Spring cleaning? I know a place for those old cell phones.

Tech Dump is the answer to my excess phone problem! According to Minnesota Business

With outlets in Golden Valley, Bloomington and St. Paul, Tech Dump is an e-waste recycler; its retail arm, Tech Discounts sells used and refurbished electronics.
Operating as a social enterprise, Tech Dump is staffed by people who face barriers to employment. In 2016, Tech Dump employed 76; their goal is to have 100 on staff by the end of this year.

Now Tech Dump has set an ambitious summer goal that will give it the funds to up the number of people it employs. It’s mounting an aggressive campaign to get your cell phones out of your junk drawer and into their hands to be recycled.

“We’ve set a goal of collecting one ton of cell phones. One ton!” LaGrange says. “That will fund 1,000 hours of job training.”

Cell Phone Summer kicks off on June 10th, with a party at the Tech Discounts Bloomington retail store. Tech Dump will accept cell phone donations at its three outlets all summer.

In addition, you can bring your old cell phone(s) to pop-up events at summer events around the Twin Cities. There will be collection bins at Twin Cities Pride, the St. Louis Park Parktacular, Junket Tossed & Found, the Mill City and Northeast Farmers Markets, The Bakken Museum, and all Arc Value Village stores. The campaign concludes with a collection bin and display in the Eco Experience Building at the Minnesota State Fair.

They’ll take anything…

“We want any cell phone—an old flip phone, a device with a broken screen. You think it might be trash, but it can be recycled,” LaGrange says.

They make it safe (for your data)…

LaGrange assures donors that the devices they give to Tech Dump will be efficiently and safely handled, with a guarantee that all data on the cell phones will be destroyed.

Now if I could just find a place for all of the random electrical cords in every corner!

Student cheers broadband in Cook County hopes the same for other MN kids

Careful readers will remember Sammie Garrity as the bright young woman (grade 6!) who joined the Minnesota Broadband Coalition at the Rural Broadband Day on the Hill. She wrote about her experience speaking on the panel and meeting policymakers and shakers.

Sammie is continuing to run with the idea that all students need broadband, so I’m pleased to share her recent letter to the Cook County Herald…

Dear Cook County Herald,

We in Cook County are so lucky to live in a place that has broadband internet service! It makes all kinds of high-quality things happen, and we should all tell our legislators that. I wrote to Sen. Tom Bakk about it and you should too.

For me, as a student, having high-speed access to the internet is super important in doing the best I can on my school work. We just finished our Science Fair, and without access to broadband that allows me to look up facts, pictures and essays/reports written by scientists and doctors, my project would be a failure.

To me broadband is one of the most important things that we have access to. If not, we would not be able to look things up for homework or prepare for college. All of those things are not being granted to other people in our state and I want to make a difference in that. I would appreciate it if you made hundreds of people’s lives easier by getting in contact with our community and spread the word more than everyone has.

Kids in Cook County are also just starting a new digital newspaper at www.borealcorps.org. Without broadband, we couldn’t do that. With it, we can make sure our voices are heard in the community, and we can help connect friends and neighbors.

Thank you Cook County for helping all us students succeed! I hope the rest of the kids in Minnesota get the great broadband service we do!


Sammie Garrity

There’s still a digital divide between rural and urban/suburban

Pew Research reports

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of rural Americans say they have a broadband internet connection at home, up from about a third (35%) in 2007, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in fall 2016. Rural Americans are now 10 percentage points less likely than Americans overall to have home broadband; in 2007, there was a 16-point gap between rural Americans (35%) and all U.S. adults (51%) on this question.

Mobile technology use among rural adults has also risen rapidly, with the share of those owning smartphones and tablets increasing sharply. Ownership of desktop or laptop computers, by contrast, has only slightly risen since 2008.

I was especially surprised at how few people (rural and non-rural) have only one device…

Rural adults also are less likely to have multiple devices that enable them to go online: About three-in-ten adults who live in rural communities (29%) report that they own a desktop or laptop computer, a smartphone, a home broadband connection and a tablet computer; by contrast, 40% of urban adults and 42% of suburban adults own all four of these devices.

I can’t imagine driving to a new place without Google map. I can’t image getting my work done without a laptop. Are these people missing out on mobile apps, are they trying to get “work” done on a smartphone (by work I mean writing reports, job applications, taxes, notes to teachers!) or are there tasks that I do daily that these folks aren’t doing? To be fair – not everyone needs Spotify when they walk but there are a host of apps (and old school computer applications) that make my life easier –that save me time and money.

But sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know and Pew’s final remark gives a glimpse at that…

Despite lower levels of technology ownership and use, only 36% of rural adults say that the government should provide subsidies to help low-income Americans purchase high-speed home internet service, compared with 50% of urban residents and 43% of suburbanites, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

Minnesota hosts National Net Inclusion conference – and we got to show off a little

I spent the last two days attending the National Digital Inclusion Alliance Net Inclusion conference in St Paul. Actually I spent a good chunk of the last couple months helping to plan for the conference. It brought about 200 practitioners and researchers to the area. We learned about what’s going on in other places and we got to show off some of the things Minnesota is doing right. They have PowerPoints and other materials from the conference on the website – so I won’t detail the conference as I often would but thought I’d touch on some high level points and a few stories that struck me.

I hear a lot about the three-legged stool of digital inclusion:

  • Access to equipment
  • Training
  • Affordable broadband

Turns out Minnesota has some pretty good solutions for addressing each.

Access to Equipment – PCs for People

I have written about PCs for People before. They take donated computer, refurbish them and distribute them to low income folks. One story we all love was in Lac qui Parle County. PC for People was distributing computers through the school in December. One woman with tears in her eyes thanked the volunteers as she explained that now she didn’t have to choose between food or Christmas presents. They also repair computers affordably and offer some quick and dirty support to get people started on their computers.

PCs for People is branching out. They are working in other areas such as Denver and Kansas City. They have a good model (for collection, refurbishing, distribution) and it’s working other places.

Training – Northstar Digital Standards

I’ve done a lot of training – how to build a website, use social media, remember the password your grandson used to set up your Hotmail. We all want to build our own curriculum. We might start by borrowing heavily from someone else’s but I think most of us want to have some ownership – we want our own examples. So I’m always a little jaded when it comes to shared curriculum. The Northstar Digital Standards isn’t a curriculum (well they have curriculum too), it’s a set of standards around which you can build a curriculum – like school standards. And it sets a bar that helps folks in the industry – trainers, students and potential employers understand what it means to have received the “email” certificate.

Trainers use testing to figure out where a student in on the ladder of digital inclusion sophistication. Do you know how to use a mouse? Can email with ease? Build a spreadsheet in your sleep? Once that benchmark has been set a student can start learning at a place and pace that’s appropriate for them. There is curriculum you can use of again build your own based on the standards. Students pick up various certificates demonstrating proficiency. And employers can use to understand skill sets. Used to be you could give your word-per-minute typing proficiency and get hired based on that – not a certificate works. Northstar is being used in a number of places in and out of Minnesota. Some attendees got to see it in action on the site tour to PPL. (I did a post earlier about the site tours where attendees bused of walked to various places around the Twin Cities with digital inclusion programs.)

Affordable Access – Office of Broadband Development

The conference was not rural-focused. Many attendees were from urban areas and we heard from Mobile Citizen, which has options for low cost service and Comcast Internet Essentials was a sponsor. But when it came to access for rural areas – the Minnesota got a nice nod for $65 million invested in broadband grants in the last few years and the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development got a nice nod for distributing funds throughout state.

There was also a heated discussion on the FCC and future of Net Neutrality. A lot of discussion on data and what we can learn from evaluation. Evaluation is hard – especially for folks on the frontlines. I don’t that’s a technology-only issue but to make the case to funder and policy makers assessment and evaluation is key.

A voice from the frontlines: satellite is ubiquitous but it has limitations

Last week I wrote about Kirsten K. and her autistic son who isn’t able to get the services he needs without broadband. I think it’s helpful to hear from the rural frontlines, which aren’t as far away or few and far between ad you might think. As Kirsten reminds me, they are rural, not remote. They are right outside Biwabik on Highway 4. She told me the frustration trying out various modes of broadband…

Satellite isn’t enough…and its VERY costly especially for what you get here. Satellite companies will always serve people in very obscure locations and that’s important. But it’s close to monopoly right now with only two satellite providers, Exede and Hughesnet.

My cousin’s son has been unable to use their connection for his schoolwork, he has to drive to a friend’s house in town to take tests or submit papers. It’s also limiting for kids who are home schooling and new high school grads who plan on saving money by going to local community colleges while living at home with the parents in the country.

Sadly, we Highway 4 residents also are denied internet employment options, because most of these require broadband…usually cable or fiber. So in our economically depressed area, we are unable to look out into the cyber world for jobs to support our families. We feel stuck.

Any rain whatsoever, a situation similar to satellite television, the internet goes down. And frequent country power outages will easily fry rented modems that the companies are exceedingly unwilling to replace.

Sheryl E. lives on Norway Drive about a quarter mile north of me. She told me that landlines will no longer be an option soon in our area. She told me that the landline company has encouraged her to drop her landline completely and now is refusing to maintain the line between the main service at the pole and her house. [May 21: working on getting more details on this info.] So if something disrupts the wires coming into her home (just a matter of time with the trees), she will no longer be able to keep and use her landline for dialup (which she claims is faster than her satellite connection most of the time anyway). It’s just crazy. It feels like we are being wiped off the map!

I should add, in our “not so remote” area, we locals joke about there being three drops of rain…so no internet or tv today! But thats a reality. Rain, wind, snow (and we definitely get some snow!) will knock out satellite very reliably. You can almost set your watch by it crashing out.

Insufficient Internet means no more therapy for autistic boy in rural MN

Today I wanted to share a story from Kirsten K just outside Biwabik about her son Dalton. It’s a reminder that not everyone in Minnesota has access to adequate broadband – and not having access limits opportunities. Here’s Kristen’s story…

My son has autism, and because of our lack of sufficient internet service here, they dropped us from his ABA therapy program. Unfortunately, it has very noticeably affected his progress socially and behaviorally. Autistic kids learn extremely effectively by electronic methods, especially videos. However, since moving here from Eveleth a couple years ago, I am sadly unable to offer him the video options that would help him to further develop behavioral and living skills. Autistic children like mine, who usually have limited communication abilities, blossom under the help of therapists who cannot physically travel to my home, but who can bridge the distance with a laptop computer and a face-to-face video call app like Skype or Facetime.

We pretty much gave up on using the dialup. I think it’s pretty obvious to most people that it’s not even usable with today’s technology. We then tried Hughesnet which was extremely costly and worked a total of maybe 15 minutes per day. We finally gave up and turned off the service, losing over three hundred dollars in the process. We now have a small, closely monitored data package on satellite, but it crashes often and is too expensive to help my son with videos.

We had hoped that in due time, a company would want to serve the roughly two hundred households affected by our lack of internet options. We were wrong. We now have as few internet options living four miles from Biwabik as people who live in the middle of a desert or in a forest. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. I was told that Lake Connect gets so many calls from our area, but they don’t have money to come this far. They stop somewhere between Hwy 53 and Cedar Lake, which not far from us either.

MN Broadband Task Force Meeting May 11 Agenda

The Minnesota Broadband Task Force will be meeting on Thursday at SPNN. I will plan to be there to take notes.

Here are the details and agenda:

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
May 11, 2017
St. Paul Neighborhood Network
550 Vandalia Street, Suite 170
Saint Paul, MN 55114

10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

  • 10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Introductions, Approval of Minutes, Public Comments
  • 10:15 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Welcome and Overview of St. Paul Neighborhood Network from Martin Ludden, Executive Director
  • 10:30 a.m. –10:45 a.m. Update from Office of Broadband Development from Danna MacKenzie
  • 10:45 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Overview of Community Technology Empowerment Program (CTEP) from Joel Krogstad, AmeriCorps Program Director, CTEP
  • 11:00 a.m. – 11:20 a.m. Digital Literacy and Critical Thinking from Madison Neece, CTEP Member at Neighborhood House
  • 11:20 a.m. – 11:50 a.m. Varieties of Digital Literacy Training from Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva, CTEP Director of Education and Training and Tom Hackbarth, CTEP Member at SPNN
  • 11:50 a.m. – 12:10 p.m. Tour of SPNN
  • 12:10 p.m. – 12:45 p.m. Lunch
  • 12:45 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. How Community Leaders Build Effective Digital Inclusion Coalitions from John Richard, Pillsbury United Communities
  • 1:15 p.m. – 1:35 p.m. A Question of Justice: Digital Inclusion and Digital Equity from Michelle Andrews, CTEP Member at EMERGE
  • 1:35 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. Update on Legislation
  • 1:45 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Wrap-up, discussion of June meeting