Lunch Bunch on Digital Use and Equity Archive: Share a success story

This big week of inaugural events includes the inaugural meeting of the Lunch Bunch on Digital Use and Equity. We had a 20-25 people attend – perfect for chat and connecting with each other. We spent a lot of time on the introductions – in part because the attendance grew as we spoke but it was worth it to learn more about each other. For example, I now know at least two people who could help me fill out the forms to get an FCC radio license.

It was also nice to have a mix of rural and Twin Cities folks; I hope that will help facilitate more working together. A silver lining of all of the pandemic restriction is that because everything is online these days, it’s easier to work with people in all locations without traveling. Of course the flip side is that it deepens the digital divide for those without access.

We had folks on the frontlines of teaching, librarians, policy folks, smart city folks and engineers. If this were my Destination Imagination team, I’d feel pretty good about our ability to problem solve. And there are open seats at the table next month if you want to join us.

A quick reminder – the Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch series includes 2 monthly sessions. Sessions will alternate between Broadband Infrastructure (2nd Weds) and  Digital Use and Equity (3rd Weds).

Feb 10, Broadband Infrastructure session will focus on how to work with legislators – more on that soon! Feb 17, Digital Use and Equity is still open. We surveyed folks about future topics today and will report back.

Frontier and CenturyLink report they may not have met CAF II deployment deadlines for 2020 – in MN and other states

Telecompetitor reports

The CAF II program awarded funding to the nation’s larger carriers to bring broadband to unserved and underserved rural areas within their local service territories. Frontier accepted $283 million in funding annually and CenturyLink accepted $514 million annually.

Funding recipients were given six years to complete buildouts to a specific number of locations and were given interim deadlines to complete deployment to a specific percentage of locations.

In a letter to the FCC, CenturyLink said it met or exceeded the program’s December 31, 2020 milestone in 10 states but may not have met the 100% milestone in 23 states. Frontier told the FCC that it met the year-end 2020 milestone in eight states but may not have reached it in 17 other states.

The companies must report more definitive deployment data by March 1.

Last year at this time, Frontier said it had met the CAF II deployment milestones for year-end 2019 in 16 states but might not have met the target in 13 others. CenturyLink said it had met milestones in 10 states but might miss the target in 23 others.

Frontier filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April 2020, but attributed this year’s deployment delays to the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than the bankruptcy.

Neither company reports meeting their goals in Minnesota…

According to CenturyLink, states for which the company may not have met its 2020 CAF II deployment target include Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

States for which Frontier may not have met its 2020 CAF II deployment target include Alabama, Arizona, California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

Frontier said it expects to meet its final CAF II deployment milestone by June 30 in all outstanding states except Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, where the expected completion date is September 30.

The frustration is that this leaves many people without broadband – again. The goal is to build to 25/3 (even lower in some areas) and they haven’t done that. To put that in perspective, it does not get them closer to the MN State speed goal of 100/20 by 2026. In Minnesota we are used to the State MN border to border broadband grant rules where project must build networks that are scalable to 100/100. That is not the case with these networks and getting to 25/3 does not mean getting to 100/20 will be easier.

Also there is the concern for customers that the promise or threat of building has kept competitors out of their market. The promise of a CAF II network has made it more difficult for the communities to get funding from other sources. CAF II funding focused on the providers only – communities didn’t not sign up or on to the program.

EVENT Jan 21: Lunch Bunch on Digital Use and Equity: Share a success story

Just letting folks know that this session has moved to Jan 21, to not conflict with the inauguration on Jan 20. We have more than 30 people signed up. Please join us!

Lunch Bunch on Digital Use and Equity Jan 21: Share a success story

Pleasure join us for the inaugural Lunch Bunch on Digital Use and Equity Jan 21 from noon to 1pm. It’s an opportunity to talk turkey with colleagues and cohorts around Minnesota and beyond! Normally they will be on a specific (but loose) topic but to get the ball rolling, I wanted to invite planner and folks from the front lines to share their best stories of success. Please come and brag!

It will give us some good ideas to replicate. It will give us stories to share with legislators. Most of all, it will help set the stage of success for 2021!

(Register now – for the first, all or several of the upcoming sessions.)

National Skills Coalition shares examples, data and meaning of digital skills in workers and the workplace

Thank you to Amanda Bergson-Shilcock from the National Skills Coalition for sharing her presentation, American Workers’ Digital Skills: What the data tells us. The presentation includes:

  • Examples of digital skills in the workplace
  • Data of US Workers’ foundational digital skills
  • What the data means
  • How we can connect the dots for policymakers

The presentation was given in June so COVID is part of the picture, which is important since COVID has changed nearly everything we do – and some of the changes are likely here to stay.

I don’t want to be a spoiler but it includes great examples like how KFC created a VR (virtual reality) escape room to train new employees. You can’t escape until you demonstrate the correct 6-step chicken frying process. There are lists of OSHA-approved construction training online – designed for tablets and smartphones. There’s AR (augmented reality) training for Boeing assembly workers – turns out fewer mistakes than with tradition or traditional-online training.

Where we are sitting with digital skills is not great – 13 percent of those surveyed had no digital skills and 18 percent had limited skills. Those percentages varied by industry; 18 percent of hospitality workers had no digital skills. Their jobs are among the most vulnerable during the pandemic. Working from home becomes a lot more difficult without digital skills. Even if you could sew, bake, fix cars or do something else skilled offline – you’d almost need to promote online to get work during the pandemic.

A surprising statistic – 20 percent of workers with no digital skills are supervisors. That is putting the supervised workers and the employer at risk as I assume someone without digital skills would be hesitant to adopt new technologies. (There are exceptions; I remember a farmer near retirement who hired a young, precision ag expert to learn the ropes as the current team retired out.)

The thing that wasn’t surprising to me is that lack of digital skill impacts all demographics – in other words, there are “kids” without digital skills too. Being able to text without looking or post an Instagram picture is not how they assess digital skills. Everyone needs to learn digital skills. Some pick them up more quickly than others – but no one is born knowing how to add bullet points to a document. Not surprising is the greater gap seen with workers of color and/or immigrants. Structural racism helps drive digital skills gaps.

The presentation is interesting and easy to browse through. If you don’t have people in your life without digital skills or if the only ones you have are long past retirement, it’s easy to think the issues is smaller than it is.

Pine and Carlton County residents run into troubles trying to stay connected

Moose Lake Star Gazette reports

Ryan Stewart’s, Moose Lake High School Principal, image froze on the screens of the Moose Lake School Board. He was making a presentation of a new grading option designed to help students recover their Grade Point Averages after struggling in Distance Learning. His daughter was home from college and also online.

To fix his internet connection problems Stewart needed to pause his presentation and ask his daughter to disconnect from the internet. Internet connection problems are a common one to have in areas around our community, but they make working and learning from home even more difficult.

Willow River Schools have provided mobile internet hotspots to students who are struggling to connect. At their most recent school board meeting school administrators were happy to report that with the recent purchase and set up of 25 additional hotspots all families who requested help connecting were able to receive a device.

The article goes on to provide several helpful tips to improve access by monitoring use and rebooting, helpful but the answer should be at a higher level. And they get to that too with an update of where state and federal funding from broadband stand today…

Rural areas have struggled to gain access to reliable internet connections for years. Legislative projects at both the state and federal level have been working to create a reliable source of internet connection for all. Broadband is simply a way of identifying internet connection to a router or wired connection. Connection to broadband creates the wireless connections within a home or area.

EVENT Jan 15: NDIA Community Call – hot topic is federal funding

NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance) hosts two Zoom calls a month that are open to the public on the first and third Fridays of the month. I just got a little sneak peek at what tomorrow’s call is going to be like. If you’re interested in federal funding for broadband expansion (deployment and adoption!), I recommend you join the call tomorrow at noon (MN time).

And if you want to hit the round running (or get a preview of what happens on the call, you can check out the archive from their call on Dec 23, which includes an overview of the bill. (Video on the call below.)

OPPORTUNITY: Nominate 2021 Digital Equity Champion!

The deadline is Feb 12, 2021

Named for Charles Benton, the founder of Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, NDIA created the awards to recognize leadership and dedication in advancing digital equity: from promoting the ideal of accessible and affordable communications technology for all Americans to crafting programs and policies that make it a reality.

NDIA will present two awards: the Digital Equity Champion Award will recognize an outstanding individual who has made a difference in the field of digital equity, while the Emerging Leader Award will acknowledge an up-and-coming digital inclusion practitioner. Awards will be presented during NDIA’s Net Inclusion webinar.

Award Criteria

To be successful, nominees should exhibit:

  • Sustained commitment to digital inclusion programs, practices, and/or policy work,
  • Applied innovative approaches to addressing and solving problems,
  • Extensive use of data and evaluation to shape digital inclusion programs and share best practices,
  • Demonstrated leadership in his/her community, and/or
  • Collaboration that can be scaled and replicated.

Federal stimulus will help pay internet bills and boost broadband access across Minnesota

I have written about this funding earlier; the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Carla Green spends about six hours a day on her computer, studying for her GED, selling custom scents and doing other work.

Green, 26, has been struggling to pay $60 a month for wired internet service in her International Falls apartment — something she needs to make a better life, she says.

So she reached out to a local community action program for help and is waiting to get a provided hotspot, which she hopes will be fast and reliable enough for her school work.

Recognizing the millions of households in Green’s situation, Congress designated emergency help for families to acquire and keep internet service in the latest federal COVID-19 relief package.

The $900 billion stimulus includes $7 billion for broadband and network infrastructure initiatives, including $3.2 billion for emergency help with monthly bills for service. Rural areas, tribal governments and other underserved populations will benefit as well.

Here are some of the details on the programs that directly support current customers…

In the stimulus package, about $3.2 billion is slated to help financially struggling households with up to $50 a month for internet service (or $75 per month for those on tribal lands) with payments going directly to the service providers. Those eligible could include households with children on free and reduced school lunches, Pell Grant recipients or the recently unemployed, according to an analysis by the alliance.

The Federal Communications Commission, which is tasked with figuring out how to administer the program, is taking public comment through Feb. 16.

Details on deployment investment…

In addition, $300 million will go to expand broadband in rural areas. In Minnesota, about 17% of rural homes do not have wire line internet service with download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second, and are considered “unserved.”

About $65 million will go to improve the accuracy of broadband availability maps — one of several measures U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has advocated as co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus.

And the impact of COVID on the digital divide and vice versa…

As more business has gone online during the pandemic, it has widened the divide between those who have internet and those who don’t, he said, prompting those without internet to pay bills and make purchases in person.

“How can you limit your exposure to the coronavirus when you have to go everywhere for everything?” Meyer said.

Perhaps most importantly, the pandemic made internet access even more of a necessity for school and work, too, when millions of students and employees were sent home for distance learning and working.

Federal funds going to telehealth tools to help at-risk native elders

WCCO News reports that more than $500,000 from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund will be used to provide equipment and technology to at-risk native elders…

The Minnesota Department of Human Services announced that home health care tools are being sent to Native American elders to help keep them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, the DHS said blood pressure monitors, pulse oximeters and other technology that supports telehealth and behavioral health visits are currently on their way to native elders in communities around Minnesota.

Following a grant contract with the DHS, the Native American Community Clinic in south Minneapolis and the Northwest Indian Community Development Center in Bemidji are distributing the infection prevention tools.

OPPORTUNITY: NDIA Job Description for Deputy Director

The NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance) is hiring

The Deputy Director works closely with the Executive Director in all management, administrative, and operations processes of NDIA. This is a new position and requires a change maker who is innovative, detail-oriented and self-motivated. This position is a unique opportunity to strengthen the field of digital inclusion and a young high impact organization.

In alignment with our values and commitment to equity, we place a strong emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. We are actively seeking people of color to apply.

Salary Range: $95,000-$110,000

MN HF1 Economic Assistance including for broadband is introduced in the House

MN House of Representatives Daily Intro to Bills (Jan 7) reports

Noor introduced:

  1. F. 1,A bill for an act relating to economic assistance; providing assistance for housing, the Minnesota family investment program, food, and broadband; appropriating and transferring money.

The bill was read for the first time and referred to the Committee on Housing Finance and Policy.

And more details (I’ve only included the intro and article 4 – the portions that related to broadband.)…

A bill for an act
relating to economic assistance; providing assistance for housing, the Minnesota
family investment program, food, and broadband; appropriating and transferring
money.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MINNESOTA:

ARTICLE 4

BROADBAND

Section 1. new text beginBROADBAND GRANT PROGRAM; TRANSFER.new text end

new text begin$35,000,000 in fiscal year 2022 and $35,000,000 in fiscal year 2023 are transferred from
the general fund to the commissioner of employment and economic development for deposit
in the border-to-border broadband fund account established in Minnesota Statutes, section
116J.396, subdivision 1, for the purposes specified in Minnesota Statutes, section 116J.396,
subdivision 2.

EFFECTIVE DATE.

This section is effective the day following final enactment.

Rural communities shouldn’t settle for temporary broadband fixes

Wisconsin State Farmer is looking at the role for satellite in bridging the digital divide. They talk to a rural resident who has it and is much happier than he was without it and they talk about the investment that the federal government (via RDOF) is about to make in satellite. They also talked to Bernadine Joselyn who warned that satellite is just a piece of the puzzle…

More likely, it will take multiple technologies to bridge the digital abyss — including some not so cosmic such as transmitters mounted on barn silos. Even powerlines strung along country roads could someday be used for internet access.

Still, rural communities shouldn’t settle for temporary fixes, says Bernadine Joselyn with the Blandin Foundation, a Grand Rapids, Minnesota nonprofit that’s helped rural Minnesotans gain broadband access.

“We encourage communities to be ambitious in choosing their partners. They ought to be looking for a marriage partner, not a prom date,” Joselyn said.

Minnesota has set high goals. By 2026, it aims to make speeds of at least 100 Mbps for downloads and 20 Mbps for uploads available to all homes and businesses. Wisconsin has a goal of 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 for uploads in the next few years, in line with the current definition of broadband set by the Federal Communications Commission.

It will take much more public investment to reach those goals, according to Joselyn, even though Wisconsin state government has spent about $49 million on rural broadband in the last six years and Minnesota $84 million.

“For Wisconsin to really make strides, you need a bigger fund. The other problem is affordability. It’s a huge barrier for many people,” Joselyn said.

Minnesota Farm Bureau recognizes COVID’s role in making broadband essential in Minnesota

KTOE reports

Minnesota Farm Bureau president Kevin Paap says one of the things he’s learned during the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of reliable broadband, especially in rural areas of the state:

“It was important before but when you’ve got one, two parents working from home. You’ve got multiple children many times learning from home, we really understood the importance of high speed having that width in broadband.”

More than 150,000 Minnesota households don’t have access to high-speed broadband internet, a longstanding disparity.

FCC Seeks Public Input On New $3.2 Billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

The FCC is looking for input…

Initiative to Connect Low-Income Households Funded Through Recent
Congressional Appropriation Responds to FCC’s Call to Keep Americans Connected
WASHINGTON, January 4, 2021—The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau today issued a request for comment on how best to administer a new $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program created by Congress to help low-income
consumers access the Internet. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 directed the Commission to create the program, which would reimburse participating companies for providing discounted broadband service and connected devices to eligible households during
the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re excited to get to work on this new program, which responds to my call last June for Congress to fund a program to advance the Keep Americans Connected initiative that we launched when the pandemic started,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will go a long way to ensuring that low-income American families and veterans are connected during the pandemic, and that students can engage in remote learning with support from the program’s funding for connected devices. Our staff is moving quickly to stand up this program so we can quickly direct funding to consumers who need the help, while also guarding against waste, fraud, and abuse. We look forward to getting public
input on how best to structure this effort.”
The Consolidated Appropriations Act sets forth several requirements for the program: To participate in the program, a provider must elect to participate and either be designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier or be approved by the Commission. Participating providers will make available to eligible households a monthly discount off the standard rate for an Internet service offering and associated equipment, up to $50 per month. On Tribal
lands, the monthly discount may be up to $75 per month.
Participating providers will receive reimbursement from the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program for the discounts provided. Participating providers that also supply an eligible household with a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet (connected device) for use during the
emergency period may receive a single reimbursement of up to $100 for the connected device, if the charge to the eligible household for that device is more than $10 but less than $50. An eligible household may receive only one supported device. Providers must submit certain
certifications to the Commission to receive reimbursement from the program, and the Commission is required to adopt audit requirements to ensure provider compliance and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse. In structuring the program, the Commission seeks input on a range of
issues including:
 Which providers can participate in the program and what do such providers need to do
to elect to participate?
 How should the Commission set up an expedited process for approving broadband
providers for areas where they are not eligible telecommunications carriers?
 How should the Commission and providers track participating households and verify
that they are eligible?
 What services and connected devices are eligible for reimbursement from the program?
 How should the Commission structure the reimbursement process?
 What rules are needed to ensure appropriate service on Tribal lands?
 How should the Commission and participating providers promote awareness of the
program?
 What requirements are needed for robust auditing and enforcement of federal rules?
 What reporting requirements are needed both during the program and at its conclusion?

And if you need some ideas, you can check out yesterday’s post on the NDIA’s take on the act. I expect they will come out with some recommendations soon. If you’re very interested in the discussion, you can check in with NDIA on how to be a part of them.

Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 Update from NDIA

I’m sharing the following email post from Sean Davis at NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance) with permission. It’s a concise breakdown of what the Act will mean on the front lines of the digital divide…

The Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 (COVID Relief bill) includes several provisions that address broadband deployment and digital inclusion, particularly broadband affordability.

In the bill, there is $3.2 billion for an Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which will reimburse internet service providers (ISPs) for providing broadband service and devices to low-income households.

In order to take advantage, a member of the household must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Be Lifeline eligible
  • Eligible for existing discount broadband programs
  • Have children eligible for free and reduced school lunches
  • Have a household member who is a Pell Grant recipient
  • Have a household member who is unemployed.

At the moment, here are the important details to keep in mind:

  • The FCC is required to create regulations implementing the program in 60 days after the date of the bill’s enactment, including a 20 day public comment (due Jan. 25th) and 20 day public reply comment (due February 16th) periods.
  • Households will get a benefit of up to $50 per month for internet service ($75 on tribal lands).
  • The eligible service plans must have been offered by a broadband provider as of December 1, 2020.
  • ISP participation in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program is voluntary.

Additionally, the Act lists digital inclusion and broadband adoption as activities eligible for funding within “Tribal Connectivity” and the “Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives”.

The Act provides $1 billion for Tribal connectivity to expand access to and adoption of broadband service on Tribal land; or remote learning, telework, or telehealth resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants may request grant funds for:

  • broadband infrastructure deployment,
  • affordable broadband programs, including— providing free or reduced-cost broadband service; and preventing disconnection of existing broadband service;
  • distance learning;
  • telehealth;
  • digital inclusion efforts; and
  • broadband adoption activities.

The Act also provides $300 million for the creation of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives within NTIA to engage in digital inclusion efforts including:

 

  • collaborate with Federal Agencies to facilitate broadband internet service programs and expand them to anchor communities.
  • collaborate with State, local, and Tribal governments, historically Black colleges or universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges or Universities, Minority-serving institutions, and stakeholders in various fields to support digital inclusion efforts for the recipients’ respective communities.

Since the bill has just been signed into law, there are many aspects and details that have not been ironed out. However, the Act allows for input, which NDIA plans to give. You will hear from us soon on this.

For more information please visit NDIA’s blog post with our overview of the Consolidated Appropriations Act.