Computer Commuter – what can visitors do on the broadband bus they can’t do at home?

The Computer Commuter is a revamped mini-bus filled with computers. It travels around Lac qui Parle County, visiting 6 rural towns weekly. At each location it is able to hook up to fast (fiber) broadband. Visitors come to use the computers or come with their own computers and devices to use the fast connection. (The connections have not always been fast and some items below reference that change.) Many users come to take advantage of the knowledgeable driver and hostess – Mary Quick.

I asked Mary what folks do when they visit as a reminder of what folks can’t do at home in some parts of rural Minnesota. (Much of LqP County has fiber! But not everyone has access.)

Here’s a sample of what goes on in the Computer Commuter…

  • Ortonville Sanford Health has a wonderful website where several of my users login, schedule appointments, read test results, and email personnel questions.
  • 2 people preferred using the MNsure website on the bus during the enrollment period.  Friendly setting, my help and fast internet helped the process move along.
  • The Madison Dollar General store only took online applications.  I helped several residents apply for jobs on the bus. The application process was quite lengthy and having a strong, steady connection kept the info open and didn’t time out on us.
  • The Workforce Center in Montevideo is sending their clients to our program to boost their computer skills, and improve their ability to work online.
  • They use several online tutorials that include videos or downloading a lesson to complete and then upload.
  • We have several grandparents who watch distant grandchildren perform in concerts, sports or conferences.  They use the school’s live feed, YouTube or Facebook.  Before we had broadband at all 6 locations, we just sat and watched it spin, unable to open.  Things were so bad in Dawson and Boyd, we couldn’t even open emails, the internet was so slow.
  • At Christmas and Graduation, some users create projects using Shutterfly. There were times when the person couldn’t upload their photos – at home or with the slower connection.
  • An Avon saleswoman uses the bus to send her orders, monitor her account and print labels.  In the past, again it would be an issue of her session timing out and the task uncompleted because of slow internet.

It’s a fun glimpse at how technology changes what we do – when we have access to a computer, broadband and know how to use it!

Mar 31 Webinar: How the Evolution of Internet Service Technologies Impacts Digital Inclusion

I am looking forward to this webinar…

NDIA Webinar: How the Evolution of Internet Service Technologies Impacts Digital Inclusion
Friday March 31, 2017 @ 1:00 ET
Free Registration

In this webinar, Joanne Hovis will describe the evolution of consumer broadband service technologies with a focus on providing an understandable, jargon-free technical explanation for the non-technical. Technology deployment has impacted price, competition, and access — from the early days of the commercial internet (dial-up over copper) through the advent of the broadband age (cable model and DSL), all the way through today’s growing investment in next-generation cable modem, “5G” wireless, and fiber-to-the-premises. The history of how those technologies were deployed is also the history of who benefited from them – and who did not. Joanne will describe:

  • how the development of each technology impacted communities differently based on income-level and degree of rurality;
  • why mobile should not be considered an adequate substitute for fixed broadband; and
  • how the future evolution of these technologies, as they are currently postulated to develop, may further exacerbate the access and affordability divides.

For a preview of this webinar, watch the video clip of Joanne’s presentation from the San Antonio Digital Inclusion Summit.


National Digital Inclusion Conference unveils wealth of resources in the Twin Cities


The National Digital Inclusion Conference is coming to St Paul, Minnesota this May (16-17). We couldn’t be more excited! We look forward to great conversion, new people and experts from around the country. We also look forward to showing off some of our local digital inclusion efforts.

I am on the conference planning committee and leading up the charge to pick the best of best that logistically fit into one of the three tours we’re planning. First step was gathering the list of possibilities, which I wanted to share to help you all get a little excited too. We can’t visit them all but it will give you a flavor of what might pop up…

In Downtown St Paul

  • St Paul Library’s Innovation Lab is a mini-maker space for adults. It includes tablets, a sewing machine, a recording studio and more. You can smell the newness of it too.
  • The Minnesota Science Museum is great for all ages. It offers a host of hands-on computer classes and they have a whole center focused on leadership and STEM programs for underserved youth.
  • Genesys Works offers technology training to high school students, matches it with meaningful (and paid!) internships to build relationship with local employers. What a great way to get a foot in the door.
  • Right Track is a training and internship matchmaking services. The train youth (14-21), help them find jobs (or help local employers find motivated workers) and work with both to make sure the match is successful.
  • Comcast is just across the Mississippi River from Downtown. They offer reduced rate broadband access to low income households but they also sponsor and support a number of local digital inclusion efforts.
  • The Lac qui Parle County Computer Commuter will be driving three plus hours from the west to show us the how they rehabbed a bus for mobile training. The Computer Commuter usually travels from rural town to rural town with computers and a mobile network – like a bookmobile gone digital.


  • PCs for People refurbishes donated computers and sells them at affordable prices to low income households. They also provide affordable tech support when you need it. A real bonus to a new computer user.
  • SPNN (St Paul Neighborhood Network) is the local public access network. They host AmeriCorps workers for their Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) program. They find ways for they to help youth and adults use technology to better access social, civic, educational and economic opportunities. You can see their fingerprints doing good all around town.
  • Hubbs Center is an Adult Basic Education center and part of St Paul Public School system. They teach a range of classes including GED preparation in multiple languages. They have distance learning options.
  • Rondo Library is home to many digital inclusion programs including classes ranging from digital life skills to building a website. They have computers that are set up with assistive technology for people of all abilities and they have homework help.
  • MN Literacy Council teaches a wide range of literacy skills, including technology literacy. They also lead advocacy efforts.
  • SPNN (St Paul Neighborhood Network) is a public access and community communication  nonprofit. Among other things, they sponsor the Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP), which matches AmeriCorps members with community-based organizations. You can see their fingerprints doing good around the Cities.
  • The Independent Filmmaker Project is an SPNN project that supports filmmakers – from training to help marketing to grants. They work with folks of all ages, especially youth.


  • Best Buy is a retail consumer electronics corporation headquartered in the Twin Cities. They are very supportive of many local Digital Inclusion efforts, including SPNN, Reve Academy, Boys & Girls Clubs and more.
  • UROC (Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center) connects the University of Minnesota with urban communities to advance learning and work on solutions to critical issues. Programs are patron-focused and include Metro Food Access Network to 4H, Lao Assistance center, Digital Storytelling and Youth Empowerment and many others.
  • Teen Tech Center at Hennepin County Central Library has Technology and multimedia tools available for music and video production, interactive programming, digital photography, graphic design, and much more.
  • PPL (Project for Pride in Living) Learning Center focuses on job and skills training for a range of positions. Some courses offer college credit and there are a host of technology classes. (Stipends available for completion of some courses.)
  • Fix IT Clinics are events that happen around Hennepin County. Visitors bring in small household appliances, clothing, electronics, mobile devices and more and receive free guided assistance from volunteers with repair skills to disassemble, troubleshoot and fix their items.
  • Nordeast Makers is a maker space with a wide range of equipment (a huge industrial CNC router, a 4′ x 4′ CNC router, two ultra-precise liquid-cooled laser cutters, high-resolution 3D printers, a vinyl cutter, full woodworking shop, electronics lab, and more) and a membership willing to teach each other to become better makers.

Grants for library white space projects – deadline March 27

It would be great to see some funding come into Minnesota…

“Beyond the Walls” Deadline EXTENDED!
Apply before March 27, 2017
$15,0000 subgrant awards to fund five community TV WhiteSpace projects.
Tens of millions of people in the U.S. rely solely or in part on public libraries to access Internet. Libraries are crucial in connecting communities. With TV WhiteSpace technology people can connect beyond library walls. The “Beyond The Walls” Awards will provide five $15,000 grants to libraries for the most innovative proposals to use TV WhiteSpace (TVWS) technologies to enable new library hotspots in the service of their communities.

Thank you to those who have already submitted proposals. There have been some very strong proposals already, but the door remains open for two more weeks! Spread the word about this opportunity and apply today.

Apply now!

Early Bird Registration for Net Inclusion is Ending Soon – in MN on May 16-17

It’s happening in Minnesota. It’s going to sell out. Now is the time to get your tickets for a discount prices (until April 6)…

Hosted by the St. Paul Public Library, Net Inclusion 2017 welcomes digital inclusion community practitioners, advocates, academics, Internet service providers, policymakers and entities reliant upon online access and digital skills of their clients/users. The conference agenda is being finalized now, and will include sessions on:

·  Local, State and Federal Policies

·  Current and Potential Sources of Financial and Programmatic Support

·  New Strategies & Best Practices for Digital Inclusion

A wide range of speakers, stakeholders and participants from across industries and across the country will be in attendance. Come be a part of the community, and help define the future of digital inclusion!

May 16-17 in St Paul – register now!

How does Northern MN get broadband? Cooperatives, community and government support

Business North recently ran an article outlining some of the reasons Northern Minnesota needs broadband and some parts of do not have it.

Broadband is good for the economy…

In a recent opinion piece penned by Jordan Feyerherm of the Center for Rural Affairs, the author notes that rural regions with one to three broadband providers experience employment growth that’s more than 6 percent higher than areas that lack broadband access.

Rural broadband is expensive…

The primary driver behind the lack of broadband infrastructure in rural areas is simple economics – it costs more per customer to deliver. Broadband companies can see a rapid return on hardwire investment on a high-density street in Duluth. In a rural township, that same company might not see a profit for their efforts for decades – if ever.

Cooperatives make a difference…

“Where there are co-ops there’s broadband. Where there are incumbent providers, there’s not,” said Bernadine Joselyn, the Blandin Foundation’s director of public policy and engagement.

The Foundation has been a strong advocate for high-speed Internet expansion to rural areas through its Blandin Community Broadband Program. Now, however, Joselyn said the work has become more difficult. “What was easy to do has been done,” she said.

One of the most aggressive co-ops when it comes to broadband expansion has been Paul Bunyan. Based in Bemidji, the co-op has expanded broadband availability to a number of townships in northeastern Minnesota. Just last year, 1,200 residents of Balsam Township, a rural township in Itasca County, had broadband access for the first time.

The community needs to be ready…

Proximity to a co-op or company planning expansion is certainly key, but some communities have been more prepared to jump on board.

In a column analyzing the recently unveiled list of Border-to-Border projects, Brown noted a lack of funded projects in rural St. Louis County.

“The only project in St. Louis County is a small Mediacom expansion in Fayal Township south of Eveleth. Why was there only one small project in St. Louis County? In short, there were few projects to fund… Localities in rural St. Louis County haven’t organized the way they have in Itasca County and other places in Minnesota,” wrote Brown.

[I might step in and say that actually the Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative has been active in St Louis County.)

Government support…

Programs like the state’s Border-to-Border grant initiative, for now at least, seem to be the best shot rural residents have for broadband connection. …

In late January, northern Minnesota legislators joined forces to promote an expansion of the Border-to-Border program. They’re proposing a $100 million appropriation for the broadband program. The bill’s chief authors are Rep. Julie Sandstede, DFL – Hibbing, in the House and Sen. Erik Simonson, DFL – Duluth, in the Senate.

Is the hotspot check out at the St Paul Public Library in jeopardy?

A recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune outlines the trials and tribulations of the mobile hotspot checkout at the St Paul Public Library…highland

The metro area so far appears slow to embrace a trend described as “huge” by the president of the American Library Association (ALA) [lending portable hot spots to library patrons ]. The firm recommended by the ALA as a source of steeply discounted portable hot spots to libraries reports that about 360 systems across the country have taken up its offer, but only one in Minnesota.

And that one, the St. Paul Public Library, is warning it may have to withdraw its units unless it can find a sustainable funding source.

The difficult debate is how to handle a resource that’s so popular…

At a time when some library systems are seeing a decline in conventional services, libraries that do offer hot spots say they are the hottest item they lend. Those libraries still on the sidelines, however, say they are leery for a number of reasons.

First, library patrons commonly endure long waits for the units. With 130 units available through the St. Paul libraries, holds can last months even though most units can be retained for only a week.

And then there’s the issue of finding a reliable funding source to buy them. Many systems offering hot spots get grants to do so, but librarians worry about being forced to yank the popular option for lack of funding after users get accustomed to it.

It’s a difficult situation. Free wifi is a good way to get broadband into low income homes – to level the playing field in the same way computers in the library does. Maybe there’s an opportunity to send the hotspot home with a brochure on local options for low cost broadband subscriptions and Lifeline support. There may be some patrons who are able and willing to pay for a connection with support. Otherwise I hope they find ways to make it work. It’s sad to have to abandon or not try a program that is so popular. Good news for St Paul Public…

The prospect of St. Paul residents continuing to borrow hot spots has improved just in the past few weeks. Funds have been found to allow the library to offer hot spots for the rest of the school year for sure, and perhaps through the end of 2017.