AT&T stops DSL services – leaving areas with less competition

USA Today reports

On Oct. 1, AT&T stopped selling digital-subscriber-line connections, stranding many existing subscribers on those low-speed links and leaving new residents of DSL-only areas without any wired broadband.

“We’re beginning to phase out outdated services like DSL and new orders for the service will no longer be supported after October 1,” a corporate statement sent beforehand read. “Current DSL customers will be able to continue their existing service or where possible upgrade to our 100% fiber network.”

This comes in the shadow of a recent report from NDIA on AT&T’s position based on “An analysis of AT&T’s 21-state network, an August 2020 survey of CWA members, and reports by local advocates in AT&T’s service area,” which reports…

The analysis of AT&T’s network reveals that the company is prioritizing network upgrades to wealthier areas, and leaving lower income communities with outdated technologies. Across the country, the median income for households with fiber available is 34 percent higher than in areas with DSL only — $60,969 compared to $45,500.

A much older report (2016 Industry Analysis and Technology Division Wireline Competition Bureau) that demonstrates that DSL was a rural solution; cable was more prominent in urban settings.

AT&T Wireless is a big player in Minnesota; their wired services are not. But it’s worth watching how this plays out, especially to see if other providers follow in similar footsteps.

Sibley East Public Schools opts for in-person schools; poor broadband is one reason

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

A rural school district southwest of the Twin Cities has become the first to test the limits of the state’s guidelines for school reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board of Sibley East Public Schools voted last month to shift from hybrid to in-person instruction for all students — rejecting the recommendations of the district’s superintendent, state education officials and the state’s virus-count metrics for reopening as the number of local cases rose. Board members said they were following the wishes of a majority of parents, who are struggling to balance work with their children’s complicated schedules, and trying to help students who can’t log on in areas with spotty broadband connections.

And…

Plus, pressure from the community was intensifying. Parents, many of whom commute more than an hour to jobs in the Twin Cities or work in factory jobs or in other positions where working from home isn’t an option, were struggling to balance their schedules with a hybrid school plan. Some areas of the district, which covers the cities of Arlington, Gaylord and Green Isle, lack the broadband connections needed for distance learning.

Sibley County ranks 49 (out 87) for broadband access with only 63 percent of the county have access to 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up; and only 74 percent having access to 25/3 access. I have talked to groups in several counties about their broadband coverage and most report that with multiple people working and/or taking classes online that 25/3 is not fast enough.

46 percent of MN school CARES funding so far going to technology

MinnPost reports on how CARES funding is being spent in the schools in Minnesota. First a quick summary of the programs…

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Minnesota schools have received access to three main buckets of federal funding to help get students back to school safely. That includes $244.8 million via the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), $38 million via the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, and $140.1 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) aid.

Each comes with its own parameters of allowable uses and timeline. The bulk of these dollars are allocated on a per pupil basis, with some priority given to low-income students. And while the amounts available are largely non-competitive, school leaders must still submit a budget application to the Minnesota Department of Education for approval in order to access their funds.

As of Wednesday, the state Department of Education reports that only $111 million in applications, across all three buckets of funds, had been approved. Since there’s a tighter deadline for CRF funds — in which applications must be signed and approved by Oct. 1, with funds spent by Dec. 30 — the bulk of applications received to date fall into this category.

There’s still a lot of money to be requested but early days, it looks like technology is the biggest request…

By the end of last week, the Minnesota Department of Education had only approved about $9 million in budget applications submitted across all three buckets of funding. Breaking that amount down into eight categories, about 46 percent of budgeted items fell into the “technology” category. Expenses in the “instructional support” and “operating” categories made up another 41 percent of that amount, with the remainder falling under the following categories: transportation, nursing, non-instructional support, contracts and other.

What can Census 2020 teach us about online communication and the digital divide?

This week, the Daily Yonder posts an interesting look at moving the Census online. I wrote about the process at the beginning of the year and most of us have seen it as it rolls out. The Census assumed that 80 percent of us would want to take the Census online. So they sent cards to us. And then not everyone complied so they sent more. Still no movement in some areas. So apparently they sent paper version that look just like the reminders people had been ignoring.

Of course the situation was made much worse by COVID. Ironically the Census thought they could change society as COVID has by just expecting people to move to online communication without giving them a choice. It hasn’t worked…

The digital divide is far more complex than not having the availability of broadband infrastructure where one lives or works. Mere availability is a significant yet separate problem from personal affordability of broadband. Which is distinct from actual adoption and practical use of the expensive, fee-for-service communications infrastructure. All of which also require additional, expensive tools including fairly new hardware and very recent software, and a place where they are available.  Clearly, we have a long way to go to eliminate the challenges that will enable everyone to more fully embrace and participate in all things digital — including Census 2020.

This is why consumer advocates relentlessly explain to policymakers and companies that digital-only communications are not for everyone. Printed and digital options are necessary for full inclusion and broader participation in commerce and community. Collectively, we need to appreciate that so many of our neighbors report difficulties in accessing online technologies, have security concerns about online fraud or require paper communications for practical reasons. The digital divide is not limited to older adults, low-income households without computers or broadband service, people in rural areas where unreliable internet access is common, minority populations in urban areas with theoretical availability but not affordable access, and the one in four people living with a disability of some kind that are three times more likely to say that they never go online.

I share this for two reasons. First it’s a good reminder to those of us in the digital world that there are those who do not live here – some because of availability of broadband, devices or skills and some due more to choice, privacy or other concerns. So when we want to reach them, we need to give options. Sending paper census forms at the onset (with a link to take online) may have increased participation and at this point saved money.

Secondly, there are efforts to extend the deadline for the Census, which may be interesting to anyone working with a population they feel is going to be underrepresented for any reason. (And Census results will most likely have an impact on future broadband funding.)

The future of a vibrant, inclusive and fully counted America needs an accurate Census 2020 that is not irreparably damaged by unwavering plans and artificial deadlines. Our country cannot afford a lack of will to learn and adapt under urgent circumstances — and must take the additional steps with extended timelines to assure fully representative results. Keep Me Posted urges Congress to immediately pass legislation to extend the legal deadline for Census 2020 — and implores the Census Bureau to send a paper form to all non-responsive residences in an envelope clearly marked “Final Notice: Paper Form Enclosed — Postage Paid” along with robust and safe in-person measures to count communities historically known to be a challenge to include as required by our Nation’s founding document.

 

ConnectedMN Awards $2.1 Million to Orgs Serving Digital Access Needs of Minnesota Students

ConnectedMN reports…

To address digital inequities faced by students in Minnesota, Partnership for a ConnectedMN, a public-private partnership of private businesses, philanthropic entities and community leaders, today announced that it has awarded $2.1 million in grants to 23 nonprofits serving the connectivity needs of students and their families. ConnectedMN grants will support an estimated 154,000 students and families in urban and rural communities gain access to computing devices, critical support services and the internet.

ConnectedMN was founded by Best Buy, Comcast, Blandin Foundation, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Business Partnership, in collaboration with the administration of Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. In June, ConnectedMN announced that their goal was to bring technology and internet access to students most challenged by the sudden shift to online school, including Indigenous and students of color, as well as students from low-income families across urban and rural Minnesota.

The announcement was made at St Anne’s Place, which is part of Having Housing shelters in North Minneapolis. In the spirit of full disclosure, my worlds collided in the best way today when I got to cover broadband expansion and visit with my good friend Monica Nilsson, CEO of Having Housing. I have heard Monica talk about how hard it is for the kids at the shelter to go to school and do homework, especially during COVID. There may have been some camaraderie pre-COVID of everyone trying to work in the corner of the room by the window where you could get a signal – that is if you had a device. But with COVID, the kids are distanced and everyone needs a computer as most schools in Hennepin County are online or hybrid.

COVID is deepening the digital and opportunity gaps; today was a nice example of how we can try to stop that trends. Below Monica details what they are doing with labs, devices to check out and things like noise-cancelling headphones and laptop tables that help kids learn without barrier.

Grants have been awarded to:

  • Aeon Housing
  • Austin Aspires
  • Boys & Girls Club of Leech Lake
  • Centro Tyrone Guzman
  • CHANGE INC
  • East Central MN Education Cable Cooperative
  • FamilyMeans
  • Haven Housing
  • Itasca Area School Collaborative – Deer River ISD-317
  • Little Crow Tele-media Network
  • Local Initiatives Support Corporation – Duluth
  • Minisinaakwaang Leadership Academy
  • MN Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs
  • Neighborhood House
  • New Vision Foundation
  • Northfield Healthy Community Initiative
  • NW Links -Region 1
  • PORT Group Home Inc
  • Project FINE – Winona Co.
  • Project for Pride in Living
  • ResourceWest
  • South Central Service Cooperative
  • Southwest West Central Services Coop

NDIA looks at worst connected mid-large cities 2019 – includes some Minnesota cities

National Digital Inclusion Alliance reports on the worst served medium and larger cities. Some Minnesota cities are listed – but none are in the top 100 list. St Cloud is close at 102 but the list is long. Maple Grove makes the list but it’s ranking is in the 600s.

So I share this information more to let folks know what’s out there and because it’s nice to have specific data on cities. Here’s the background from the NDIA…

According to the latest data from the U.S. Census, at least 30% of households in 185 large and medium-size U.S. cities still lack a wireline broadband connection in 2019.

These are NDIA’s Worst Connected Cities of 2019.

Released by the U.S. Census Bureau in September 2020, the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) One-Year Estimates includes household Internet access data for a total of 625 U.S. cities or Census designated places with populations of 65,000 or more.

NDIA has ranked all 625 of these communities by two categories:

  • the percentage of households without Wireline broadband subscriptions, defined by the ACS as “Broadband such as cable, fiber optic or DSL,” and

  • the percentage of each community’s households that lacked broadband Internet subscriptions of any type, including mobile data plans.

And here are details on MN cities…

MN college students donate devices to help senior connect with doctors

KSTP TV reports…

The pandemic has left many people feeling lonely and often, it’s our seniors who are especially isolated.

Now a group of Minnesota college students is providing technology to keep them connected to their doctors.

“It’s just really fulfilling,” said Saketh Kollipara, Sophomore at Emory University.

On Friday the students made a special delivery dropping off used iPads, smartphones and laptops.

“A lot of our patients don’t have access to these types of devices,” said Abbie Zahler, director of Community Health and Grants Management at the Neighborhood Healthsource Fremont Clinic.

It’s all part of the student run, national non-profit called Telehealth Access For Seniors, and local students raised money to make sure local patients at the Neighborhood Healthsource Freemont Clinic and Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis have the resources to better connect with their doctors.

Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking: Finances and COVID

Since 2013, the Federal Reserve Board has conducted the Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED), which measures the economic well-being of U.S. households and identifies potential risks to their finances. Recognizing the unprecedented financial disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Reserve conducted a supplemental survey in April and July 2020 to monitor changes in the financial well-being of Americans.

The survey is conducting entirely online. So folks are the very far end of the digital divide are likely not included. It would interesting to know the impact of online only. It would also be interested in know the impact of having sufficient broadband among people who have gone back to work, hope to go back and those who aren’t likely to go back to the same job.

Many kids in the Twin Cities are distance learning – tough for kids experiencing homelessness

I have been talking to folks in different counties about broadband and COVID. I think everyone I’ve talked to outside of the St Paul and Minneapolis has been using hybrid or full schedule in person classrooms. They are preparing for a change and most deal with families who opt for online only but most folks have kids in school at least part time.

That’s not the case in the Cities. My daughter in St Paul – all distance. Most of our neighbors – all distance. There are some exceptions. It’s hard all around but I think it’s hardest for the folks experiencing homelessness. MinnPost recently wrote about what’s happening to serve those in flux…

It’s the sort of resource barrier that districts are working to remove for many families. Both the Minneapolis and St. Paul Public Schools districts say they are checking in with their homeless and highly mobile families, to see if they still qualify for added services this year. But even that first step — simply connecting and sharing resources that are available, like hotspots — can be complicated, especially during a virtual-only start to the school year. Here’s a closer look at how both Twin Cities districts are supporting their homeless and highly mobile populations during distance learning at the outset of this school year.

Here is what they have been able to do…

Prior to the pandemic and resulting shift to distance learning, the St. Paul Public Schools district had already deployed a one-to-one iPad program, districtwide. District staff still had to troubleshoot internet access issues with families — and McInerney says she and her team have been helping deliver hotspots and devices to students who may be doubled up with other families in neighboring communities. But having that technology piece in place certainly made for a smoother transition.

In the Minneapolis district, students experiencing homelessness were among the hardest hit last spring. When schools shut down and all learning got pushed to a virtual format in March, Kinzley says her team identified about 1,600 students, out of about 1,900, without access to a computer or internet. “We had that gap to fill in a very short amount of time,” she said, noting engagement data dropped off initially and began to pick up again around week three, once more devices and hotspots had been distributed.

“We’re in a much better place this fall, but there are so many other barriers to engagement, beyond just making sure people have what they need,” she said.

Heading into the 2020-2021 school year, she and her team have been taking a pretty individualized approach, connecting with families to see how they can help remove barriers to distance learning. Sometimes that means sending a staff member out to a family, so they can borrow a cellphone, or arranging a cab so a parent can access registration or another school service. Beyond that, it’s more so a matter of getting word out about the various resources available to families — things like free school meal delivery for those unable to coordinate a curb-side pickup, and access to rental assistance through the Stable Homes, Stable Schools initiative, a partnership between the city, the district and other local entities.

Lack of good broadband access is a strong predictor of childhood poverty: true in MN too?

Steven Ross at Broadband Communities has taken a deep dive into broadband and children in poverty and kids who take more than four years to complete school (or education). He looks at the top and bottom counties in each state in aggregate, he found…

Lack of good broadband access is a strong predictor of childhood poverty. That’s the finding of Broadband Communities’ recent analysis combining county-level broadband data it has collected since 2010 with comprehensive, county-level poverty data compiled by the nonprofit organization Save the Children.

These are pre-COVID numbers but he ascertains that the situation is likely worse now…

All data in this article refers to a pre-COVID United States, but broadband disparities now are even worse than they were at the start of 2020 given work-from-home and distance-learning demands brought on by the pandemic. In urban areas where access is available but not always affordable, providers usually have made it available free or at low cost during the COVID-19 lockdown. Almost half of all rural homes have no broadband at any price.

Ross goes on to look at rural versus metro and other interesting factors, but I’m always interested in the Minnesota perspective. So I’m taking a deeper dive based on his study. Because we have local mapping, I have used those rankings (25/3 and 100/20) to look at broadband. And I found percentage of children in poverty a little differently; I used SAIPE State and County Estimates for 2018 (same year as Ross) and their percentage of children (0-17) in poverty. I can pretend this was a check and balance but really it was an easier way to get very similar info with less math for me.

I looked at the top and lowest broadband ranking counties and it aligns with Ross’s work. The top counties had average lower poverty rates and the top counties with faster broadbnd (100/20 vs 25/3) had the lowest averate rates:

  1. Top 10 counties for broadband (100/20), the average poverty rate is 13.54 percent
  2. Bottom 10 counties for broadband (100/20), the average poverty rate is 16 percent
  3. Top 10 counties for broadband (25/3), the average poverty rate is 14.85 percent
  4. Bottom 10 counties for broadband (25/3), the average poverty rate is 16.47 percent
  5. The state poverty rate is 18 percent

I’ve included a table below that compares the broadband coverage and poverty rate. To get some broad swth view, I’ve highlighted in yellow the lower half of the poverty rates and the higher percentages of broadband coverage. So you’d like to see your county come up all yellow.

As Ross points out in his report, this doesn’t tell us cause or effect but there does seem to be a connection.

Policy plans and proposals to make broadband affordable for all

CNN Business posts an editorial from Gigi Sohn. The details are more on affordability than access. I only note that because often I’m more focused on availability in rural Minnesota. But while availability is necessary, it is not sufficient. And whatever solution is created to make broadband more affordable to all, will ensure that when rural areas get broadband residents in the community will get it equitably.

She starts with a recap of where we are…

Roughly 162 million Americans don’t have access to the internet at broadband speeds due to high prices and a lack of faster options, according to a 2019 study from Microsoft. Meanwhile, there are estimates that anywhere from 21 million to 42 million Americans lack access to any broadband at all.

Minorities and low-income Americans, particularly in urban areas, are disproportionately on the wrong side of this digital divide. Only 56% of American families making less than $30,000 annually have a broadband connection at home. And 66% of Black and 61% of Hispanic adults have home broadband, compared to 79% of Whites.

The current support system…

Currently, low-income Americans receive a $9.25 monthly subsidy through the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program, a small stipend that must be spent on either cell phone, telephone, broadband or cable service. While this decades-old subsidy provides essential aid to low-income communities, it’s simply not enough to help the most vulnerable Americans afford the kind of robust broadband connectivity needed to participate in our society and our economy.

And movement toward improvement…

In recognition of this shortfall and in response to the pandemic, last May the House passed the Heroes Act, which still awaits Senate approval. This legislation earmarks $5.5 billion to help expand broadband access to underserved areas, and another $8.8 billion to provide a $50 per month discount on broadband service to help low-income Americans and the recently unemployed to pay for broadband access. That discount jumps to $75 per month for those living in tribal areas.

Several other proposals before Congress, including Democratic Representative Marc Veasy’s Emergency Broadband Connections Act of 2020 and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden’s Emergency Broadband Connections Act of 2020, not only seek to offer similar discounts, but also authorize US libraries to provide broadband service beyond the confines of their property lines.

These bills acknowledge the urgent importance of expanding essential internet access during a public health crisis. The Moving Forward Act, passed by the House in July, would make the $50 per month discount permanent, in recognition that the digital divide will not magically disappear once the virus is under control.

EVENT Sep 12: CODE SWITCH – hackfest

I have participated in hackfasts in the past. It’s a great way to get inovlved, meet new people and stretch your tech and/or collboaration muscles. The event is online this year, which opens up the door to everyone regardless of location. Here’s more info from Code Switch

Code Switch is a civic hackathon in which community leverage data and technology to change our community.

Code Switch includes techies AND non-techies: from developers to entrepreneurs, artists, educators, business professionals, concerned residents, everyday people and more! Projects can be technical or non-technical. Ideas and solutions can be proposed by anybody (yes, anybody). You don’t need a detailed plan, only a desire for change.

We believe every person has a role to play in solving our community’s toughest problems, and CODE SWITCH is that OPPORTUNITY.

This year, we are redesigning our annual hackathon. We will launch a digital platform where you can submit your ideas, form a team and work on your projects. On September 12, the National Civic Day of Hacking, we will kick off Code Switch, with teams forming and starting to work on projects. In late October, we will celebrate and award project support resources to top projects, and convene a conversation with local and industry leaders on ways to continue furthering equity and justice.

Catholic Spirit admonishes US for lack of ubiquitous broadband

The Catholic Spirit reports…

Network disruptions, while not as many as feared across the United States, were still fairly common. Children whose parents had no access to Wi-Fi, or broadband — or even a computer — were in the virtual dark, left to pretty much fend for themselves for the rest of the school year.

During school systems’ summer vacation, more districts were planning to reopen on a hybrid model, with students alternating days between in-person and online learning. Then the positive COVID-19 test results started to spike, and the number of deaths started to climb again, especially in the southern part of the country.

Meanwhile, personal computers — laptops, tablets and the like — were selling like hotcakes, leading to shortages. Some schools cut deals with Google to furnish Chromebooks for their students — who, of course, would use Google Classroom, Google Hangouts, Gmail and more.

They highlight some issues in Minnesota…

Comcast has extended its “Internet Essentials” offer to low-income households, although complaints have arisen about uneven access and other problems. One Minnesota mother tried it before the pandemic, and said the data limit and frequent, time-consuming updates made it “the biggest headache on earth” and not worth the $9.95 monthly fee.

Roughly 25,000 Minnesota students didn’t have computers or internet at home by late spring, about 3% of the state’s K-12 students, the Minnesota Department of Education estimated, with little progress in addressing the problem over the summer.

They quote Jabari Simama…

In his book “Civil Rights to Cyber Rights,” Simama wrote that the United States had “a moral obligation to see that broadband becomes universally accessible and beneficial to the public.” The urgency of the pandemic, he argued, may actually be “an opportunity to finally make significant progress on these digital issues.”

Distance learning highlights inequities – like lack of broadband

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on the start if the schoolyear during a pandemic…

Teachers know that distance learning highlights all the inequities of the world outside the schoolhouse walls.

Some kids live in homes with high-speed internet. Some live in the blank spaces in Minnesota’s rural broadband map. In the spring, early in the shutdown, some students and teachers had to drive to the nearest McDonald’s parking lot to find a decent Wi-Fi signal.

Some parents speak the same language as their children’s teachers. Some parents are home during the day to supervise and help with online classwork.

Some parents can afford school supplies this year.

Voorhees is doing what teachers have always done: digging into her own pocket to make sure her students have the supplies they need.

EVENTS: Net Inclusion Webinar Series: Wedsnesdays Sep 16 thru November 4

This seems to be a format that works well for catching up or leanring about broadband topics. NDIA announces...

The Net Inclusion Conference has been a staple in the Digital Inclusion community for years, bringing hundreds of practitioners, advocates, academics, Internet service providers, and policymakers together to share their knowledge.

With social distancing in place, NDIA will host the “Net Inclusion 2020 Webinar Series” to replace the conference.

This Series will include eight one hour webinars, every Wednesday at 2 PM ET starting September 16th through November 4th. All webinars will include an optional 30 minutes wrap up for an information conversation with panelists and fellow participants. These webinars will be interactive panel discussions with expert practitioners from the field and partners with resources to share.

Panelists will continue to be announced as confirmed. Webinars are free and open to everyone. Registration is required. One registration will gain access to all selected webinars.

Check the NDIA website for upcming speakers – it’s a great list!