Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work for Digital Equity – Oct 8-10

A message from the Blandin Foundation…

You’re Invited!

October 8-10, 2019
Grand View Lodge – Nisswa, MN



Please join us October 8-10, at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa for our annual broadband conference, Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work.

Broadband is a powerful tool for innovation, and we’re going to show you how to best use it to improve quality of life and increase community vitality.

We’ll start with a fast-paced show and tell session where 12 practitioners will show you how they are maximizing the benefits of broadband. Expect to hear about big gaming (for money!), virtual reality, turning a laundromat into a digital information center, and more. Then we’ll take a closer look at how broadband technologies are transforming healthcare, education, and precision agriculture.

You’ll get an opportunity to mix and mingle with presenters and attendees. Pick up some ideas, and start some new partnerships!

Check out the conference website for more details.

Register Today!

Join policymakers, economic and community development professionals, and community broadband champions from across the state for this annual opportunity to Learn, Connect, and Engage.

We hope to see you there!

Comcast Announces Largest Ever Expansion of Internet Essentials Program to Reach all Low-Income Americans

Good news for more people where Comcast is available…

Comcast announced today it is significantly expanding eligibility for Internet Essentials, which is the nation’s largest, most comprehensive, and most successful broadband adoption program in America, to include all qualified low-income households in its service area. The expansion is the most significant change in the program’s history. The Company estimates that more than three million additional low-income households, including households with people with disabilities, are now eligible to apply. It estimates a total of nearly seven million households now have access to low-cost Internet service, which literally doubles the total number of previously eligible households. In addition, the company announced that, since August 2011, Internet Essentials has connected more than eight million low-income individuals, from two million households, to the Internet at home, most for the first time in their lives. Today’s announcement follows 11 prior eligibility expansions, including last year’s extension of the program to low-income veterans.
“This expansion is the culmination of an audacious goal we set eight years ago, which was to meaningfully and significantly close the digital divide for low-income Americans,” said David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast NBCUniversal. “The Internet is arguably the most important technological innovation in history, and it is unacceptable that we live in a country where millions of families and individuals are missing out on this life-changing resource. Whether the Internet is used for students to do their homework, adults to look for and apply for new jobs, seniors to keep in touch with friends and family, or veterans to access their well-deserved benefits or medical assistance, it is absolutely essential to be connected in our modern, digital age.”
To be eligible to apply to the program, low-income applicants simply need to show they are participating in one of more than a dozen different government assistance programs. These include: Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). A full list of these programs can be found at The Company already accepts applications from households that have a student eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program, live in public housing or receive HUD Housing Assistance, including Section 8 vouchers, or participate in the Veterans Pension Program, as well as low-income seniors and community college students in select pilot markets.

According to U.S. Census data, households living in cities with the highest poverty rates, are up to 10 times more likely than those in higher earning communities not to have fixed broadband at home. For example, in Palo Alto, California, or Bethesda, Maryland – where poverty rates are very low – only about six percent of households do not have a broadband Internet subscription – 94 percent are connected. But in Trenton, New Jersey, and Flint, Michigan – where poverty rates are way above the national average – 60 percent or more of households do not have fixed broadband at home – that is, less than half are connected. That gap of more than 50 points defines the digital divide in this country.
Internet Essentials has an integrated, wrap-around design that addresses each of the three major barriers to broadband adoption that research has identified. These include: a lack of digital literacy skills, lack of awareness of the relevance of the Internet to every day life needs, and fear of the Internet, the lack of a computer, and cost. As a result, the program includes: multiple options to access free digital literacy training in print, online, and in person, the option to purchase an Internet-ready computer for less than $150; and low-cost, high-speed Internet service for $9.95 a month plus tax. The program is structured as a partnership between Comcast and tens of thousands of school districts, libraries, elected officials, and nonprofit community partners. For more information, or to apply for the program in seven different languages, please visit or call 1-855-846-8376. Spanish-only speakers can also call 1-855-765-6995.
The most significant barrier to broadband adoption in low-income communities remains a basket of digital literacy deficits, lack of digital awareness, and fear of the Internet. To help address this barrier, since 2011, Comcast has invested more than $650 million to support digital literacy training and awareness, reaching more than 9.5 million low-income Americans. In addition, the company has either sold or donated more than 100,000 discounted and heavily subsidized computers to families and veterans that need one.

Guess your broadband speed – and other tools to help promote better broadband

The Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) AmeriCorps bridges the “digital divide” for new Immigrants and low-income communities in Minneapolis and St. Paul. CTEP AmeriCorps members help youth and adults use technology to better access social, civic, educational and economic opportunities. (OK I borrowed that from their website.)

They are folks who tackle social tech issues in small groups. In the last two years, one group has tackled broadband access, primarily in Minneapolis, but they broadened much of their work to result in tools that will help rural and urban areas.

If you came to the fall broadband conference last year and noticed anyone that wasn’t me livestreaming a session – it was either Katie or Gus. They both have been great about helping out Blandin and soaking up as much broadband knowledge as they can.

In July, I attended an information session they held in Minneapolis drumming up interest in digital equity through improved access.

In Minneapolis, it’s more about affordability or in the case of some apartments – making sure that the landlord has not locked residents into a single provider without considering their needs.

Below is a fun video they created to help attendees of the meeting (and other meetings) understand the gradations of broadband. It was a big hit at an Open Streets fest and could draw a crowd at a county fair. There are some other tools they have created too – and are sharing with anyone tasked with explaining and promoting better broadband.

Here are some of the other tools they have made available:


Cable companies talk about bridging digital divide in rural areas

Just the other day I was talking about the change in vernacular; 10 or more years ago we used to talk about penetration and take-rates, over the years that has shifted to digital inclusion. So it was interesting to see this article that goes back to the idea of using digital inclusion to garner customers. It’s a reminder of how to encourage providers to participate in digital inclusion efforts.

Multichannel reports…

Bridging the digital divide in small rural communities is still a top priority and one that can help operators drive sales growth even as video customers dwindle, a panel of top small cable CEOs said at The Independent Show’s Opening General Session.

“Providing that local connection, and not just driving the content of those customers, [is critical],” said Buckeye Broadband president and general manager Geoff Shook at the session titled Hot Topics, Cool Leaders. “Owning that relationship from the edge of the end user’s device all the way through the businesses.”

The same article talks about how providers can work with states like Minnesota to get support to build out…

For Schurz Communications, president and CEO Todd Schurz said one solution has been to partner with other providers in building out broadband networks. Schurz is currently working with local governments, using some state grants in Vermont and Minnesota, working with telephone co-ops in Iowa, electric co-ops in Minnesota, and Native American nations in Minnesota and Arizona.

EVENT ALERT Aug 2: CTEP AmeriCorps members showcase digital equity projects

I’m so sad to be out of town for this event this year. It’s one of my favorites. If you’re around St Paul on Friday, you should try to make it…

Every year our CTEP AmeriCorps members choose civic engagement projects that make a contribution to bridging the digital divide. Please join us on Friday, August 2, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Saint Paul Neighborhood Network, where our members will share their accomplishments and struggles in creating community change through their projects. Feel free to swing by earlier for informal networking starting at 9 a.m; bagels and coffee will be served.

The Saint Paul Neighborhood Network’s AmeriCorps program, the Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) bridges the “digital divide” for immigrant communities, low-income residents and persons with disabilities in the Twin Cities. AmeriCorps members help youth and adults use technology to access social, civic, educational and economic opportunities.

PLEASE Register Here

Read more about what CTEP members did in their 2019 Civic Engagement Projects:

What’s Your Upload Speed: Understanding Internet Equity
Created an interactive presentation and organized community meetings to create awareness about unequal internet access in Minneapolis.

Ready Today: Prepared for Tomorrow
Facilitated adult readiness workshops for youth at the JK Movement integrating digital skills and community engagement.

CTEP Accessibility Project
Established an accessibility baseline for all CTEP sites and members to follow, so they can best serve clients and patrons who may suffer from disabilities that would otherwise impact their ability to work with a CTEP member.

Media Literacy with Twin Cities Youth
Partnered with four youth organizations around the Twin Cities to facilitate conversations on various online media categories and how to access their credibility.

Designing and Piloting a Curriculum for Northstar Assessments
Piloted a curriculum for adult learners that accompanies the Northstar assessments.

Mounds View Music 
Organized a music creation and production class for youth at Mounds View Area Learning Center.

Diversity and Inclusion in CTEP
Implemented short and long-term efforts to improve the diversity and inclusion framework, practices, and outcomes in the CTEP cohort.

Tech and Health Group
Ran a three-day workshop teaching media skills to youth at the Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center (Science Museum of Minnesota).

Libraries without Boundaries gets 20+ people in an Anoka County community to discuss library services

I just left a very full room at Park Plaza Cooperative, a resident-owned manufactured home community in Fridley, where they were discussing what they’d like to see in the community for library services. The meeting included Libraries without Boundaries, Department of Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker and State Librarian Jen Nelson, librarians from various Anoka County Libraries and of course local residents.

My table included Bonnie, retired from a doctor’s office, Cecelia who is three years old, her mom Tina, Victor, a librarian from a local branch library and my colleague Bernadine Joselyn. Plenty of people spoke English, some were more comfortable in Spanish, a table mate guestimated that half the community had internet access in their home. Another table mate had had access but found it too expensive, although she missed it.

We met in a new community center. A center design to withstand an F5 tornado!  And a place for local residents to hang out, during storms and sunny weather. The community center is bright and welcoming and a perfect place to become a library space – or a library without a boundary. (I wrote about another Libraries without Boundaries project last year when they put computer kiosks and wifi in laundromats.) And that’s what we discussed – what would people like to see in the space and what services do they need.

Immediately people went for ideas for kids. Kids need a place and computers to do homework. English Language Learners could use language support and even for kids who speak English but whose parents might not, they could use support in school. Kids need a place to get books.

Soon ideas spread to other ages. People need access to computers to get jobs. Maybe mobile broadband hotspots to check out to work from home. Access to devices and training – on computers and other topics.

Now the librarians are going to take these ideas and come up with some recommendations. I love this process. Each community has different library service needs. And while a brick and mortar library is great – we now have the ability to bring so many services beyond the building – outside of people, computers and broadband access. It’s great to tailor the needs to the community – and to meet people where they are.

Libraries without Boundaries will be having a similar meeting in Rochester tomorrow. I’ll be keeping an eye for opportunities in the future. Libraries and librarians (with and without boundaries) can be the magic glue to a community digital equity plan!

EVENT ALERT July 23: Broadband in the Twin Cities

I plan to attend and will take notes and perhaps livestream (if that makes sense)…

Concered about the lack of high-quality, affordable internet for you and your neighbors?

Join us [CTEP] for a discussion on the current state of broadband internet access in the Twin CIties and how it impacts you.

Tuesday July 23 – 6-7pm

East Lake Library

2727 E Lake St

Minneapolis MN 55406

I except that the conversation will focus on affordability. It should be interesting.