Howard Lake (MN) gets Hometown Grant award from T-Mobile (Wright County)

T-Mobile reports

In April 2021, T-Mobile (NASDAQ: TMUS) announced T-Mobile Hometown Grants, a $25 million, five-year initiative to support the people and organizations that help small towns across America thrive and grow. Since the program’s start, T-Mobile has given more than $4.4 million dollars to kickstart 100 community development projects across 36 states, including the latest grant winning recipients.

The list includes Howard Lake…

Howard Lake, Minn.: Construct a community library facility to provide vital connectivity resources such as public-use computers and Wi-Fi, tele-commuter conference room and a soft interview space for the local police department.

RESOURCE: A tool to help you get yourself or friends low cost internet access

I am borrowing from Benton Institute for Broadband and Society to share this resource that I think it perfect for librarians and frontline social workers or for the techie person in the room (and if you’re reading this, that’s probably you) who might have an opportunity to casually mention it to folks who might need help and don’t know it’s available. Heck take a peek and make it your go-to conversation in your next Uber or Lyft…

The United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry teamed up with our civil rights allies in 2021 and successfully persuaded Congress to adopt a new program that helps low-income households pay for high-speed internet. Now that Congress has acted, our biggest challenge is publicizing the program. Families and individuals need to hear from trusted members of their own communities to learn more — people like you! Learn more about the new Affordable Connectivity Program and how you can help. UCC Media Justice is encouraging UCC churches, conferences, associations and individual members — and our friends throughout the faith and humanitarian communities — to help spread the word. Download a copy of the UCC Love Your Neighbors: Get Them Internet toolkit.

OPPORTUNITY: Common Sense is looking for Emergency Connectivity Fund Stories

Common Sense reports…

The Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) is a federal program that allows schools and libraries to provide laptops, tablets, and home internet service to students and library patrons who would otherwise lack them. It was created, in part, based on our research into the homework gap. To date, the ECF has connected over 12 million people nationwide. However, the fund will soon run out of money, and, when it does, the millions of students and patrons it is connecting may fall back into the digital divide.

Here’s the info for MN…

In Minnesota, there are 52,474 Home internet connections 192,276 Laptops and tablets and $66,210,500 ECF awards

There will be issues if the funding ends, but you can help especially if you know (or are) someone who has taken advantage of the funding…

 If the ECF ends, the connectivity represented in this map will, too. Help us highlight the ongoing need for student connectivity by sharing your story below.

EVENT: June 15 sign-up day for the Affordable Connectivity Program in Cass Lake

An announcement (from the Bemidji Pioneer) for folks near Cass Lake and a good idea for community and broadband leaders in other areas…

Paul Bunyan Communications and the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe will hold a sign-up day for the Affordable Connectivity Program from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15, at the Facility Center, 16126 John Moose Drive NW, Cass Lake.

“This new long-term benefit will help to lower the cost of broadband service for eligible households struggling to afford internet service and provides a discount of up to a $30 per month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for qualifying households on qualifying Tribal lands,” a release said.

Being online helps learn about and access some activities for older adults in rural Minnesota

MinnPost reports

Social well-being is essential to good health. Yet, as the COVID-19 pandemic roiled the country and upended social routines, supporting social well-being became even more challenging, including in rural areas. Social well-being was impacted most directly by the need to socially distance and isolate, and many people moved some or all their social activity online. However, this proved more challenging in rural areas, where broadband connectivity is less available and devices are less omnipresent, and for older adults, who generally report lower use of online technology than their younger counterparts.

In an April, 2022 report released by AP and NORC at the University of Chicago, rural adults age 50 and older reported the lowest level of satisfaction with available social activities in their community (only 38% thought the area they lived in was doing a good job at providing social activities, compared with 52% in urban areas and 55% in suburban areas, despite the fact that older adults make up a disproportionate share of rural residents). The survey also showed that rural residents reported lower satisfaction with transportation and availability of services to help them age in their own homes, compared with their urban and suburban counterparts.

They looked at the impact of broadband access and info…

We researched social opportunities in all 60 non-metropolitan counties in Minnesota, focusing most on those geared toward older adults. We found ample opportunities, but also variation between counties. Most – but not all – counties offer some combination of social infrastructure, including public libraries, senior centers, farmer’s markets, faith-based organizations (notably mostly Christian churches), American Legions and/or VFWs, and public parks. For some, there were community arts centers and hobby groups (e.g., quiltingfitness classes, bee keepingcardsgardeningcommunity theatermovie nightsbingophotographyfishingart classeswine tastingbook clubs).

Some counties and communities made it easy to find opportunities online. For example, the Todd County website listed a variety of opportunities and social infrastructure resources in an accessible, user-friendly fashion. This is good for residents looking for new ways to connect with each other, but is also important for loved ones who live out of town and are trying to find opportunities for those they care about. Many counties also have local news sources through which activities and events can be shared, although the availability and independence of those has decreased nationally in recent years, potentially making it more difficult to share local social opportunities.

Other counties and communities were much more opaque about social opportunities for older adults. Either the opportunities don’t exist, or, more likely, they organize by word of mouth or other forums. That begs the question, who might that be leaving out? How would newcomers to communities learn about social opportunities and connections, and how can out-of-town loved ones help their family members find ways to connect?

OPPORTUNITY: 2022 Digital Inclusion Trailblazers Applications Open!

An opportunity from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA)

Digital Inclusion Trailblazers is a public inventory of local government initiatives promoting digital literacy and broadband access for underserved residents. NDIA first launched this effort in 2016 as an advocacy tool for local, state and national digital inclusion leadership, and as a handy database of examples for communities interested in taking similar steps themselves. The list also serves as an honor roll of local government initiatives that promote digital literacy and broadband access for underserved residents. With support from Google Fiber and help from a Working Group of our affiliates, NDIA identifies local governments that are Digital Inclusion Trailblazers using six indicators, listed below, based on documentation submitted by the candidates. Trailblazers are models for other local governments to pursue digital inclusion efforts in their own communities.

Trailblazer Indicators:

  1. Your local government has, or directly funds, at least one full-time staff dedicated to digital  inclusion initiatives, policies and/or programs.
  2. Your local government has a digital inclusion plan or is in the process of developing a plan.
  3. Representatives of your local government participate in an open-access digital inclusion coalition.
  4. Your local government has conducted or plans to conduct and publish survey research on Internet access and use by your residents.
  5. Your local government directly funds community digital inclusion programming.
  6. Your local government is taking steps to increase affordability of home broadband service.

We invite any other local government that fits one or more of these indicators to apply to be a 2022 Digital Inclusion Trailblazer. The application form provides a check-list and documentation requirement for each indicator.

Only 13 percent of eligible households in Minnesota take advantage of Lifeline subsidy program

The Benton Institute for Broadband and Society reports

During the first quarter of 2022, the Lifeline National Verifier received 4,457,395 applications. Of the applications received, 48% were fully qualified automatically, and 7% were qualified through manual documentation review. The overall qualification result is determined after eligibility is checked and includes further checks related to identity and duplicates. Of the applications submitted, 1,989,492 applications were determined to be “Not Qualified” because they did not meet the program criteria and were not resolved by the applicant within 45 days.

Based on Lifeline National Verifier Quarterly Eligibility Data from USAC that also provides data by state, including participation rates…

State January 2022 Subscriber Count 2020 Lifeline Eligible Households Based on ACS Data Estimated 2022 Lifeline Participation Rate
Minnesota 59,451 469,873 13%

 

The online Digital Skills Library is now open

World Education Inc has just unveiled their new Digital Skills Library

The Digital Skills Library is an open repository of free learning resources designed to help all adult learners develop the digital skills needed to achieve their personal, civic, educational, and career goals.

It is a open collaboration…

The Digital Skills Library is managed by CrowdED Learning, the open education initiative of the EdTech Center @ World Education. It is crowdsourced by adult educators, digital navigators, digital skills training providers, and other individuals dedicated to ensuring all adults have access to quality digital skills content to help them achieve their personal, civic, educational, and career goals.

 

Recommendations for digital equity planning from EveryoneOn

Last week, EveryoneOn released their final report from a three-part series on the digital divide during the pandemic. he report, State of Digital Equity, highlights lessons from surveys and focus groups with income insecure households and digital inclusion practitioners, and offers recommendations for digital equity planning. The report is interesting and well timed given the need for states and communities to come together with a plan to invest in a better technology future. Below are their recommendations for digital equity planning…

  1. Lead with an equity framework: As a digital inclusion practitioner highlighted, “Equity needs to be in the center.” With billions of dollars directed to states and local communities in the coming years, it is imperative that policymakers and decision makers ensure funds are used to reach and benefit all communities, in particular those who are underserved and have been disproportionately affected by the digital divide. It is equally important to be explicit about equity and inclusion goals while also including digital inclusion practitioners and community voices in coalitions, planning activities and advocacy efforts.
  2. Facilitate community-driven messaging: Focus group participants and especially practitioners underscored the importance of the local dimension of digital inclusion. Not only do circumstances differ across communities, but reaching target populations who need help getting and staying online happens best when community members connect with one another, which is where trust is strong. This makes the notion of digital navigators highly relevant. These are ambassadors from the community who are trained to help others find the resources, e.g., discount plans and free computers, to start and sustain their internet journeys. In recent months, many communities have piloted digital navigator models, including the organizations that participated in the focus groups. The practitioners highlighted the important role digital navigators have played in recent months to promote the Affordable Connectivity Program, the new federal internet subsidy program.
  3. Localize and centralize digital resources: Not only are community-driven initiatives key, but having a trusted and accessible place in the community for digital resources is crucial. People need a one-stop shop that gives them access in one place to the digital assistance they may need. The data shows that local nonprofits, public libraries and other community anchor institutions are far more trusted than internet service providers and the government. For enrolling in discount or free internet plans, it is also important that people be able to complete that transaction in one visit. Complicated processes for determining eligibility for such programs inhibits participation. If people have to leave a place that they have gone to sign up to retrieve a document to demonstrate eligibility, they often do not return. Easy-to-use enrollment processes at trusted community places are foundational to promoting digital equity. In addition, as devices become more prevalent in households and new adopters come into play, people require hands-on technical support. A one-stop shop or community space that offers technical support, coupled with internet enrollment assistance and digital skills training opportunities, addresses the multiple barriers that new adopters, in particular, face. As documented in the focus groups, people are eager to return to in-person activities, including digital skills training, as the pandemic eases.
  4. Prioritize people over networks: Practitioners emphasized that closing the digital divide requires people as much (if not more than) networks. The digital divide is not primarily a technological problem, but instead a social problem. Yet practitioners worried about a tendency among some stakeholders to equate fixing the digital divide with building more networks. The social nature of the digital divide means people-driven solutions have to be the main part of the equation, and this entails having people in the community, i.e., boots on the ground to address the problem. This puts the notion of scaling solutions in another light. Scaling a solution, in the business sense, connotes finding the easily replicable digital solution that can go viral quickly and reach the masses. That is not as relevant for a social problem. Rather, “seed” is more appropriate. Fostering digital equity requires seeding initiatives in places where community members are cultivating solutions. This requires patience and clear thinking about “seed versus scale” to address digital equity. It may be possible to scale digital equity solutions, but only after models have been cultivated in and for specific communities.
  5. Engage and fund organizations doing the work: In the last two years, many organizations across the country have become digital inclusion experts in order to ensure their communities are connected and have the devices needed to participate in various online activities. At the same time, organizations that have been focused on digital equity since before the pandemic, including those that participated in the focus groups, have expanded their services exponentially to meet the demand. These are the organizations that states and local jurisdictions should engage to both inform the design and implementation of initiatives and fund to drive the work locally. Nonprofits, workforce development agencies, libraries and others are trusted voices across diverse communities and also know how to reach the hardest[1]to-reach populations. And to ensure digital inclusion efforts are successful, community partners need to be funded appropriately. Whether building out new infrastructure or a community wireless network, launching an awareness campaign to drive adoption of the Affordable Connectivity Program, or creating a computer refurbishment program, sufficient funding should be allocated to cover all costs associated with a successful implementation, including all personnel costs. As we heard from the organizations that participated in the focus groups, without appropriate funding, digital inclusion initiatives fall short of meeting goals

TC Business looks at MN digital divide and support to close it – including the Blandin Foundation

Twin Cities Business looks at the digital divide in Minnesota, especially in a COVID (post-COVID?) world..

In fact, a study early in the pandemic by Common Sense Media and Kids Action showed that more than 150,000 Minnesota students lacked the devices needed to connect to remote schooling, and another 250,000 lacked access to the internet. Communities of color, rural families, and students in tribal nations are disproportionately affected because of higher poverty rates in these Minnesota populations.

The digital divide can be documented far beyond the rural parts of Minnesota. It includes many urban and suburban families, children, and adults who are not connected, nor do they have the devices to do so.

They also look at some of the efforts in Minnesota striving to close the gap and/or keep the gap shallow…

ConnectedMN is an alliance of philanthropic, business, and government organizations that distributes grant money to nonprofits to support access to devices, connectivity, and computer training in specific regions and among targeted communities. …

Standalone nonprofits, including PCs for People and Tech Dump, profiled in this issue as winners of TCB Community Impact Awards, get computers into the hands of people who need them and ensure that recipients have the connectivity and training to use them. In 2021, PCs for People provided 55,000 computers to low-income Minnesotans and helped 18,000 people with internet connectivity.

[Thanks to PC for People for a correction: they distributed over 57,000 computers and did connect over 18,000 households, but that was national, not just Minnesota. Added June 18.]

Philanthropies such as the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids have worked for years on broadband access for Minnesotans. Blandin’s early advocacy and sustained efforts began back in 2003. Its overarching goal: “Everyone in Minnesota will be able to use convenient, affordable, world-class broadband networks that enable us to survive and thrive in our communities and across the globe.”

The Blandin on Broadband blog on the foundation’s website incorporates important updates on the availability of federal funds to support access projects in rural counties, such as the new federal ReConnect program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That program aims to distribute grants and loans for eligible rural communities that want to provide broadband service to local residents.

Long-term efforts like Blandin’s, collaboratives like ConnectedMN, nonprofits like PCs for People, and government investments such as the federal infrastructure act are all helping to accelerate change for low-income, rural, and tribal communities that have long needed such help.

20 Broadband companies poised to offer effectively free access

Yahoo Finance reports…

The Biden administration announced Monday that 20 leading internet service providers have agreed to offer basic low cost plans that will be free for millions of Americans after a refund.

The 20 companies, including AT&T (T), Comcast (CMCSA), and Verizon (VZ), cover more than 80% of the U.S. population. They will immediately provide at least one plan that costs no more than $30 a month and provides download speeds of at least 100 mbps.

The White House says that 40% of the U.S. population, about 48 million households, will be eligible to sign up through an existing program called the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The program is aimed at lower income Americans and offers participants a discount of up to $30/month on their internet bill, meaning they’ll effectively get free service if they can get online with one of these participating companies.

AT&T CEO John Stankey said his company’s new plan “when combined with federal ACP benefits, provides up to 100 Mbps of free internet service.”

The Institute for Local Self Reliance creates Digital Equity Fact Sheet Series

The Institute for Local Self Reliance reports…

That’s why the Institute for Local Self Reliance, with support from AARP, has created the Exploring Digital Equity Fact Sheet Series. The series contains six user-friendly, easy-to-understand fact sheets to help demystify the challenges associated with creating digital equity.

Here’s a shortlist of their Fact Sheets – borrowed from the same article

The first fact sheet – What Is Broadband? – covers the basics of Internet access, defining key terms, technologies, and use. It explores who uses the Internet, how, and why the way we define broadband has such an impact on the quality of connections available to households today.

The second fact sheet – Broadband Access Challenges – tackles infrastructure, affordability, and adoption issues. It addresses how mapping challenges have stymied funding programs, what has been done to lower monthly costs, and what is needed to improve adoption rates nationwide.

Third is the Broadband Affordability Challenges fact sheet, which explores the financial obstacles facing unconnected households. It reviews state and federal attempts to reduce those barriers with subsidies and the mandating of low-cost plans, and the models available today which can promote competition and lower prices.

That is followed by the Broadband Availability Challenges fact sheet. That one dives into why some households have access to the fastest Internet infrastructure while others languish on slower connections, and millions of households still lack basic connections at all. It also highlights community-driven efforts to improve local connectivity, and assesses the likely impact of an unprecedented level of federal investment in broadband funding for the future.

The two final fact sheets explore aspects of digital equity that go beyond infrastructure and the cost of connection. These two fact sheets were created with help from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), which works to advance digital equity by supporting community programs and equipping policymakers to act.

The Key Digital Skills for Broadband fact sheet examines the challenges in making sure that everyone who wants to take full advantage of everything the Internet has to offer has the skills to do so. It catalogs the high barriers to entry faced by New Americans, older adults, and other populations, and documents the host of national and local programs that are successfully breaking those barriers down.

And lastly, the Expanding Device Availability for Broadband fact sheet charts the connection between broadband adoption, access, and device use. It offers solutions for a myriad of local contexts, considers the advantages and disadvantages of different models for expanding device ownership and use, and profiles programs that stand able and willing to help communities meet their goals.

How Minnesota can prepare for Digital Equity Act funding

The National Skills Coalition has great advice (in the form of a fact sheet) for advocates of digital equity…

NSC’s new fact sheet recommends six practical steps that skills advocates can take right away:

  1. Connect with your governor’s office or state broadband office to learn which agency has been selected as the Digital Equity Act “administering entity” for your state

  2. Ensure that state officials are aware of any digital equity work that your organization has already been undertaking

  3. Reach out to your state’s administering entity to engage with your state’s Digital Equity Planning process.

  4. Build collaborative relationships with digital inclusion advocates to develop a shared vision for digital equity in your state that includes digital skills.

  5. Educate policymakers, the media, and other stakeholders about what digital skills look like for businesses and workers in your state, and how a strong, clear vision for digital equity can help all state residents.

  6. Stay in touch with National Skills Coalition to learn about new developments in digital equity policy, obtain technical assistance to support your policy advocacy, and connect with other skills advocates working on this issue.

EVENT April 28: TEQuity Forum: Digital Equity Perspectives from Community Members

An event from Minnesota Literacy

TEQuity Forum: Digital Equity Perspectives from Community Members

Date: Thursday, April 28, 2022

Time: 6 – 8 p.m. Central Daylight Time (Not sure what time this is in your time zone? Use an online time zone converter. Make sure to adjust it to the two time zones you need to compare!)

Description: The third TEQuity Services seminar will provide a platform for invited community members to discuss challenges that their communities face with respect to digital equity as well as how organizations have addressed these challenges in the past. The goal is not only to shine a light on equity gaps in our communities, but also to connect potential partners. Literacy Minnesota leading partner in working with others to address challenges and advance opportunities for equitable communities, and we advance this goal through literacy services.

This training is part of the Greater Twin Cities TEQuity Services project. Greater Twin Cities TEQuity Services is a partnership between Literacy Minnesota and the NBC Universal Comcast Foundation. Literacy Minnesota will provide four free trainings for participants who live or work in Anoka, Carver, Dodge, Hennepin, Scott or Washington Counties.

Literacy Minnesota is committed to providing access for people with disabilities at our trainings and events. To request accommodations, please contact Kelly at krynda@literacymn.org or 651-251-9074 at least two weeks in advance.

Advanced registration required!

EVENT April 20: Digital Inclusion 101 Webinar

An event from NDIA…

Digital Inclusion 101 Webinar

April 20 @ 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm EDT

Digital Inclusion practitioners have been working to end the digital divide for decades, creating their own community, definitions, resources, and gaining knowledge of what works and doesn’t. Digital Inclusion is a multifaceted issue that takes time to understand and NDIA is here to help! Registration Required.