EVENT April 27: Digital Inclusion + Human Connection: Libraries Serving Youth Meetup

This is an event for librarians but I thought some folks might be interested and/or some folks might be interested at least reading about libraries are doing these days…

Did 2020 leave your patrons and students struggling to connect to reliable internet? Are they in need of new devices to fully participate and engage in distance learning? Could they find the support and instruction they needed to use new virtual tools?

Ensuring equitable digital access has long been a focus of libraries, but the whirlwind of 2020 put a glaring spotlight on internet dead zones, inadequate equipment and insufficient support for youth and families.

The seventh annual Meetup for school and public library staff serving youth will feature speakers finding solutions to digital exclusion in Minnesota. Join us for an afternoon to hear from these amazing advocates and discuss how we can create and improve digital inclusion efforts in our communities!

When: Tuesday, April 27, 2-5 p.m.

Where: A Zoom link will be sent to registrants one week before the event.

Speakers and panelists include:

If you’re interested, please contact Ashley Bieber (651-582-8849) for assistance with any questions.

 

Blandin Broadband Lunch Smart Cities & Broadband Day on the Hill video and notes

Oh what a day, MN Broadband Day on the Hill, Lunch Bunch and a Senate meeting starting in 15 minutes. So my notes are brief.

We celebrated the Day on the Hill with many of the participants who joined us immediately after. Folks in the lunch bunch who were not at the Day on the Hill has questions about policies (or grant stipulations) that might consider affordability and access (skills to use and get) to broadband as well as availability. The grants do consider access but it was fun to think about how that could happen more. We talked a bit about national activities. Then we heard from the folks at Smart North about what makes a smart city and how does one getting started.

Lot of questions on starting with street lights. For example, in a rural are where moving to smart street lights won’t save a huge amount of money – does it still make sense? It does because with smart lights you can “value stack” other features like the ability to adjust the light or use the light pole as a wifi (or even 5G) hub. We even touched upon these being the building blocks to get to autonomous vehicles. A few of us kept on the call and one attendee (David Asp) that we might start calling smart technology “how to use technology to make life easier” maybe to make it sounds easier.

Here’s the original description of the sessions:

Join to talk about smart tactics for cities, suburbs and town. I’m excited to have a few experts from Smart North join us.  Smart North is a coalition of public, private, civic, education, and entrepreneurial individuals and organizations looking to drive Smart City initiatives throughout Minnesota. (They are looking for partners, especially in rural areas!)

A few weeks ago, I got a chance to talk to founders Sabina Saksena (CytiLife), Ben Wallace (Minify Energy) and Thomas Fisher (U of M School of Architecture College of Design). You can watch the video for a quick take on what they do – from autonomous cars, big data and energy!

Also Wednesday is Broadband Day on the Hill, which ends just as we start. I’m hoping/expecting a few of folks to hop on over to let us how it went and maybe we can celebrate lifting broadband in the eyes of the legislature.

And you can view the chat: Continue reading

MN Broadband Day on the Hill March 2021: Video and Notes

It’s been a busy day. MN Broadband Coalition hosted their Day on the Hill and immediately after I hosted a lunch bunch discussion for the Blandin Foundation – so my notes are high level for the meeting but the video is all here:

The Coalition promotes $120 Million for broadband grants – over two years. They promote adding broadband to the base budget so that communities and providers can plan accordingly.

Both the Senate and the House have bills that target $120 million. The Governor budgeted $50 million for one year and none for the second year of the biennium. Since creating the budget targets, the GOP (Senate) have changed their target to $40 million for broadband; we heard (unconfirmed) that the DFL (House) are looking at $30 million. Both legislative goals are for two years (so $20M or $15M per year presumably).

It is worth noting that Senator Bakk mentioned a conflict with broadband funding and desire to not raise taxes. Rep Ecklund was moving forward with $120 million until he heard otherwise. (Again note the budget change in the MN House is unconfirmed.)

Policymakers are concerned about the amount of COVID-inspired federal funding coming into the state for broadband. They do not want duplication between state and federal funds. Unfortunately decisions about how federal funding can be spent may not be made until just before the state session ends. (One policymaker mentioned a special session!)

Things to know: Minnesota grant projects must be scalable to 100 Mbps up and 100 Mbps down (100/100). Minnesota grants reward community engagement. Minnesota grants have been replicated in other states; Commissioner Grove today mentioned that even folks in the UK have been asking about them.

Federal funds generally focus on target speeds of 25/3. There is controversy over two existing federal streams for funding (RDOF and CAF); other streams are being decided now.

So while federal funding is much greater, a community that gets state funding is likely to faster speeds sooner. The question is – how to tap into benefits of both? There is a model in Minnesota where state grants were used to match federal funding in Sunrise Township, which leveraged Minnesota’s more stringent requirements and tapped into greater sources of federal funding. The projects used a state grant, CAF funding and a local match.

Most speakers recognized that COVID has shone a light on perils of unequal broadband access and the opportunity we have now, with COVID attention and funding, to close some gaps. We heard stories from the frontline of the difference broadband can make and the frustration of not having it – and of losing the opportunity due to the clash between state and federal funding.

That’s a fairly complete but not detailed account; I am going to capture Tweets from today too, which might help capture more details. Continue reading

EVENT Today 3pm: MN Senate Committee on Ag and Rural Dev on SF1536 broadband definition to include wireless or not

Sorry for the late notice – busy day! I’m going to try to attend remotely…

From Bill Tracker:

Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy

March 24, 2021 at 3:00pm (CDT)

The main idea is to change the definition of unserved/underserved as it relates to wired and wireless broadband. They want the legislation to definitely include wireless. This will determine who qualifies for state funding. State grants are available to wired and wireless solutions. I’ve bolded the areas with changes:

A bill for an act
relating to broadband grants; allowing broadband grants to be used for fixed
wireless broadband and clarifying broadband mapping requirements; amending
Minnesota Statutes 2020, sections 116J.394; 116J.397.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

Section 1.

Minnesota Statutes 2020, section 116J.394, is amended to read:

116J.394 DEFINITIONS.

(a) For the purposes of sections 116J.394 to 116J.398, the following terms have the meanings given them.

(b) “Broadband” or “broadband service” has the meaning given in section 116J.39, subdivision 1, paragraph (b).

(c) “Broadband infrastructure” means networks of deployed telecommunications equipment and technologies necessary to provide high-speed Internet access and other
advanced telecommunications services for end users.

(d) “Commissioner” means the commissioner of employment and economic development.

(e) “Last-mile infrastructure” means broadband infrastructure that serves as the final leg connecting the broadband service provider’s network to the end-use customer’s on-premises telecommunications equipment.

(f) “Middle-mile infrastructure” means broadband infrastructure that links a broadband service provider’s core network infrastructure to last-mile infrastructure.

(g) “Political subdivision” means any county, city, town, school district, special district
or other political subdivision, or public corporation.

(h) “Underserved areas” means areas of Minnesota in which households or businesses lack access to wire-line or fixed wireless broadband service at speeds of at least 100 megabits per second download and at least 20 megabits per second upload.

(i) “Unserved areas” means areas of Minnesota in which households or businesses lack
access to wire-line or fixed wireless broadband service, as defined in section 116J.39.

Sec. 2.

Minnesota Statutes 2020, section 116J.397, is amended to read:

116J.397 UPDATED BROADBAND DEPLOYMENT DATA AND MAPS.

(a) Beginning in 2016 and continuing each year thereafter, The Office of Broadband Development shall contract annually with one or more independent organizations that have extensive experience working with Minnesota broadband providers to:

(1) collect broadband deployment data reflecting all broadband delivery technologies from Minnesota providers, verify its accuracy through on-the-ground testing, and create state and county maps available to the public by April 15, 2017, and each April 15 thereafter, showing the availability of broadband service at various upload and download speeds throughout Minnesota;

(2) analyze the deployment data collected to help inform future investments in broadband
infrastructure; and

(3) conduct business and residential surveys that measure broadband adoption and use
in the state.

(b) Data provided by a broadband provider under this section is nonpublic data under
section 13.02, subdivision 9. Maps produced under this paragraph are public data under
section 13.03.

 

EVENT Mar 24: How Technology Is Reshaping Our Democracy: with Sen Klobuchar, Tom Friedman, and James Steyer

Hosted by the University of MN Humphrey School

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Thomas L. Friedman, James Steyer
March 24, 2021 – 6:00 pm CDT
– 6:45 pm CDT
Virtual Event

Join Sen. Amy Klobuchar, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, and Common Sense CEO James Steyer for a conversation around technology companies and their growing impact on our society. Steyer will moderate the event as they examine such topics as the role of technology in shaping public policy, the growth of misinformation, and its implications on exacerbating inequality.

The conversation, presented by Common Sense, the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and the Carlson Family Foundation, builds on Steyer’s book, Which Side of History?: How Technology Is Reshaping Democracy and Our Lives, published in October 2020 by Common Sense. The book offers a collection of bold essays on how technology affects democracy, society, and our future.

Register now!

EVENT Mar 23: MN House Transportation Finance and Policy hears HF31 on Telework

HF31: Telework activity funding provided, and money appropriated is on the schedule for March 23…

Tuesday, March 23, 2021 , 1:00 PM
Transportation Finance and Policy
Chair: Rep. Frank Hornstein
Location: Remote Hearing
Agenda:

Bills may be added or removed.
HF1637 (Hausman) – Twin Cities, Milwaukee, Chicago (TCMC) passenger rail funding provided; bonds issued; and money appropriated.
HF1109 (Murphy) – Minneapolis and Duluth; high-speed passenger rail funding provided, bonds issued, and money appropriated. *Informational only*
HF31 (Elkins) – Telework activity funding provided, and money appropriated.
HF272 (Elkins) – Motor vehicle registration self-service kiosk pilot program authorized, report required, and money appropriated.
HF1713 (West) – Motor vehicle rental fee revenue allocation modified.
HF2295 (Bernardy) – Work zone safety pilot program established, report required, and money appropriated.

EVENTS: NTIA Broadband Grant Programs Webinar Series

From the NTIA

(NTIA) will host a webinar series in April through July 2021 in connection with the three new broadband grant programs authorized and funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021: The Broadband Infrastructure Program, the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and the Connecting Minority Communities Program. The webinars are designed to help prospective applicants understand the grant programs and to assist applicants to prepare high quality grant applications.

NTIA will hold the webinars based on the following schedule:

1. Broadband Infrastructure Program: The second Wednesday and Thursday of each month, 2:30–4:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET), starting April 14, 2021.

2. Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program: The third Wednesday and Thursday of each month, 2:30–4:00 p.m. ET, starting April 21, 2021.

3. Connecting Minority Communities: The fourth Wednesday and Thursday of each month, 2:30–4:00 p.m. ET, starting April 28, 2021.

These are virtual meetings. NTIA will post the registration information on its BroadbandUSA website, https:// broadbandusa.ntia.doc.gov, under Events.

EVENT Mar 29: NDIA Hosts Emergency Broadband Benefit Webinar

From the NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance)...

The FCC has confirmed and released the rules on the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program. The EBB program will provide eligible households with subsidies up to $50 a month for internet service ($75 a month for tribal households) and up to $100 for devices.

With the rules on the Emergency Broadband Benefit confirmed by the FCC, NDIA is creating a list of FAQs to assist our affiliates with understanding how to navigate the program and what to expect before sign-ups are opened to the public.

We will review these FAQs and other resources during an EBB Webinar on Monday, March 29th at 4 PM ET.

MRBC Update: Hearing and Senate Budget Targets

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

House Broadband Bill Moving, Senate GOP Releases Budget Targets
Saint Paul, Minn.—The House Industrial Education and Economic Development Committee will take up Rep. Rob Ecklund’s House File 14 tomorrow morning during their March 17, 8:30am meeting. The bill contains $120 million for the broadband grant program over the next two years. We anticipate the bill will be moved to the Ways and Means Committee and eventually attached to the Agriculture Omnibus Finance Bill so that it can match up with the broadband funding provisions that will be in the Senate Agriculture Omnibus bill.

The Coalition will briefly testify at the hearing and you can tune in here:

Senate GOP Offers $40 Million for Broadband
The Senate GOP released their first budget targets for the upcoming biennial budget and included $40 million for broadband. We are glad the Senate GOP remains supportive of allocating additional resources for rural broadband expansion. However, we know that $120 million over the next two years is required to get us to our 2022 speed goals and more than that to get us to the 2026 speed goals. We will continue working with legislators to get the final figure as high as possible. The state currently has a $1.6 billion surplus over the next two years.

MN Broadband Task Force March 2021: New grant through Office of Community Finance

The MN Broadband Task Force met today. They got the usual legislature updates (including updates on funding), updates from subcommittees on what they plan to do, a presentation from Cable Labs and, what I think might be of greatest interest, a presentation from Update from DEED’s Office of Community Finance on broadband grants that should soon be available. (You can see them speak at the start of the second video below._

Here’s a quick recap:

They got $37 million in CARES funding to dole out (via SBDG. They have decided to spend $25 million on broadband. They goal is to help communities prepare, prevent and respond to COVID. They need approval from Legislature but no reason to think they won’t get it. As soon as they do they will put out an RFP to local governments for the funding (to entitlements and non-entitlements). Here are some of the things they know about the grants:

  • Can’t do to duplicate efforts
  • No match required
  • Goes to local unit of government
  • Can fund projects in tribal areas if money goes through local government
  • Needs to be spent in three years
  • One time grant
  • Max for project is $5 million (but that seemed flexible)
  • Should focus at least 51 percent on serving low to moderate income households

Legislative Update:

  • No new bills except clone bills
  • Some broadband bills were heard, such a easements and grants (in House Ag committee). House Industrial is set to hear more tomorrow but expected to just move bill to another committee.
  • Angie Craig has been working on rural broadband

Update on Emergency Broadband Bill – families can get $50/household ($75 in tribal areas) Providers must be approved by March 22. Learn more: https://www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit

Biden just signed the American Rescue Bill  – explicitly includes broadband for people having trouble with household bills & fiscal recovery funds for community help with investment in water, sewer and broadband for expenses through 2024

OBD is encouraging local provider to become eligible for Emergency Broadband Bill money. Big providers are; process happens through the FCC. Hoping that they will include a wide range of services – not just low cost plans. And guestimate that funds will last 5-6 month.

Subgroup reports

Unserved/underserve/Funding will work on:

  • Focus on unserved – where are they? How can we reach them? Does it help to change the grant requirements?
  • Looking at fixed wireless, esp RDOF and LTD Broadband
  • Looking at satellite for hard to reach areas
  • Want to talk with demographer

Mapping Speed Goals will work on:

  • Want to look at MN County speeds which will come out in April to see post-COVID difference. Hope to look at access and use
  • Noted that symmetrical 100/100 access is not possible with all broadband modes

Accessibility/Affordability/Education will work on:

  • Plan to talk with ARC, Kauffman, tribal communities
  • Talking about digital navigators and helping consumers understand affordable options

Cable Labs

  • Presented on their goal to get to 10G (10 Gig access) with a fiber-coax-wireless (in home) model
  • 80 percent of households have cable available fiber (79 percent in MN)
  • Demand has increased during the pandemic. Download demand has increased 30 percent; upload demand has increased 45 percent.

Gov. Tim Walz Confirmed for Broadband Day on the Hill on March 24

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Register Today!
MRBC Virtual Day on the Hill
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Via Zoom 

Gov. Tim Walz will be joining us at Broadband Day on the Hill!
Click here for agenda

This event is free, but registration is requiredDetails on how to join the Zoom meeting are included in the confirmation email you’ll receive following registration. 

If you’re interested in scheduling meetings with your legislators, please see this one-page guide on how to schedule a legislative meeting.    Coalition staff is also available to help you set up these meetings.  Please indicate your preference on the registration form.  IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are scheduling your own meetings, make sure to do so at the time you register for the Day on the Hill. Legislators’ schedules fill up quickly. If you don’t schedule far enough in advance, it will be difficult to get a meeting.  If you have questions about scheduling legislator meetings, please contact Nathan Zacharias.

**All attendees are also invited to join Blandin’s Lunch Bunch immediately following the MRBC Virtual Day on the Hill, where the discussion topic will be “Smart Broadband Tactics for Cities, Suburbs and Towns” (March 24 noon to 1:00 p.m. CST) and attendees will get a sneak preview from local experts at Smart North. Please click here to learn more and register separately for this free Blandin event.

If you have general questions about the event, please contact Emily Murray.

EVENT March 16: MN Governor’s Task Force on Broadband

We can all celebrate Freedom of Information Day together online!

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband March 16, 2021

10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Microsoft Teams meeting

Join on your computer or mobile app

Click here to join the meeting

Or call in (audio only)

+1 763-317-4323,,194099231#   United States, Plymouth

Phone Conference ID: 194 099 231#

Find a local number | Reset PIN

10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.  Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from February 22, 2021 Meeting

10:15 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.  Update on 2021 Legislation; Federal Funding
Deven Bowdry, DEED & Diane Wells, OBD

10:30 a.m. – 10:55 a.m. Subgroup Reports

10:55 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.  Break

11:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.  DEED Small Cities HUD CARES Act Funding for Broadband
Meredith Udoibok, Community Finance
Natasha Kukowski, SCDP Unit Manager

11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. CableLabs: Current and Future Cable Broadband Technologies
Mark Walker, VP, Technology Policy

12:15 p.m. – 12:30 p.m.  Public Comment, Other Business, April Meeting Plans, Wrap-up

EVENT TODAY (Mar 10) Dakota Broadband Board hosts LTD Broadband

I’m thankful to Dakota County for mentioning their meeting this afternoon with LTD Broadband…

The Dakota Broadband Board will have a representative from LTD Broadband speaking at their 4pm meeting this afternoon about their plans in MN. Here is the Zoom link:  to the public meeting:
Join Zoom Meeting https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88574743336?pwd=enlQZFRkTmUrZjdxL3NCTzdidk1Ldz09

Meeting ID: 885 7474 3336 Passcode: 103141

Broadband is the hot topic at Brainerd annual Economic Development meeting

Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp (BLAEDC) held their annual meeting yesterday online. Turns out the hot topic of the day was also the price of admission – broadband. Keynote speaker was Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the National Telephone Cooperative Association – the Rural Broadband Association.

The Brainerd Dispatch reports on the day…

Bloomfield pointed to the rural electrification of the 1930s that focused on bringing electricity to rural areas where companies hadn’t reached because fewer people made the cost of the service so high. Serving the high density urban areas was relatively easy. That meant rural America was left behind. Cooperatives like CTC filled the gap.

Fast forward to the present where being able to connect to the internet with a reliable service comes with opportunities for education, telemedicine, commerce, business growth and quality of life. Bloomfield said the beauty of the cooperative model is one that is built not on profit but on service. Minnesota, she said, is a stronghold for cooperatives. In rural America, those cooperative members see their customers at schools, in churches and at local stores.

“That makes a really big difference,” Bloomfield said.

They spoke about the need for better mapping and future-focused investment…

Having fiber-optic cable for broadband provides an ability to send data faster and with greater bandwidth, which comes into play for video, internet and voice services. That value is visible when it comes to reselling homes, growing businesses and bringing in new companies. Bloomberg pointed to the need for data and speed when students are home distance learning while parents are trying to work from home. In addition, she said they’ve learned people need to be able to upload as fast as they download, which wasn’t previously the case when it was about downloading an article or email.

“Well now we need to be able to transmit both ways just as fast, that’s a symmetrical network. And that is what fiber can provide,” Bloomfield said, noting as Congress looks at infrastructure, it’s broadband connectivity that is the 21st century superhighway.

To really understand what areas are underserved or not served at all, Bloomfield said mapping is needed. “Congress finally appropriated some money to actually start mapping, that’s going to be a really important first step,” she said. Bloomfield said looking at programs the FCC is considering, it’s going to take about a decade to get the country to 90-95% coverage.

Another important step is to look at what is the best use of federal programs and to avoid overbuilding what has already been put in the ground with programs such as the ones CTC has already utilized to extend service to rural communities. State partnerships need to be incentivized. Bloomfield said she met with 35 states recently and their state broadband offices and she told them the Minnesota Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program, funding expansion of broadband to the unserved or underserved, was the best run program she’s seen out there.

EVENT Mar 10: Blandin Lunch Bunch Infrastructure: Benefits of publicly-owned broadband networks

Just reminding folks of the Blandin Lunch Bunch on March 10 at noon. (Free but registration required.) Here’s what host Bill Coleman said about the event in the last eNews…

The 1996 Telecom Act was supposed to spur competition, but we are going backwards. In many communities, from affluent suburbs to small rural communities, residents are effectively subject to the services, pricing and responsiveness of an unregulated monopoly provider.  Community leaders need to decide whether this is that a good thing.

The costs to build a fiber infrastructure in a community are low for a 30-year asset.  Community broadband advocates should analyze the multiple options for creating community-owned networks and promote them to elected officials.  Locally-owned networks serve the community as their first priority.

We are going to talk public ownership models at our Blandin Lunch Bunch on March 10 at noon.  Sign up here: https://blandinfoundation.org/programs/broadband/blandin-community-broadband-program-webinar-series/ .  We will discuss at least a couple models.  Chris Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance will join the conversation.

Ammon ID (https://www.ammonfiber.com) is building and maintaining its own fiber network where residents now have their choice of Gigabit providers for $49.50 per month.  Chattanooga TN (https://epb.com/home-store/internet) offers a Gb for $68 per month and solved its pandemic-magnified digital divide issue by simply providing free 100 Mb Internet to 28,000 students.  A new study documented a $2.69 billion long-term benefit from Chattanooga’s fiber network.

We will also talk about the mixed experience of Minnesota’s publicly owned broadband networks (wonders and warts!), including Southwest MN Broadband, the Cities of Windom and Monticello and Scott and Lake Counties.  And, maybe a bit on how new and expanded cooperatives might accomplish the same goals.  Join us!