will advance as a result of $2.35 million in grants
delivered from a partnership between the Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity (MBCRE) and Partnership for a ConnectedMN (ConnectedMN).
30,000 Feet, an organization that empowers Black students in St. Paul through culture, art, technology and social justice, will use their grant to expand their distance learning support program. The program ensures that at least 100 students will have access to a laptop computer, small group tutoring sessions and holistic services that support mental and physical well-being.
“We’re fortunate to have deep connections on the East side of St. Paul. We’ve been around a long time, with a rich reserve of families that we’ve been successful with — and those families trust us,” said Kevin Robinson, Executive Director of 30,000 Feet. “This pandemic has shown we
need to move with urgency to deal with the digital divide, and the easiest way to do so is with organizations like ours that can deepen existing relationships. Relationship-focused solutions will have the best long-term ramifications for our community’s growth.”
The grants awarded support a variety of strategies to enhance digital learning for Minnesota students, focusing on organizations serving students who are Black, Indigenous or People of Color in kindergarten through grade 12. These strategies include:
• Technology tools, internet infrastructure and connectivity: Examples include the distribution of laptops, tech licenses and creation of comprehensive device solutions for students by Change Inc and Breakthrough Twin Cities, fiber internet installation for student computer labs in the Lower Sioux Indian Community in the State of Minnesota
and the dissemination of reliable internet hotspots in the Twin Cities metro area by PCs for People.

•  Culturally responsive and wrap-around support approaches: Organizations are responding to the unique learning needs of their community, like the Centro Tyrone
Guzman, CLUES, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Hmong American Partnership, South Sudanese Foundation and Project Nandi, fiscally sponsored by WoMN Act.
• Safe spaces for learning, tutoring and mentoring: Organizations including Boise Forte Tribal Government will provide computer labs for students without adequate home access to school and tech support. Positive Image that will create virtual tutoring initiatives to provide Black and other underrepresented mentors and tutors to students.
• Unique financial solutions: A partnership between Venn Foundation and Youthprise will provide loans to families for devices and/or digital support that will be reimbursable
from the family’s K-12 Education Tax Credit.
Grants were awarded based on expert insights identifying key priorities for allocating funding, and a review committee comprised of community members with a broad range of experience and geographic representation chose the recipients. Funding will be provided to programs
throughout Minnesota, in a mix of urban, rural and Indigenous settings. A full list of grant recipients and the grant award process can be found here.
“These partnerships are evidence philanthropy can come together in Minnesota and make an impact even in isolated, remote parts of the state that are often forgotten. This pandemic created a different landscape of understanding what access means in Minnesota’s rural, isolated and sparse populations, from the inability to connect to reliable and affordable internet to the immense toxic stress added by the financial crisis of lay-offs and the State shutdown,”
said Tuleah Palmer, CEO of Blandin Foundation, which serves as one of the founding partners of ConnectedMN. “This effort to collectively advance issues that improve the quality of life for folks shows we don’t have to breakdown — we can breakthrough. We are not going back to normal; we are going to bounce forward into a whole new level of well-being and I am excited to see what we get done next.”
A Collective Approach
Grants were supported by 36 local companies and foundations through MCBRE and/or through ConnectedMN. These organizations include, Best Buy, Bush Foundation, Cargill Foundation, Target and The Margaret A. Cargill Foundation Fund at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation.
A full list of funders to both organizations be found here.
Says Dave MacLennan, chairman and CEO at Cargill, “As a global company based in Minnesota, we know that a strong K-12 education system is how we prepare a strong future workforce and keep our headquarters’ community competitive. Systemic inequality persists in education and
digital access is one of the greatest divides. Minnesota deserves more. The Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity connects Cargill with other Twin Cities companies, allowing us to combine our resources and deliver much-needed impact.”
More Help is Needed
To reach more students, companies and organizations are encouraged to contribute financially to the Digital Learning Fund or provide in-kind gifts (like devices and connectivity services).
Learn more about these opportunities here. Educators, local governments and prospective grant applicants are also encouraged to reach out.

GigaZone Gaming Championship Returns Virtually in April

Big news from Paul Bunyan Communications for gamers in the 218…

GigaZone™ Gaming Championship 5 will be held online three consecutive weekends in April starting April 10. The event will feature a different gaming tournament each weekend, Cosplay contest, and door prizes with over $5,000 in cash and prizes to be given away. It is free to play or watch.
This one of a kind regional gaming event showcases Paul Bunyan Communications’ IT and web development team which custom built and integrated much of the online technology and leverages the speed of the GigaZone™ one of the largest rural all-fiber optic Gigabit networks in the country. The entire event is run off a single residential GigaZone™ Internet connection.
This year’s main tournaments are Overwatch April 10-11, Madden 21 April 17, and Super Smash Brothers April 24.
Registration for all tournaments can be done online at http://www.gigazonegaming.com It is free to enter and main tournaments are open to anyone living within the 218 area code, but space is limited. The gaming will start each Saturday at 10 a.m.
It’s free to watch and will be live streamed on www.gigazonegaming.com.
“There is a large gaming community in our area and it’s been so cool to see the GigaZone™ Gaming Championship take off. While we can’t get all together in person this time around, it will be a fun three weekends of fun online! said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.
“Our cooperative continues to expand one of the largest rural fiber gigabit networks in the country and that brings many advantages to our members. The GigaZone™ provides extreme speed and low latency which are critical for the best online gaming experience and the GigaZone™ Gaming Championship showcases just that,” added Leo Anderson, Paul Bunyan Communications Technology Experience Manager.
“There is no other gaming event like it anywhere I’ve seen. I’m very proud of our team for embracing the challenges in
going to an all virtual platform. We invite everyone to hop online to watch or play!” added Brian Bissonette, Paul Bunyan Communications Marketing Supervisor.
For more information on the GigaZone™ Gaming Championship visit www.gigazonegaming.com.

OPPORTUNITY: MN Safe Learning Survey

This is a slight wheel into another lane, except access to broadband impact the experience of online learning…

The University of Minnesota is working with MDE and launched the MN Safe Learning Survey in an effort to provide MDE, policy makers, and educational leaders a sense of how students, families, and educators are feeling about the school year. We are eager to get it out far and wide so that we get as many student, family, and educator responses as possible. Could you help us by sharing with your networks and on social media? Here is the link:

 

https://z.umn.edu/MNSafeLearningSurvey

EVENT Feb 24: Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch Digital Navigators

Just a reminder for folks that this conversation is happening on Wednesday…

Digital Navigators What, how & why (Feb 24 noon to 1pm CST)
Digital Navigators are individuals who help people (or organizations) through the process of finding the best digital solutions to meet their needs. It scored highly on our interest survey last month and we have (at least) two Lunch Bunchers who are willing to share their expertise with the group – one national and one focused on Minnesota schools. So please come with questions, ideas and solutions. Register here.

I’m excited to have two experts on deck to share their wisdom:

  • Marc Johnson, Executive Director of (ECMECC), a telecommunications & technology cooperative of school in East Central MN. You can catch him talking about digital navigators with North Branch Area Public Schools, if you want a sneak preview.
  • Paolo Balboa is the Programs and Data Manager for the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, where he applies his background in adult literacy and data management to developing digital equity programs.

 

Senator Klobuchar thinks there may be more federal funding for broadband – even beyond pandemic

The Alexandria Echo Press reports…

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, held a Zoom call with superintendents from west central Minnesota to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on their students and school systems Tuesday, Feb. 16.

Klobuchar said that Minnesota will receive around $30 billion, which will be distributed across the state. The Senate will be processing the bill more in depth next week with the goal of implementing it by mid-March.

This funding package will help schools take the next steps in improving classroom safety and COVID-19 response efforts, so she wanted to hear how local education leaders around the state believe the dollars should be spent.

The funding is designed to help in a number of ways but Klobuchar mentioned that there may be more coming for broadband…

Klobuchar said she’s finding the silver lining in the possibility of more federal funding for broadband internet access and support for teachers, even beyond the pandemic.

“I just feel more hope about this than I have in the past,” she said.

College students need broadband and connection with teacher

A recent academic research report (Digital inequality, faculty communication, and remote learning experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic: A survey of U.S. undergraduates ) found that undergraduates need broadband and connection with teacher…

Our results suggest that there are two kinds of connection that students need to develop remote learning proficiency: digital connectivity, in the form of consistent, high-speed internet and functional digital devices on the one hand, and strong human connections to the instructors who guide their learning, on the other. While the former provides the foundational infrastructure for students’ access to a novel learning environment, the latter provides the supportive framework to develop the digital skills to successfully navigate it, as well as the motivation to persist until that proficiency is realized.

As such, this study contributes to digital inequality research by identifying how first- and second-level digital inequality are connected within the sudden shift to remote learning during the early stages of the pandemic. Our findings are also consistent with extant literature in finding that financially insecure students report more challenges to maintaining the internet connectivity and devices that enable consistent access to remote learning environments. However, under-connected students may be even more vulnerable in remote than in face-to-face learning conditions, given that digital access is also prerequisite for communicating and securing assistance from teaching assistants and professors in remote learning.

Unfortunately, the study can tell us the problem but not the full impact, since that will unfold over time…

To fully capture how first- and second-level digital inequality are influencing undergraduates’ outcomes from remote learning will require longitudinal studies, Over time, it will be possible to trace how the volatility and vulnerability of being under-connected affects accessing course content and communicating with instructors. Our study’s contribution to the nascent and urgent effort to understand this unintended national experiment in undergraduate education is in providing a clear snapshot of how students experienced the very earliest weeks of the remote learning transition, and of what supported the very earliest stages of their adaptation.

Senator Klobuchar talks to schools near Wilkin County MN – broadband is issue, especially during pandemic

Wahpeton Daily News reports…

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-Minn.) recently hosted a conference call with Breckenridge Public Schools Superintendent Diane Cordes and other area education leaders to discuss how the state could provide equitable attention and opportunities to Greater Minnesota schools.

Included in the Friday, Jan. 29 call were Executive Director of Lakes Country Service Cooperative Jeremy Kovash and superintendents Jeff Drake of Fergus Falls Public Schools, Phil Jensen of Hawley Public Schools and Brandon Lunak of Moorhead Public Schools.

Broadband came up…

Klobuchar said a consistent problem throughout the pandemic has been access to broadband, an issue she has championed as the co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus. Nationwide, 25 percent of students do not have full access to broadband.

“That’s been a problem obviously before we had the pandemic. Some kids are better able to access internet services,” Klobuchar said.

Despite access challenges, Kovash said for the most part, the area is flourishing.

Telecom Industry Wants Federal Broadband Initiatives to Support Training

I was very excited when I first read this headline, because I assumed training meant digital inclusion training – for folks at all rungs of the digital inclusion ladder. What it really seems to mean is apprenticeships to help build the network, not necessarily use the network.

In a joint letter to the White House and Congress, the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA), INCOMPAS, NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, Power & Communication Contractors Association (PCCA), the Telecommunications Industry Association, USTelecom – The Broadband Association, the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA), and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) asked for any infrastructure legislation to include support for broadband-related job skills.

The industry expects as many as 3 million jobs to be created as a result of expansion of 5G communications. The technology is also expected to contribute $500 billion annually to the economy, according to the associations.

The letter proposes that apprenticeship programs would offer diversity, safety and good-paying jobs. The industry already employs some 672,000 workers, while average annual wages are in excess of $77,500.

I’m a big proponent of education (I have two Master’s degrees) so I’m warm to any sort of training to help people get better jobs. But I’d love to see some training on how to use the network too – both in terms of closing the digital divide and making sure people have basic skills to find a job, write an email, work from home but also the education to create new jobs for themselves, pursue dreams and innovate.

Pine and Carlton County residents run into troubles trying to stay connected

Moose Lake Star Gazette reports

Ryan Stewart’s, Moose Lake High School Principal, image froze on the screens of the Moose Lake School Board. He was making a presentation of a new grading option designed to help students recover their Grade Point Averages after struggling in Distance Learning. His daughter was home from college and also online.

To fix his internet connection problems Stewart needed to pause his presentation and ask his daughter to disconnect from the internet. Internet connection problems are a common one to have in areas around our community, but they make working and learning from home even more difficult.

Willow River Schools have provided mobile internet hotspots to students who are struggling to connect. At their most recent school board meeting school administrators were happy to report that with the recent purchase and set up of 25 additional hotspots all families who requested help connecting were able to receive a device.

The article goes on to provide several helpful tips to improve access by monitoring use and rebooting, helpful but the answer should be at a higher level. And they get to that too with an update of where state and federal funding from broadband stand today…

Rural areas have struggled to gain access to reliable internet connections for years. Legislative projects at both the state and federal level have been working to create a reliable source of internet connection for all. Broadband is simply a way of identifying internet connection to a router or wired connection. Connection to broadband creates the wireless connections within a home or area.

OPPORTUNITY: Free classes for Minnesotans through DEED and Coursera from now to March 31

Update: sorry – I just learned the deadline to sign up was Dec 31. 

GCN reports

To help Minnesota’s 130,000 unemployed workers, the state’s  Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is providing on-demand access to online classes for training, reskilling and upskilling.

The department contracted with Coursera, an online learning provider, to offer 3,800 classes for free to Minnesotans, particularly those affected by job losses related to the coronavirus pandemic. Residents request access to the course catalog through the DEED website and have until March 31, 2021, to complete their courses, which typically cost individuals $400 annually.

Here’s a taste of what they have and a reminder that they have more…

Courses related to technology, health care, retail and manufacturing have drawn the most attention, but so have COVID-specific ones, too, such as contact tracing classes, Warfa said. Because this effort targets out-of-work residents, state government employees are not required to take courses, but they are eligible.

What’s more, the offering complements the state’s CareerForce platform for connecting employers and job seekers. It has a tool that residents can use to see what skills they need to work in a particular industry.

“This is by no means a replacement for the workforce-training programs that exist. This is just another tool in the toolbox that I think is responsive and timely to COVID impact,” Warfa said. “Our goal is really just economic prosperity for everyone, especially those living on the margins of our economy.”

Internet outage in Red Wing brings us a new form of “snow day”

RiverTowns.Net reports…

Call it a cable day instead of a snow day late start. Shortly before 8 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 5, [Red Wings School]Superintendent Karsten Anderson called for classes to start at least two hours late because one of the community’s two internet companies suffered a line break.

Hiawatha Broadband’s outage reportedly involves a portion of southeastern Minnesota.

“As a result of that outage, many students and staff members do not have access to the internet or to the school learning platform,” Anderson said.

The disruption affects classes for all K-12 students, who are in full distance learning, regardless of whether they still have internet access.

At 9:45 a.m., he issued a second stating that the internet had been restored. K-6 students could log in at 9:50 a.m. High School students were notified how their four-block schedule was revised.

On the one hand this is a fun story on how “snow days” may not be entirely gone. And if you’ve grown up in a cold climate, you probably have a place in your heart for snow days. One the other hand, this is a reminder of how important secure, reliable broadband is at every level. If you’re Internet went out today – what could your family do and not do. The list is different since the pandemic and I think that list is changed permanently.

Klobuchar Broadband Provisions Included in Year-End Package Passed by Senate, Expected to be Signed Into Law

Big news from Senator Klobuchar, especially on broadband mapping and college kids in need of better broadband…

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, announced that several of her key broadband priorities were included in the year-end omnibus package passed by the Senate and expected to be signed into law. These provisions include funding to ensure students with the greatest financial need have access to high-speed internet based off Klobuchar’s Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act and funding to implement the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act, bipartisan legislation to improve the accuracy of the FCC’s broadband availability maps which was signed into law in March.

 

“In 2020, every family in America should have access to high-speed internet, regardless of their zip code,” Klobuchar said. “The pandemic has exposed how critical broadband is to staying connected to work, school, health care and more. These provisions will help bring us closer to ensuring all Americans have access to high speed internet by improving the broadband data collection process and connecting our college students with the greatest financial need to vital internet services.”  

 

The following provisions were included:

  • Connecting College and University Students in Need: The provision includes funding to ensure college students with the greatest financial need have access to high-speed internet based-off the Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act. The package includes $285 million funding for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs), their students, and minority-owned businesses near those colleges and universities.
    • The funding can be used to purchase routers, modems, wi-fi hotspots, tablets, and laptops. Funding recipients must prioritize students eligible for the Pell Grant or the FCC’s Lifeline program; approved to receive unemployment insurance benefits; currently receiving other need-based financial aid; or earning less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level (i.e., $39,300 for a family of four in the contiguous U.S.). The legislation also allows for connectivity funding for minority-owned businesses near those higher education institutions and establishes the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to carry out programs to expand access to broadband at and in communities around HBCUs, TCUs, HSIs and other MSIs.

Potential Federal Emergency Assistance for Education Institutions and Connectivity

Benton reports…

A bipartisan group of senators and representatives unveiled highlights of the $748 billion Bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act of 2020. Provisions for broadband include:

  • $6.25 billion for State Broadband Deployment and Broadband Connectivity grants to bridge the digital divide and ensure affordable access to broadband during the COVID 19 pandemic

  • $3 billion for an Emergency Educational Connectivity Fund to provide E-Rate support to educational and distance learning providers to provide hotspots, devices, and other connected devices, and advance digital equity/inclusion.

  • $200 million to Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to purchase and distribute Internet-connected devices to libraries in low-income and rural areas

  • $475 million to FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program to support efforts of healthcare providers to address coronavirus, including a 20% set aside for small, rural health providers

  • $100 million to Department of Veterans Affairs for Telehealth and Connected Care Program to purchase, maintain, and refresh devices and services to veterans for provision of access to telehealth services

OPPORTUNITY: ConnectedMN opens it’s second round of tech funding today!

ConnectedMN opens it’s second round of tech funding today! Here’s the latest from ConnectedMN

We’re accepting applications for grants to bring tech devices, internet access, and digital learning support to students across the state, especially communities most in need, including students who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color, students from low-income families, and students residing in rural Minnesota.

The deadline is January 26. Decisions will be made Feb 16. Get more details on who, why and how from their website.

Here’s a little background on ConnectedMN from their email alert…

Since early May 2020, the Partnership for ConnectedMN has worked as a public-private partnership to bring tech devices, internet access and programmatic support to students across the state. Over the last 7 months, we have raised and distributed $2.15 million in grants to organizations serving the connectivity and computing needs of an estimated 68,000 students and their families in urban and rural communities. With these resources, grantees are providing access to devices, internet connectivity, supportive mentors, coaching and tech support. We have also listened to community needs and connected organizations and providers in pursuit of devices and connectivity.

COVID push to get kids online for school worked for computers but not broadband

The Benton Institute for Broadband and Society looks at students’ access to technology at the start at the pandemic (April 23-May 5) and seven months later (November 11-13). Access to computers increased; access to broadband didn’t.

They report on the computers…

Device availability (either always or usually) increased from 86.7% to 90.9% from May to November, with a notable increase in computers always being available (70.2% to 76.0%). Translating that into numbers (assuming a K-12 student population of 53.1 million) means that about 3 million more student households had computers always available for educational purposes in November 2020 than in May 2020.

More computers in student households were also coming from schools according to the November 2020 data. In May, 37.4% of households with students said a computer was provided by a child’s school or school district. This figure climbed to 62.0% by November.

And broadband…

Households with students in kindergarten through 12th grade have seen little change in internet availability since May, with that figure increasing from 89.3% to 90.4% (a statistically significant difference). Essentially the same share of these households has the internet always available for educational purposes over the 6-month time frame. For internet availability that is “always” or “usually” present, about 590,000 more households with K-12 students have the internet since May 2020.

Availability patterns play out among familiar lines of household income. The November data shows that, for households with incomes below $35,000 annually, 62.1% say the internet is always available for educational purposes while 75.8% of household above that income level say this. This filters into other metrics, as one-third (33.3%) of lower income households report the internet is either usually available (21.5%) or sometimes (11.8%). For households above the $35,000 annual income threshold, just 20.1% says this, with 15.4% saying the internet is usually available and 4.7% saying it is always available.

We saw that when we spoke to different Minnesota Counties about their COVID situation. Rock County is well served with nearly 100 percent access to broadband. To serve the students who weren’t set up they found computers and a way to make existing broadband affordable. While other counties, such Kanabec, there may be problems with computers and affordability but the bigger problems in that there is no adequate access. Surveys showed that while 6-12 percent of student households lacked access to Kanabec, 20-30 percent lacked adequate access.) Expanding or upgrading broadband where it doesn’t exist is not as easy.

It’s clearly awesome to get computers to the kids who need them. Heck – to the adults too. But access to broadband would have the longer standing impact. Households with broadband reap an economic benefit of $1850 (on the low end) and $10,500 (on the high end). It would increase the value of the homes. It would give that household access to a tool that will definitely outlive even the best computer.