Tool Template: Finding the Broadband Internet Service That Works for Your Family

There is a great template for schools (or others) to help you help your students or other folks get the broadband they need. It’s called Finding the Broadband Internet Service That Works for Your Family. My colleague Bill Coleman created it with feedback from Marc Johnson at ECMECC walks folks through better understanding the technology and who to call to get better service or help. You can customize it based on what is available in your community or through your school. So it’ll take a little time to make it most useful but it seems like that there’s someone at your school or office already answering these questions on a regular basis so it might be an easy way to quit reinventing the wheel!

Are you ready for Digital Inclusion Week Oct 4-8?

There’s still time to plan so I wanted to share info from NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance) on Digital Inclusion Week 2021…

Digital Inclusion Week is an annual campaign that recognizes local digital inclusion organizations and special events that promote digital equity across the country.

Please join us October 4-8, 2021 – this will be our biggest Digital Inclusion Week ever, with seasoned practitioners and newly launched programs hosting virtual and in-person events. DIW aims to raise awareness of solutions addressing home internet access, personal devices, and local technology training and support programs.

Here’s how it works:

  • Create or find an activity in your area that builds inclusion by providing computer training, media literacy, affordable devices, or internet access to people on the wrong side of digital divides – or builds public awareness.

  • Use the social media kit to raise awareness around the digital divide and the incredible work your community is doing to reach digital inclusion.

  • Connect with colleagues around the country to share ideas through our mailing list.

  • Use hashtags #DIW2021 and #digitalequityNOW during the week of October 4th to join the conversation and celebrate progress.

Learn more – and get resources to help!

OPPORTUNITY: Free Chromebooks for MN Families in Need

From Minnesota Afterschool Advance

Minnesota Afterschool Advance (MAA) is here to help your family get a device to assist your student’s education! By using both the K-12 Education Tax Credit and scholarship dollars from Youthprise, we’re committed to getting even more Minnesota families a Chromebook.

How can MAA help?

If your household income is under $33,500 in 2020 and 2021 and you file taxes, MAA can use a tool called the K-12 Education Tax Credit plus scholarship dollars from Youthprise to get you a Chromebook for no additional cost, plus save you 75% or more on afterschool and summer activities like tutoring, music lessons, and driver’s education. Learn more about how MAA works by watching a short animated video.

We are limited to one device per household due to tax credit rules.

How can I get a Chromebook?

  1. Apply to MAA

    The first step is to apply to MAA, so we can determine your eligibility.

    Since the computer hardware option is limited to one per family, you only need to submit an application for one eligible student, but you may apply for additional students if you want to use MAA to pay for afterschool and summer activities as well. We will generally review your application within a few business days.

  2. Select Your Chromebook

    Once approved, we will send you a special link to order your Chromebook and have it shipped to you.

  3. Receive Your Chromebook

    In most cases, shipping takes around one week or less depending on your location.

  4. Watch for Additional Instructions from MAA at the End of the Year

    MAA gets repaid by the State when you file your state income tax return at the end of the year. The Department of Revenue will directly repay the amount MAA advances to you from the Tax Credit dollars (these are additional dollars on top of your regular refund). To help with tax filing, MAA will provide instructions to assist you and also let you know about available free tax preparation services.

Is my student eligible?

For a limited time, we have expanded eligibility rules to qualify for a Chromebook!

Students are generally eligible if:

  • They are in grades K-12.

  • Your household income in 2020 and 2021 is under $33,500.

View detailed eligibility rules and guidelines.

MN ranks 30th for broadband for students

Clayton Daily News reports

HeyTutor used the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, released on May 5, 2021, to rank the states according to which ones have the best internet access. The 50 states and Washington D.C. are ranked by the percentage of households that responded as “always” having internet availability for education purposes. Ties are broken by the percentage of households that responded as “usually” having internet availability for education purposes.

Each state also includes information on general computer availability in the household, as well as who pays for the internet and whether internet services are available in the home. Note that households that said they “rarely” or “never” have internet or computer availability were not included in this article, but they are part of the total percentage of households surveyed.

Minnesota ranked 30th; here are the reasons…

#30. Minnesota

– Internet availability for education purposes:

— Always: 79.6%; Usually: 17.4%; Sometimes: 0.1%

– Computer availability for education purposes:

— Always: 84.4%, Usually: 12.4%, Sometimes: 0.8%

– Who pays for education-related internet service:

— Household or family: 96.6%; Child’s school or school district: 0.3%; Another source: 0.6%; Internet services not available in home: 0.5%

About 3% of Minnesota’s students didn’t have internet access when schools went online in spring 2020. That number increases to 17% of families in rural communities around the state.

Fiber Broadband Association to Launch National Fiber Optic Technician Training and Certification Program

Fiber 2021 Connect is happening this week and with it come exciting announcements from the Fiber Broadband Association, starting with their Fiber Optic Technician Training and Certification Program…

Today at Fiber Connect 2021, the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) announced its The program features unique curriculum designed by leading experts in the fiber community to quickly scale technical education, fill the existing fiber skills gap and accelerate fiber deployments across North America.

The demand on service providers and communities to build better broadband networks continues to increase. The pandemic highlighted the need for speeds to support bandwidth-straining remote work and education, telehealth and streaming entertainment. The best option to deliver this capacity is fiber because it delivers the best performance in speed and reliability than any other type of broadband technology. However, there is a shortage of qualified fiber workers which creates a tall hurdle in deploying fiber in many regions of North America.

“The Fiber Broadband Association is responding to the needs of service providers in anticipation of the U.S. government’s infrastructure plan to dedicate $65 billion on broadband build-outs across the nation,” said Mark Boxer, FBA Board Member, lead for FBA training and certification program and Technical Manager, Solutions and Applications Engineering at OFS. “We are addressing the fiber workforce shortage with the OpTIC program, providing relevant training to equip workers with the knowledge and skills needed to build fiber networks.”

The program will be offered nationwide through vocational schools, community colleges and veteran training programs. Wilson Community College in Wilson, N.C., will be the first to pilot the OpTIC, curriculum, consisting of 144 hours of combined class and lab courses followed by a 2,000-hour apprenticeship that is fully approved and recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor. The Fiber Broadband Association and its OpTICS apprenticeship program is recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor as a National Program sponsor, eligible for state and federal grants. The program will include technical content for today’s fiber technician as well as plenty of hands-on practice, with the goal of compressing the time needed to equip them to be safe and productive in the field. Participants that complete the program will be certified as an FBA Accredited OpTIC Technician.

“Wilson was North Carolina’s first gigabit city and is now home to many advanced workforce training programs that are focused on fiber optics,” said Gene Scott, General Manager of Outside Plant at Greenlight Community Broadband, and chair of the FBA education subcommittee. “We are thrilled to be associated with the first school to offer the FBA’s OpTIC program. The citizens of Wilson understand that fiber technology has the ability to change lives by bringing economic and quality of life opportunities to the communities that can access it.”

“The need for a highly-trained fiber workforce has never been greater, so we’re thrilled to launch a certification program that will be extremely valuable to the industry,” said Deborah Kish, Vice President of Research and Marketing at the Fiber Broadband Association. “We expect the OpTIC program to be recognized across North America as the gold standard among training programs directed at developing highly competent fiber splicers, premise installers and technicians that are required for today’s fiber deployments. Moreover, this certification program will help create jobs across North America and ensure all broadband deployments are fiber first.”

To learn more about the FBA’s OpTIC program, please visit

These are good jobs and I’m glad to hear about the program. Also, policymakers always seem impressed by initiatives that create an immediate need for jobs; so I think that will help too.

Fridley storm shelter also used as learning hub and literacy center

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on a project involving Libraries without Borders and Park Plaza Cooperative, a community of manufactured homes. I wrote about the project last October (2020); it’s fun to see that they are able this year to provide in-person programming without COVID restrictions…

[A] call came from Libraries Without Borders, a nonprofit with the mission of bringing knowledge and information to people in need. And with it came the offer to turn the diverse community’s storm shelter into a learning hub by supplying Wi-Fi connections, books, art materials, computers and iPads.

“It could be everybody’s dream to walk to a building and use a library,” said Seefeld, who has lived at Park Plaza since 1998 and served as its president for the past 10 years. “Reading brings people together.”

Many of the 83 families who live at Park Plaza are immigrants whose primary language is not English. About 30% have trouble accessing a library due to a lack of transportation, or can’t get to a library when it’s open, according to Anoka County Library and Libraries Without Borders officials.

But residents did turn out Saturday for a celebration kicking off an ambitious series of live programs that will include everything from English language classes to reading, writing and computer skills.

It’s not the first program in the area…

In 2018, Park Plaza opened a new aboveground storm shelter strong enough to withstand an F5 tornado. The building has a kitchen, gyms and rooms with tables and chairs — a perfect space for a learning and literacy hub.

“I think it’s great,” said Fridley Mayor Scott Lund. Using the building as a library and connecting people to it can only be positive, he said. “It’s great thinking on their part.”

Libraries Without Borders had already brought its “Wash and Learn Initiative” to Minnesota, partnering with libraries to bring story times to laundromats. As the nonprofit in 2018 launched its Manufactured Housing Initiative to reach the estimated 22 million people in the United States who live in manufactured homes, it called Seefeld.

And the model in Minnesota could start a bigger trend…

Park Plaza could serve as a model for other manufactured home parks, said Libraries Without Borders Executive Director Adam Echelman. The nonprofit is looking to bring library services to a few such communities in southern Minnesota, he said.

Broadband alone isn’t enough – students need laptops

Through the pandemic, I saw lots of generous vendors and schools get hotspots into the hands on people and families who needed them, especially to access broadband for homework. The big question (asked by Brain Whitacre and Amanda Higgins) is whether hotspots alone are enough to make a difference or might laptops have been the special sauce to get students to do homework. It turns out they may have been onto something!

Here’s the abstract from the report

Much has been made about the “homework gap” that exists between students who have access to the Internet and those that do not. Policy-makers increasingly recognize the connectivity aspect of this issue but typically fail to acknowledge the importance of computer ownership. We use a small-scale randomized controlled trial (n=18) to test whether the provision of Internet access by itself — or in conjunction with a laptop computer — improves educational outcomes of alternative high-school students in the U.S. Our results suggest that the combination of Internet access and computer ownership is more effective than Internet access alone for positive educational outcomes.

They had a small sample but for folks in the field and their sample precedes the pandemic (2017/2018(, I think this is a practical assumption. Here’s their conclusion…

The results of this small randomized controlled trial suggest that simply providing alternative high-school students with Internet access is not enough to have a meaningful impact on student performance over the course of a semester. Rather, a combination of Internet access (hotspots) and tools to take advantage of that access (laptops) are more effective at generating improvements in scholastic achievement. The group assigned both of these devices was the only one to show measurable increases in the number of credits earned, and to display a positive trend in GPA (although not statistically significant). We also highlight the significantly higher proportion of Internet time spent on homework for this group (Figure 2); those in the hotspot-only group spent roughly the same percentage of Internet time devoted to homework as did the control (around 30 percent).

And a few of the graphs outlining the specifics:

How to create The Minds We Need

The Minds We Need is a paper/movement/plan to help America be better and prepare for the future for everyone. It focuses on inclusion, innovation and competition. Here are their top recommendations…

To ensure inclusion, drive innovation, enhance competitiveness, and equalize opportunity we must:

  • Connect every community college, every minority serving institution, and every college and university, including all urban, rural, and tribal institutions to a world-class and secure R&E infrastructure, with particular attention to institutions that have been chronically underserved;
  • Engage and empower every student and researcher everywhere with the opportunity to join collaborative environments of the future, because we cannot know where the next Edison, Carver, Curie, McClintock, Einstein, or Katherine Johnson will come from; and
  • Ensure American competitiveness and leadership by investing holistically in national R&E infrastructure as a sustainable system.

Because the investment in R&E is coming I don’t mention much, I wanted to add their notes on that topic…

Our plan calls for a $4.989 Billion one-time investment to expand the nation’s research and education infrastructure, to be completed in three phases, extending R&E leading-edge capabilities to every community college, minority serving institution, college and university, enabling innovation while ensuring every college student is connected into an advanced digital fabric.

Awards in all categories should be prioritized to nonprofit R&E networks, tribal, and/or across all community colleges, minority serving institutions, colleges and universities, and university research-affiliated organizations that can then form partnerships, as appropriate, with private sector companies to implement the programs, with a goal of engaging our nation’s diverse system of 3,900 accredited, degree-granting higher education institutions.

OPPORTUNITY Starting Jun 29: Schools and libraries can apply for FCC broadband relief funds

C|Net reports

The Emergency Connectivity Fund, the program run through the Federal Communications Commission to subsidize broadband connectivity and devices for schools and libraries in response to the coronavirus pandemic, will begin accepting applications for funding starting Tuesday. This program is designed to help narrow the digital divide and homework gap that has left out millions of Americans, including school-age children and other vulnerable populations, who have traditionally relied on public libraries for internet access.

The $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund Program, created through President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, will provide funding for schools and libraries across the country to buy laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband connections to help students and teachers access the internet for distance learning. Unlike traditional federal E-rate dollars, which are provided to schools and libraries through the FCC’s Universal Service Fund, to help get those physical locations connected to the internet, the Emergency Connectivity Fund money can be used to serve students, school staff or library patrons who are off-campus.


OPPORTUNITY: Applications for schools and libraries to get tech equipment open June 29

Telecompetitor reports

Schools and libraries can start filing applications on June 29 for financial support for various tech equipment, including laptops and tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and broadband connectivity for off-campus use by students, school staff, and library patrons. The funding comes available by way of the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund, the FCC announced.

The fund itself is the largest single effort for student connectivity in the nation’s history, according to acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel It was designed to build on the the processes and structures of the existing E-Rate program, a Universal Service Fund (USF) program aimed at assisting schools and libraries with technology and connectivity funding support.

The need is evident, according to the FCC, with as many as 17 million children without the broadband access they need for remote learning. Applications will be accepted through Aug. 13. The FCC will also hold a webinar on June 25th at at 2:00 p.m. EDT to outline the program and discuss the application process.

Schools have active shooter response, fire response, earthquake response… they need cybersecurity response

SC Magazine reports good news for some schools (none in MN) that have “won” cybersecurity support from IBM. In the process of inviting schools to apply for support, IBM gathered some disturbing information on school cybersecurity budgets…

Indeed, 50% of the more than 250 school districts that applied for the grant said in their applications that they have less than $100,000 allocated annually toward cybersecurity. “And that’s for an entire school district so when you get down to it, the school budgets are just incredibly low compared to the threats that they face,” said Rossman. Additionally, more than 55% of applicants said their districts don’t provide any security training to staff members, while 40% said they have previously experienced a ransomware attack.

In fact, the Newhall School District, with 10 elementary schools and approximately 5900 students, learned of the grant program after experiencing its own ransomware attack last fall. Jeff Pelzel, superintendent, told SC Media he remembers coming into work on a Monday morning and finding himself unable to access certain systems.

And IBM saw the need to make resources available to a wider audience…

Fortunately, even the districts that applied but weren’t selected for the grant were still given access to some of IBM’s resources. “We’re going to have resources available on for them to use,” said Rossman. These interactive offerings include ransomware assessments, and a video-based training module that designed to teach faculty members and students some basic cyber concepts. The builds on previous work on IBM’s part to host an education security assessment event for schools as well as virtual cyber range exercise that helped superintendents understand “what’s it like to experience a ransomware attack.”

They have a number of classes available online and aimed for students 14 years and older.

A Guide to help libraries build telehealth centers

Something for my librarian friends, a guide helps libraries build telehealth centers – Shhhhhh! The Doctor’s In. Guide to Connecting Library Patrons to Better Health

This guide lays out how to a) get to the heart of patrons’ healthcare needs, b) create something that’s never been done in your community before, and c) market your telehealth and broadband grant proposal. More than video chats, telehealth uses intranets and Internet networks to observe, diagnose, initiate or otherwise medically intervene, administer, monitor, record, and/or report on the continuum of care people receive when ill, injured, or wanting to stay well. I’ll take this definition one step further and differentiate between 1) real-time telehealth, 2) store-and-forward telehealth, and 3) “passive” telehealth.

A little more info…

This guide lays out a straightforward needs assessment process so you get a representative portrait of how telehealth can benefit the community. Libraries reach out and touch virtually everyone in their communities across the entire economic spectrum, so it’s quite exciting to imagine telehealth capabilities at work. Healthcare professionals weigh in on how to get the maximum impact from telehealth technology in your library. The guide also gives you tips and pointers on getting the best from your IT investment. Not only does it address access to broadband but also broadband and telehealth adoption and training. Ultimately, it takes funding to transform community dreams into reality. The guide offers insights into federal grant programs that fund libraries and telehealth: the FCC’s E-rate program, the Institute for Museums and Library Services (IMLS), and Health & Human Services (HHS), plus links to other valuable resources that help you.

Student Home Connectivity Study: how students do homework in 13 rural, urban and suburban school districts

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) has released a study on Student Home Connectivity. It looks at how students were able to get online from home in 13 US school districts. They look at speeds, devices, mobility and other factors that impact a student’s ability to do their homework. School districts include urban, rural and suburban school districts with an eye toward providing actionable recommendations for policymakers.

Here’s a summary of their findings…

The findings and recommendations in this report are divided into four distinct topics. The recommendations in this report should be considered a guide for school leaders to support local decisions. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to implementing supports for student home internet connectivity. In fact, it is evident that no one solution will meet the needs of all students. Therefore, school districts must use a variety of strategies and interventions to ensure digital equity. The findings in this report are organized into four topics:

  1. Learning with Video is Essential for Education
  2. Students are Mobile and Rely on WiFi
  3. Certain Communities, Especially Remote and Rural Areas, Require More Support and Resources
  4. The Remote Learning Experience is Significantly Impacted by Device Quality

Learning with Video is Essential for Education

  • Over 85% of network traffic in remote learning is used for video (both synchronous and asynchronous).
  • A sufficient upload speed is critical for uninterrupted participation in synchronous video.
  • A sufficient download speed is critical for uninterrupted viewing of synchronous or asynchronous video.
  • Video-intensive content and applications are increasing in use and this trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Students are Mobile and Rely on WiFi

  • Many students participate in online learning activities outside of the student’s home, including joining from peers’ homes, and even attending classes from other cities, states, and countries.
  • 92% of students use WiFi instead of a wired connection, which makes it critical to address home WiFi issues.
  • Alongside district-provided devices, students often concurrently use mobile devices, such as their personal phone or tablet, which contributes to increased home bandwidth needs.

Certain Communities, Especially in Remote and Rural Areas, Require More Support and Resources

  • Students in more remote or rural areas most often have limited internet access.
  • Students working in areas with a large concentration of students may experience poor connectivity.
  • Even students from higher socioeconomic families have frequent problems in remote learning/online meeting experiences.

The Remote Learning Experience is Significantly Impacted by Device Quality

  • Quality of student experience can be impacted by age, type, and quality of device, as well as device configuration (i.e., user authentication and network filtering tools).
  • Student experience can be improved by routinely collecting datasets that provide insight into the student use of district-provided devices.

Another reason for ubiquitous broadband: adherence to Open Meeting Laws

The Pine Journal reports

The Barnum School Board was recently found to be in violation of the Minnesota Open Meeting Law under a chapter of the state statute, which does not allow for public bodies to hold in-person meetings while limiting public attendance to electronic monitoring.

This finding, as cited in an April 19 opinion by Minnesota Department of Administration Commissioner Alice Roberts-Davis, has led to new guidance issued by the Minnesota School Board Association regarding meetings during a pandemic.

The new guidance states that school board meetings should either be held in person — without restrictions on public attendance — or held completely virtually.

If everyone had equal access to broadband this would be less of an issue…

Krampf explained that the public has not had equal access to all meetings during the pandemic, citing the lack of broadband internet available in Carlton County.

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Administration issued an advisory opinion to the district, citing violations of the open meeting law by the board on Sept. 22, 2020, Nov. 24, 2020, Jan. 5, 2021, and Jan. 26, 2021.

“The School Board did not comply with the OML when a quorum of the public body held in-person meetings … while the public was limited to remote attendance,” the opinion read.

According to Superintendent Mike McNulty, the decision to livestream meetings was made out of concern for public safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. He explained that the board room is a small space and does not allow for large groups of people to remain socially distanced.

Future leader in Autonomous Vehicles? Grand Rapids MN!

Grand Rapids in on the cusp of being the first cold weather, rural community to deploy autonomous vehicles (AV) – maybe in the world! That’s pretty exciting but I feel like I’m burying the lead because there are so many good things included in this pilot project. Their focus is on access, especially for folks who cannot get driver’s licenses and becoming a hub for autonomous vehicles, starting with getting kids interested in trained in the schools.

I spoke with Myrna Peterson about the project. Originally from Iowa, Myrna moved to the area many years ago; she is a former teacher. She has been in a wheelchair since a serious car accident in the 1990s. She has unique experience understanding the need for accessibility and understanding the need (and how!) to get kids involved in educational opportunities that will lead to jobs. But of course she’s not doing the work alone. There are a host of project partners, including the Blandin Foundation, Mobility Mania, several economic development leaders, research and academic partners and private sector partners, such as May Mobility, the AV experts.

The plan is to create a 12-mile route to local hotspots, such as the grocery store, church, schools and communal living settings. The AV goes about 25 mph, so the path will stick to slower roads. (So smart to avoid annoying other vehicles driving on 169!) Broadband plays a role both in helping the AV’s with offloading (a lot) of data and connecting that data to the back office. It also allows riders to connect to the AV app to make reservations and otherwise communicate. The AV collects data in the environment and uses Multi-Policy Decision-Making system to as a brain to drive. (Learn more on the May Mobility site.)

The need for AV to collect data has opened a door to looking other use of sensors and spurred discussions with Smart North. Now the community is looking at smart street lights and tech hubs. The community is also making sure that the AV experience meets the needs of all riders, which means wheel-chair accessible, accommodating visual and hearing impairments and more. They are looking to not only be ADA compliant but to be comfort-forward and welcoming for everyone, which is how you get people to use the AV. There will be an attendant on the AV to make sure everything is going smoothly.

But as I mentioned, this goes beyond a ride. They are working with the schools to create programming and opportunities for students to learn more about AV, starting with a STEM camp this summer. They are working with the K12 schools, local colleges and are working to create apprenticeships. They are also planning to leverage the shuttle project to showcase the region’s innovative mobility program through Smart Rural Mobility seminars where the Grand Rapids community members will have an information sharing forum, and they will be empowered to share their mobility stories with other government leaders and technology companies.  So, not only will Grand Rapids be the first cold weather, rural AV community but the people in and from the area will be leading experts. It’s an opportunity for a whole new industry cluster.