Frustrated citizen in Minnetrista wonders why the city doesn’t have broadband

Lake Pioneer reports on frustrated voiced at a city council meeting in Minnetrista on June 4…

Most recently, new resident Mark Feldman came before the council at their Monday, June 4 meeting to discuss this issue.

“My concern is that we have no access to high speed internet. Frontier apparently comes to our property but they themselves measured it at less than one megabyte per second so that’s not adequate for internet,” Feldman told the council. “I don’t know why we can’t have high speed internet at our residence.”

As city staff informed Feldman, unfortunately, internet companies are looking to make a profit. Different companies have different density requirements that an area needs to meet before they will invest in setting up high speed internet in that area, to ensure that they will make a profit on the investment. The difficulty that Minnetrista residents have encountered, and residents of other cities as well, is that internet companies set high density requirements, and often aren’t willing to collaborate or share resources with competing companies. Furthermore, their practices are not highly regulated, a fact that has generated some recent push-back for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

“The city of Minnetrista is roughly 36 square miles, with 7,000 people here, so we’re not really densely populated,” explains City Administrator Michael Barone. “We’re kind of at the mercy of the vendor and the marketplace that reacts to that. So they have marketing plans for rolling out additional high speed internet to their communities but as far as we know it’s going to be difficult for us to advocate to get additional high speed internet here.”

Poor internet connectivity is frustrating, and while much of it is beyond the City’s control, they are looking for a solution. “It is important for residents to know that the City is currently and has been actively searching for ways to increase internet access and speed,” says Director of Administration Cassandra Tabor. “Last year the City applied for the Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Development Grant through the State of Minnesota and DEED (Department of Employment and Economic Development). These monies were designated to be matched by cities applying and promote the expansion of access to broadband to all areas of Minnesota.”

Unfortunately, the City of Minnetrista was not successful in qualifying for this grant as they did not meet the criteria of ‘under-served’ for internet. “Our median income was too high, and current providers in the area submitted documents that showed intent to grow their services in our area by 2020,” Tabor explains. “The City does not have regulatory control over internet and cable providers but does work closely with residents to rectify service issues when needed.”

The city did have some recommendations for residents…

While city staff continue to work towards a citywide solution, they also recommend solutions for individual residents to pursue. “Residents can reach out to Frontier Communications, request to have their speed checked to ensure they are getting the internet speed that they are paying for, communicate any concerns with Frontier Communications directly and request changes to service or access,” Tabor explains. “Frontier has individual agreements with each customer they serve, including the City of Minnetrista for the administrative and police buildings, and the City does not manage individual agreements with Frontier on behalf of the customer. Some City residents have had luck with HughesNet and other dish or satellite based providers, this would be something residents could pursue if they desired.”

Unfortunately Minnetrista is not an anomaly. There are other towns – or spaces between towns that are left unserved or underserved. This is the dark side of what the report I did (with Bill Coleman) last Fall demonstrated. Local residents benefit when they get broadband (to the tune of $1,850/year/household) but the local broadband provider doesn’t necessarily reap the same benefits. So it’s difficult for a commercial provider to make the investment. Yet, also difficult for a city, county or other local ombudsman-type organization to see that barrier and not want to find a solution.

Digidaze Community Technology Fair Comes to Rondo Library (St Paul) June 15

For folks in the area, this is an event announcement. For folks not in the area, this is an idea you might want to replicate…

Digidaze Community Technology Fair Comes to Rondo Library
Join us for a free public fair showcasing learning opportunities related to technology for youth, adults and seniors. There will be four laptop giveways from  Minnesota Computer for Schools throughout the day; free food; activities for youth; lessons on using online library services for adults; face painting; free tech advice; media production games; and sign-ups for free classes about computer and employment skills in your neighborhood.
Check out the event page on Facebook!
WHEN: Friday, June 15th, 10:30AM-3PM
WHERE: Rondo Community Outreach Library in Saint Paul, 461 N Dale St
CONTACT: krogstad@spnn.org for more information.
DigiDaze is presented by SPNN’s 35 AmeriCorps members of the Community Technology Empowerment Project and the Saint Paul Public Library.
Help us spread the word with this flyer!

The NDIA ranks worst connected cities: St Paul is #74 and Minneapolis #120

NDIA reports

Using data from the 2016 American Community Survey (ACS), released in September 2017 by the U.S. Census Bureau, NDIA ranked all 185 U.S. cities with more than 50,000 households by the total percentage of each city’s households lacking fixed broadband internet subscriptions. Note that this data is not an indication of the availability of home broadband service, but rather of the extent to which households are actually connected to it.

Only St Paul and Minneapolis show up on the list (with more than 50,000 households). Here’s how they ranked:

  • St Paul ranks 74 with 32.91 percent without fixed broadband
  • Minneapolis ranks 120 with 27.99 percent without fixed broadband

It’s a little counter intuitive since they’re looking at worst cities – the lower the ranking, the better. We have room for improvement.

Surveys show that more people are using the internet but access is still an issue

The NTIA recently released data on Internet use in the US. Here is a summary of that survey from the Benton Foundation

The survey, which was conducted in November 2017, reveals new contours of Americans’ Internet use. In 2017, more households had a mobile data plan than wired broadband service. Additionally, for the first time since NTIA began tracking use of different types of computing devices, tablets were more popular than desktop computers among Americans, and the number of people who used multiple types of devices also increased substantially. The data show that 78 percent of Americans ages 3 and older used the Internet as of November 2017, compared with 75 percent in July 2015, when our previous survey was conducted. This increase of 13.5 million users was driven by increased adoption among low-income families, seniors, African Americans, Hispanics, and other groups that have been less likely to go online.

Americans are continuing to increase the number of devices they use. The proportion of people using at least two different types of devices increased from 52 percent in 2013 to 57 percent in 2015 and then 62 percent in 2017. The use of three or more different device types also increased substantially, from 32 percent in 2013 to 37 percent in 2015 and then 42 percent in 2017.

The information on mobile use rings true in a recent article from the Tech Advocate that explores the down side of mobile-only access…

Although nine out of 10 low-income families have Internet access at home, most are underconnected: that is, they have “mobile-only” access – they are able to connect to the Internet only through a smart device, such as a tablet or a smartphone.

A recent report, “Opportunity for all? Technology and learning in low income families,” shows that one-quarter of those earning below the median income and one-third of those living below poverty level accessed the Internet only through their mobile devices.

This leads to limited access: A third of families with mobile-only access quickly hit the data limits on their mobile phone plans and about a quarter have their phone service cut off for lack of payment.

They may have some access, but access is still an issue – both access to broadband and a device…

One-fifth of families who access the Internet only through their mobile devices say too many family members have to share one device. This means that the amount of time each individual has to access the Internet is limited.

This can be a barrier to learning for young people. It can limit their access to resources to complete their homework, as well as create barriers for other learning. Thirty-five percent of youth who have mobile-only access look online for information about things they are interested in. But this goes up to 52 percent when young people have access to an Internet-connected computer.

Possible increase in funds for the Rural Health Care Program

Looks like there may be more funds for the Rural Health Care Program – FCC Chair Ajit Pai is interested in making that happen…

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced today that he has circulated a draft order to his colleagues that would take immediate action to significantly increase funding for the Universal Service Fund’s Rural Health Care Program.

The program’s current annual funding cap is $400 million. The cap was set in 1997 and was never indexed for inflation. Recently, demand for funding under the program has outpaced the budget, creating uncertainty for patients, health care providers, and communications companies alike.

The Chairman’s order would increase the annual cap to $571 million.

Saint Paul Public Library Extends to Giant Wash Coin Laundry

I love this idea – I stopped by the laundromat earlier today to check it out. There room was full and the vibe was great. Here’s the info from a press release from the St Paul Library

Mayor Melvin Carter III will launch the new “Wash and Learn” program at Giant Wash (1675 Rice Street, 55117) on May 12, 2018, at 11 a.m. Giant Wash Laundry will host a Free Laundry Day in celebration, and offer free wash and dry to community members who register between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. All attendees will have opportunities to participate in librarian-lead learning workshops and take home free books and educational resources.

“Wash & Learn is an example of the forward-thinking ideas and partnerships we intend to advance throughout Saint Paul,” says Mayor Carter. “Meeting people where they are with Library programs, materials, and resources makes perfect sense. It is through these unique partnerships and simple solutions that we build a city that works for all of us.”

SPPL partnered with Minnesota State Library Services and Libraries Without Borders (LWB), a national nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., to launch Wash & Learn at Giant Wash. The program aims to extend SPPL’s efforts to close the digital divide among residents of Saint Paul. LWB will install laptops and WiFi hotspots at the laundromat, alongside bookshelves with materials customers can read on site or check out and take home.

When I was there, they thought they might clean up to 20,000 pounds of laundry. It looked like the kids had just picked up on the computer and were pretty intent. And two kids had just won bikes. The plan moving forward is to have librarians in the laundromat a couple hours each Saturday until October. It’s a great opportunity to do some one-on-one digital and information literacy lessons. A great model for other communities. In fact turns out Stillwater will try something on Monday and Anoka County is looking at a similar program.

Happy Digital Inclusion Week – May 7-11

Let me be the first – or better yet – maybe I’m not the first to wish you a Happy Digital Inclusion Week. The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) has created a host of resources to help you celebrate – including a database of existing events. So you can join an effort in process or promote your own.

It is a good time to think about what you can do to better use technology yourself. Digital Inclusion is a continuum; there’s always something more we can learn. Or if you’re reading this blog, it’s likely you have some tech skills you could be sharing. Or combine the efforts – teach a kid how to use a spreadsheet and have them show you SnapChat. Or combine efforts with Mother’s Day and help your mom make better use of that iPad.

Here are some of NDIA’s ideas for projects for folks who work in the field – or maybe for folks who work with groups of folks who aren’t strong technology users:

  • Digital resource fair– bring together digital inclusion providers for a family-friendly fair that promotes opportunities to learn and raffles devices or services to participants
  • Door-to-door outreach– canvass an area of the community with low rates of access to educate residents about low-cost broadband options and your organization’s services
  • Device donation drive– collect and refurbish used desktops and laptops to disseminate to program participants
  • One-day workshoprelated to a specific technology training need in your community (e.g. smartphones, cloud applications, computer basics)
  • Resume rally– help people learn how to create a resume and search online for job openings
  • Open house– to promote the work of your organization to the community and key stakeholders
  • Internet enrollment event– partner with a low-cost internet service provider to get people signed up for affordable broadband