State policy recommendations for better broadband – MN gets a nice nod

Speaking to a group in NY, Christopher Ali gave some recommendations to help with a pandemic tech plan that included digital equity…

  1. A local-first approach
    • A local-first approach means a policy apparatus that encourages local digital champions through training and communication. It means acting as a resource for local communities, not just for funding, but for planning, advice, and communication. It can also mean creating certification programs, like the Telecommuter Forward! program in Wisconsin that recognizes communities with broadband infrastructure capable of supporting telecommuting.
  2. An “all-hands-on-deck” approach
    • This means encouraging small ISPs and municipal projects. There is some controversy here, as New York City has recently received pushback for its $2 billion Internet Master Plan which includes a substantial municipal investment. Many detractors point to a so-called failed municipal project in Bristol, Virginia, but there are also hundreds of successful municipal broadband projects across the country. Solving the digital divide means embracing all options and stakeholders, including public options and public- private partnerships.
  3. “Access” means more than just infrastructure. Access means digital inclusion.
    • This means thinking about plans for affordability, and digital literacy and skills development.
  4. Policies must be data driven
    • New York State should consider state-wide data collection processes to augment FCC data. Crowdsourcing data is a phenomenal tool in our toolbox. Here, I look to the work of Measurement Lab and Professor Sascha Meinrath at Penn State University. Working together with millions of crowdsourced data points, Professor Meinrath demonstrated how the FCC’s broadband map was wrong by upwards of 50% throughout all of Pennsylvania.
    • In addition to the quantitative data, qualitative data should also be gathered. One of my most powerful learning experiences about broadband was participating in a community listening session with Representative Abigail Spanberger in Louisa County, Virginia. I heard stories of community members frustrated over their lack of connectivity, stories of an inability to work because of slow internet speeds, and an inability to sell one’s home because of the undesirability of a home without high-speed internet. These are powerful stories, and I would highly recommend this Commission hear the stories of those unconnected.
  5. Adopting aggressive, future-oriented goals
    • We should be planning for tomorrow, not trying to meet the connection speeds of 2015. This means being technologically neutral, but not technologically blind. Both New York and Minnesota, for instance, designate a community as “underserved” when connectivity is below 100mbps download/20 mbps upload speeds. Jon Sallet, whom I’ve already cited, recommends 100/100 as a baseline in his Benton Institute for Broadband & Society report Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s. Policies need to be ambitious and aggressive and need to compel providers to anticipate the broadband needs of communities in the years to come.

And in the midst of his speech, he mentions Minnesota…

Minnesota is also a national leader in state broadband policies, not necessarily because of the level of public funding, but because of the its scope and scale. Minnesota’s Broadband Office operates not only as a grantor of funds, but as a clearinghouse of information and as a trusted advisor to communities working on cataloguing their broadband needs.

Pew Research released a report in February 2020 highlighting best practices for state broadband plans, and among their recommendations was a broadband office that does what Minnesota does – communicates, coordinates, plans, and funds. Other important best practices for states include setting forward-looking goals and rallying stakeholders around these goals; supporting broadband planning on a regional and municipal level; engaging local digital champions; providing tools for community planning; promoting broadband adoption and digital literacy; championing small providers; collecting data from grantees; and one of my favorites, creating certificate programs for communities that reach certain connectivity thresholds, such as for telework.

Minnesota does do a good job – but part of doing a good job is keeping on top of things. With that in mind and based on my conversation with folks in Chisago County yesterday, I’m encourage an update on some of our goals. COVID is big enough to push a greater need sooner than 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026.


How do you find yourself living a life without broadband? How does half a country get left behind?

CBS Sunday morning last weekend ran an interesting article on “The great broadband divide.” The stories won’t be new to most readers, but it’s always good to see the case being made in mainstream media.

The point out the discrepancy in deciding how many people are online:

  • FCC says 23 million people don’t have broadband
  • Microsoft says 162 million don’t have broadband

CBS goes on to explain that the FCC gages by census tract. So if one person has access, they say they all do. Which is a little like deciding that everyone in my zip code has a Master’s degree, because I do.

Also CBS tackles the idea that the FCC definition of broadband is not fast enough, which more and more people are finding is the case especially with the pandemic and more people trying to work and learn from home. They mention the efforts school have gone to try to meet the needs of students by handing our hotspots or printing out homework packets – for those who can’t access broadband due to availability and/or affordability.

About 6 and a half minutes into the segment, they go into federal funding for broadband. Gigi Sohn talks about the poor return on FCC’s investment in broadband.

The final  message in the story is that the digital divide is getting deeper.

Iron Range Schools and families are focusing on broadband

WDIO highlights the actions of the schools on the Iron Range to make sure their students have the technology they need for school, whether in the classroom or at home…

“We have gotten hold of 150 hotspots that are ready to distribute and we will have those available for students who have difficulty connecting to the internet,” said Noel Schmidt, the superintendent for Rock Ridge Public Schools.

Steve Giorgi, the executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) said over the spring they worked with school districts to survey students on their internet connection and said results were alarming.

“I think a lot of districts were unaware because when talking to the students, students report that they’re connected when they actually only have a cell phone,” said Giorgi. “Truly to accomplish distance learning you need a broadband internet connection.”

Giorgi also said they are in talks with schools now to offer temporary solutions for students by using wireless connections for a better service. For a long term solution, they had a meeting with a consultant Monday to look at different locations on the range for broadband expansion.

“We looked at 13 different locations on the Iron Range that are potential targets for broadband expansion. They’re underserved so they qualify for both state border to border grants and federal grants,” said Giorgi.

There’s also a lot happening house to house…

Families in the area are also doing their part to address the issue. Amna Hanson of Esko said she is about 10 houses away from being able to have broad band internet and can’t get the cable company out in her area.

“I have been in contact with the state agencies to see if I can get their assistance. Also I am waiting to see if the franchise agreement for our area requires them to service us. I am also in the process of starting a petition,” said Hanson.

Shantyll Carlson of Duluth said she had to pay a lot to offer quality internet access to her children who are in second and sixth grade.

“We just had to upgrade and pay four times more than what we were paying so that both my kids could do schoolwork at the same time without lag,” said Carlson.

Tessa Lasky who lives about 15 minutes outside of Cloquet said they currently have to use hotspot on their cell phones through AT&T.

“We have the highest hotspot package on our cell phones, which is still limited when talking about doing online schooling five days per week,” said Lasky.

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Partnership for a Connected MN

Bernadine Joselyn led a presentation and discussion about the new public-private Partnership for a Connected MN initiative and how the effort hopes to benefit Minnesota students during the upcoming school year.

Here’s the chat log Continue reading

Partnership for ConnectedMN – edu tech grant applications are available online

In June I shared the news on…

a public-private partnership of philanthropic and business leaders from across Minnesota that aims to meet the technology and connectivity needs of families with school-aged children. Partnership for a ConnectedMN is led by Best Buy, Comcast, Blandin Foundation, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Business Partnership, in collaboration with the State of Minnesota.

Today I’m pleased to share that those organizations have just unveiled applications for funding to help get children and families online.

Their goals are

  • Students in high-need communities have tech devices, ensuring more equitable access to educational resources – now and in the future
  • Young people in both rural and urban communities have solutions to the lack of reliable, affordable broadband access
  • Students and providers have the tools to connect and engage around school, physical and mental health and future career pathways

You can get the RFP and FAQs online – and remember deadlines…

Applications will be due Tuesday, September 1, 2020 by 3 pm
Decisions will be made by Monday, September 14, 2020.
Funds will be distributed by the end of September.

If you want to learn more – you are welcome to join the Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Partnership for a Connected MN conversation tomorrow at 9am.

Aug 4: Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Partnership for a Connected MN

Join Blandin Foundation on Zoom Tuesday morning at 9:00 am for our Broadband Roundtable conversation, where Bernadine Joselyn will lead a presentation and discussion about the new public-private Partnership for a Connected MN initiative and how the effort hopes to benefit Minnesota students during the upcoming school year. Bernadine will describe the partnership’s new Request for Proposal, and describe what entities are eligible to apply for what kind of support.

You can register for this and future Roundtables here.

Which students are left behind when learning goes online? Spoiler alert, there’s no spoiler

As every parent, teacher and student in Minnesota waits to hear later today from Governor Walz about how the State recommends schools handling pandemic learning this fall, I think it’s helpful to look at who is left behind when/if we move education online.

Online education is tough enough when all of the tech pieces are there; lack of computer and broadband makes is almost insurmountable. Only last year, report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis finds Minnesota is one of the worst states in the country for education achievement gaps. We need to find ways to make that gap more narrow and shallow. Proving access to adequate technology is a small, but necessary step because as the report below shows, technology does not currently help to close that gap. And the irony is, it could.

Here’s the status as Future Ready Schools reports…

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a near-total shutdown of the U.S. school system, forcing more than 55 million students to transition to home-based remote learning practically overnight. In most cases, that meant logging in to online classes and accessing lessons and assignments through a home internet connection.

Sadly, that was not an option for children in one out of three Black, Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native households. Nationwide, across all racial and ethnic groups, 16.9 million children remain logged out from instruction because their families lack the home internet access necessary to support online learning, a phenomenon known as the “homework gap.”

According to an analysis of data from the 2018 American Community Survey conducted for the Alliance for Excellent Education, National Urban League, UnidosUS, and the National Indian Education Association, millions of households with children under the age of 18 years lack two essential elements for online learning: (1) high-speed home internet service and (2) a computer.

Here’s what they found in Minnesota:

Percentage of Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 19%
Number of Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 264,334

Minnesota By Income

Percentage of Households with Annual Income Less Than $25,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 40%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Less Than $25,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 50,660
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Between $25,000 and $50,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 29%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Between $25,000 and $50,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 66,298
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Between $50,000 and $75,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 24%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Between $50,000 and $75,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 44,869
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Between $75,000 and $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 15%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Between $75,000 and $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 74,704
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Greater Than $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 9%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Greater Than $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 27,803

Minnesota By Race

Percentage of White Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 17%
Number of White Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 184,337
Percentage of Asian Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 14%
Number of Asian Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 12,461
Percentage of Black Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 27%
Number of Black Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 44,036
Percentage of Latino Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 35%
Number of Latino Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 30,226
Percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 37%
Number of American Indian/Alaska Native Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 9,655

Minnesota By Location

Percentage of Nonmetro “Rural” Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 29%
Number of Children in Nonmetro “Rural” Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 79,087
Percentage of Metro Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 17%
Number of Children in Metro Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 182,209


EVENT Aug 3: Workshop Examining the Role of Libraries on Broadband Adoption and Literacy

An invitation from the FCC

Workshop Examining the Role of Libraries on Broadband Adoption and Literacy
Aug 3, 2020
10:00 am – 1:30 pm EDT
Online Only

The Digital Empowerment and Inclusion Working Group of the Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment (ACDDE) and the Media Bureau is hosting this virtual workshop to examine the role of U.S. libraries as community hubs to drive digital adoption and literacy. The workshop will be convened via WebEx in light of travel restrictions and other concerns related to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and will be available to the public via live feed from the FCC’s web page at

The workshop will feature experts from libraries, academia, and civil society organizations who will discuss efforts to support underserved rural and urban communities’ acquisition of digital skills. Experts will consider what constitutes digital inclusion today and the role of libraries and public-private partnerships in supporting digital literacy. Panelists will also address the impact of COVID-19 on advancing digital inclusion, as well as the impact of various local, state, and federal interventions in recent months.



One in Five in Rural MN unserved – can better maps or federal funding help?

GovTech reports…

For decades there has been a push to bring high-speed Internet service to all of Minnesota, but today about one in five rural Minnesota households still lack access.

“It’s criminal we don’t have high-speed Internet in rural areas,” said Wes Gilbert of Mankato Computer Technology.

They spoke with Blandin Broadband team member and colleague Bill Coleman…

Bill Coleman of Mahtomedi-base Technology Advisors Corp. has for 20 years worked with counties, communities, schools and others to improve Internet access.

“We’re chasing something that’s running very fast in front of us,” he said of getting universal access.

He said poor Internet speed is especially highlighted as people try to upload data.

The state’s definition of and goal for high-speed broadband has been a 25 megabits download speed and 3 megabits upload.

Bill offers an option for better mapping…

He said there are companies now able to better measure who really has high-speed Internet. A current speed test is being conducted in northeast Minnesota.

“Their mapping in a very sophisticated way and they can show where service is and isn’t despite what providers say. In many cases the service providers say they’re providing doesn’t really exist,” Coleman said.

“A lot of providers say they deliver 25 megs but it’s actually maybe 5.” Depending on how the service is being delivered, customers living farther away from certain equipment will have a slower speed than advertised, and if copper wires or other equipment isn’t good, it weakens speeds.

And hope from federal funding…

One federal program Coleman is hopeful could provide a boost is the Rural Development Opportunity Fund, funded through the FCC.

There is a total of $20 billion available and the money is to be distributed across the country using a “reverse auction.” That means Internet providers who show they can provide the most broadband for the lowest cost will qualify for the grants.

“The lower the speed (providers) promise, they get penalized. So the FCC is incenting the higher speed.

“It will be interesting to see the strategy of providers and how they bid and who gets these dollars,” Coleman said.

COVID exacerbates the gap between haves and have-nots – starting with healthcare facilities vs broadband providers

High Plains Journal reports on a recent webinar on rural telehealth…

A July 15 webinar on those issues was hosted by Kevin Oliver, lead relationship manager at CoBank, part of the Farm Credit System that supports key initiatives in both rural broadband and healthcare. Titled “COVID-19 Impacts On Rural Healthcare and Broadband,” it is the fourth in the “From the Farmgate” series of webinars sponsored by CoBank. The speakers were Rick Breuer, CEO of Community Memorial Hospital, located in a rural area of Minnesota just west of Duluth; and Catherine Moyer, CEO of Pioneer Communications, which provides connectivity services in western Kansas via coaxial cable, copper wire, fiber and wireless.

I was especially interested in the bottom line impact to the broadband providers versus the healthcare facilities (the tele vs the health)…

Oliver noted that the cost dynamic was different for health care facilities and communications. Health care facilities saw a simultaneous increase in costs and decreases in revenue. On the other hand, communications companies have added customers and grown more quickly than they might have otherwise. While some payments are in arrears, “most of those arrears will be collectible,” said Moyer—whether from customers, or by laws like the Critical Connections Act that reimburses communications companies. Moyer said Pioneer had “donated” about $500,000 worth of connection services that may or may not be reimbursed.

Breuer said he doesn’t expect revenues at the hospital to return to anything like their full levels for at least a year.  The hospital has managed to avoid layoffs or furloughs, “but we’re getting [through] by the skin of our teeth.” Whatever happens with COVID, he said, “telehealth will definitely be part of our future. Home and hospital connections are equally important, since telehealth often happens from home.”

Breuer noted that until recently, he had to drive his kids into town to access hot spots so they could do their homework. One hospital sectioned off part of its parking lot for customer parking to use its hot spot, whether for medical tele-visits or other reasons. He also noted the vulnerability of rural networks, with little or no redundancy. He said one gnawing squirrel recently took down connectivity for a 50-square-mile area.

His hospital could not have kept its doors open without help from 10 separate funding organizations, said Breuer—but that in turn created a lot of documentation paperwork. He said independent clinics have been the worst-hit by the COVID crisis, especially those that service mostly rural populations but that don’t technically qualify as rural health clinics for one reason or another. Breuer supports changing those designations to allow more clinics to be helped.

Moyer supports what she calls contribution reform. Bill surcharges are based on an outdated model of long-distance service, now that texting has taken the place of phone calls for many. Fortunately, “the COVID crisis has focused the attention of many in Congress. I’ve been talking about all these connectivity issues for 20 years,” she said. “The silver lining is a lot of other people are focused on this issue now too.”

For so many years, the providers have invested (often with public support) in the networks that have made millions for private industry without reaping the same benefit. (A couple years ago, I looked at the community ROI of public investment in rural broadband – the community sees the return much more quickly than the provider.) It will be interesting to see what happens with healthcare and telecom/broadband. Many broadband providers are being generous with free/low cost connection right now and hopefully that will be an investment in a future paying customer. While the hospitals are in a different situation – the article points out that “163 rural hospitals have closed and about 600 more are vulnerable, or a third of all rural hospitals in the United States.“

So about schools and distance learning and broadband – WCCO is asking

It’s the best of times, worst of times when broadband is hitting the mainstream media. I’m sorry for the problem, but glad that people (even outside served areas) are recognizing the inequity and difficulties: WCCO TV reports…

We’ll learn later this week what school will look like for Minnesota students this fall. No matter what’s announced on Thursday, districts are again preparing for internet service to again be an important piece. Connection problems plagued some areas in Greater Minnesota this past spring.

Telehealth hubs bridge the gap for patients without access to computers, broadband and/or skills to access online help

MinnPost reports…

When COVID-19 hit Minnesota this spring, most health care providers made the shift to telehealth as a way to safely see their patients without risk of spreading the virus. While this approach works for people who are well connected through smartphones, computers and tablets, Joncas said a large number of her clients at the St. Paul Opportunity Center (and its sister program in Minneapolis) live on the edge of the virtual world, making accessing health care via telehealth nearly impossible.

Online is convenient and a life saver for folks who are connected but it’s leaving many people falling farther behind, especially anyone experiencing poverty or homelessness…

“When we’d say, ‘I see you missed your appointment. Let’s get another appointment set up on your phone,’ it usually didn’t work,” she said. “Many of these guys didn’t have phones to begin with. Or, if they did have a phone, their payments were erratic so their service was off and on. Or they had limited data and didn’t want to use it up.”

And when you’re living arrangements are not ideal privacy can be an issue…

And clients who did have a working smartphone weren’t all that keen on giving telehealth a try, Joncas said. Shelter living is famous for its lack of privacy, so virtually visiting with a health care provider in spaces already occupied by other people felt unappealing.

Then M Health Fairview offered an option…

The email went on to explain that M Health Fairview had already set up telehealth hubs — or private rooms outfitted with high-definition computers where patients could safely have remote visits with mental- and chemical-health counselors — at M Health Fairview St. Joseph’s Hospital just a few blocks away. Would Catholic Charities be interested in setting up a similar hub at the Opportunity Center?

“From there it was pretty easy,” Joncas said. The St. Paul Opportunity Center actually had a number of private consultation rooms that usually are used by case managers during client meetings. The rooms were too small for two people to practice social distancing, so they’d been standing empty for months.

SO they set up space…

When M Health Fairview set up the first telehealth hubs at St. Joseph’s Hospital, the idea was to mimic the usual patient experience as much as possible. The two hub rooms are located near the hospital’s outpatient mental health and addiction clinic, where many patients were used to seeing their provider pre-pandemic.

Staff at the hospital helps walk patients through the virtual visits, showing them to the hub rooms, explaining how to use the equipment and connecting them with their doctors. Levine added that there are plans to expand hub services to other M Health Fairview clinics, where a “skeleton staff” outfitted in PPE would check in patients, and help get their appointment started. “For the most part the process is extremely simple,” he said. “Hopefully for most people it doesn’t feel too far off from an in-person visit.”

Scheduling a telehealth hub appointment should be as easy as scheduling an in-person appointment. “When people call in to schedule an appointment with a provider, our central intake team asks them questions about if they can use a phone or a computer for a video visit or if they have a private place to be able to talk,” Levine said. “If they aren’t able to do any of those they are offered to go to the telehub location.”

They are looking to grow the number of hubs…

Levine said that M Health Fairview is making tentative plans to expand the telehealth hubs to other locations close to communities that could benefit the most from using them.

“The hope would be that we could start putting some of the hubs in strategic locations for people who don’t have a safe place to talk or the equipment they need to handle a call. Because many people have limited transportation, these places will be in areas that they can get to easily with public transportation.”

It would be nice to see some of these in rural areas. I have seen computer kiosks or labs in mini-buses, laundromats, manufactured home communities, campgrounds and more. They need is at least as great in rural areas. There are starting points. It would be great to see!

Looking for some expertise to help a homeless shelter get everyone online

My friend runs a some homeless shelters and she could use some tech help. I thought I’d ask it out loud because I suspect the situation will be familiar to others and if we get an answer we can share.

My friend Monica is the new executive director at Haven Housing, which includes three community housing buildings in North Minneapolis. It’s an old neighborhood, with old, solidly built buildings. They have broadband coming into the buildings but the wireless network in the building is sketchy as best. The signals don’t go through walls. They have a bid for a better network of $6500. Reminds me of my days helping out with NetDay in the mid 1990s, where we pulled wires through old school builds to help extend Internet access from the “computer room” to the classrooms.

Are there any slick new technologies that would help extend the network? Or any advice to smooth the road? Would the CARES funding or ConnectedMN support this sort of technology? Truthfully, there are so many other needs that CARES would address, that I suspect preference would be to find another resource.

Another issue… One of the shelters at Haven is for families. Some of the residents get hotspots from their schools (a COVID-inspired gesture); some do not. It depends on the school and school district. They get kids from all over, which means some kids have access and some don’t. And while often kids can share, trouble arises if the “haves” move on and the have-nots are stuck. (And as you might imagine the hotspots do not work evenly in a solidly built building.)

It sounds like a potentially urban issue, except I don’t think it is. And as Minnesota discusses what to do about schools a month from now, it’s worth remembering that we don’t live within the borders we’ve created. One school district, one county, one township may make a decision (like handing out hotspots) and the neighbor decides the opposite. In practice that may leave cousins a mile from each other with different rules, advantages and disadvantages.

COVID seems to escalate the need for everything (especially technology) and accelerate the result of inequities. If you don’t have a broadband, you don’t get your work done today. Whereas, pre-COVID if you didn’t have broadband, you missed out on certain skills and opportunities and the community might not recognize that until you went to college or tried to get a job.

Happy to take any advice on the technology or policy aspects.

To get the ball rolling, someone has already suggested using a digital navigator, an expert with expertise in all aspects of digital needs in the field.

EVENT JUl 23: Digital Redlining & Connectivity Barriers In Marginalized Communities

I wanted to share the following invitation from Public Knowledge…

Thursday, July 23rd at 2 PM EST
Attend Event

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically exposed how digital inequities are further marginalizing minority populations. Internet service providers invest less in broadband infrastructure in communities of color and low-income communities because doing so is considered to be less profitable.

The same neighborhoods that were redlined by banks and insurance companies now face similar discrimination by internet service providers — deemed “digital redlining.” On top of this, many people in marginalized communities can’t afford to connect to broadband or purchase connected devices. Accordingly, the residents of these communities find themselves unable to engage in distance learning, work remotely, access telemedicine, or connect with loved ones virtually.

The consequences of America’s extreme digital divide have been amplified in the current pandemic. Join us for an expert discussion on policy solutions to these connectivity barriers.


Maurita Coley- President and CEO of Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council

Lukas Pietrzak – Policy Associate at Next Century Cities

Daiquiri Ryan – Strategic Policy Counsel at the National Hispanic Media Coalition & Co-founder at Neta Collab

Angela Siefer – Executive Director of National Digital Inclusion Alliance

Moderator: Jenna Leventoff – Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge

We’ll send call-in information to registrants in advance of the webinar.

Share this event on Facebook and Twitter.

We hope you can make it!


Public Knowledge

NY Times on need for big push for universal service – maybe look at MN Model?

The NY Times posted an editorial on the need for ubiquitous broadband

Electrifying the entire country a century ago was made possible by a coordinated federal plan from the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt The Rural Electrification Administration brought electricity to areas outside city centers through federal loans to small cooperatives formed to bring power lines and generators to their communities.

While such a centralized effort may be unlikely today without the urgency of the New Deal, the coronavirus has demonstrated that it is time for the federal government to think more creatively and to act more swiftly to deploy broadband service. …

It seems like the urgency of COVID19 may be as strong as the urgency of the New Deal. At least there are coordinated efforts and agreement on the need…

Universal broadband will be costly, but shelter-in-place orders have demonstrated that it is even more costly to leave so many Americans behind. A House bill to accelerate deployment of the $20.4 billion overseen by the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is a start, but the F.C.C. has estimated it could take $80 billion to reach nearly every American without broadband. House Democrats proposed in April that more than $80 billion be authorized over five years for broadband expansion.

“People are afraid of the price tag,” said Mr. Clyburn, a co-sponsor of the bill along with Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan. “We can’t afford not to do it.”

I’d like for everyone in Minnesota to raise our hands so that they see us and recognize the wisdom of the Minnesota model – especially in terms of the MN State Border to Border grants. There are (at least) two things I think make the grant program successful.

They recognize that speed matters. Grant projects must “support broadband service scalable to speeds of at least 100 megabits per second download and 100 megabits per second upload.“ When scoring applications they also look at extent of improvement in an area and score accordingly. The beauty of this is that they are investing in a long term solution, not a Band-Aid.

They recognize that community matters.  Again in the application scoring, they award points for “substantive evidence of community support for the project.” Community support should indicate demand, which should help with return on investment. Community support should indicate that the provider and community have created a plan that meets the needs of both parties. Community support should indicate Interest in using the network – similar to demand except it should help the community reap the benefits.

The Office of Broadband Development also awards points for projects that include tribal communities. Some tribal areas in Minnesota are well served; others are terribly behind. Awarding points to serve them may help increase access.

These are the only winning ingredients but they are three I want to call out.