HBC offers free internet to guests in transitional housing in Winona

HBC reports

Helping the homeless has been heavy on the heart of Carla Burton, founder and Executive Director of Grace Place in Winona for many years. It has been part of her vision since Grace Place Ministry began in 1992, offering shelter and safe housing for young, single mothers.

Burton’s dream of being able to offer transitional housing to help individuals and families get back on their feet came true this past January when Grace Place purchased the former Catholic Worker House at 802 W. 6th Street in Winona. With the help of volunteers, the home has been refreshed with new paint and repairs made.

Burton said it was a challenge to get the home ready for families, “We purchased the home in January 2020 and we all know what happened a few months later with COVID-19. But we had the help of volunteers who repainted walls, and Habitat for Humanity took care of needed repairs,” she said.

For its part, Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC) will be donating Internet service for the home’s guests. Burton said having access to the Internet will play an important role in getting people back on their feet.

“Without Internet what would you do,” asked Burton. “Nearly everything needed to get a job requires an Internet connection including learning new skills, finding job opportunities, and emailing job applications and resumes.”

Two things that are close to my heart! Having volunteered time with people experiencing homelessness, I have seen how important broadband access is. It is the connection to a potential job, to friends and family, to finding resources such as a bed for the night or getting into the system for more support. It is a gift that is like offering someone a fishing pole. It’s a tool to help someone help themselves.

Report finds strong correlation between broadband availability and jobs and GDP growth

Deloitte released a report that looks at Return on Investment in broadband. They look at advantages of faster speeds and the need to focus on adoption and affordability…

Today, the digital divide still presents a significant gap after more than $100 billion of infrastructure investment has been allocated by the US government over the past decade to address this issue. The current debate regarding additional funds for broadband deployment implies that further examination is warranted regarding how to get to broadband for all and achieve the resulting economic prosperity.

Quantifying the economic impact of bridging the digital divide clearly shows the criticality of broadband infrastructure to the US economy. Deloitte developed economic models to evaluate the relationship between broadband and economic growth. Our models indicate that a 10-percentage-point increase of broadband penetration in 2016 would have resulted in more than 806,000 additional jobs in 2019, or an average annual increase of 269,000 jobs. Moreover, we found a strong correlation between broadband availability and jobs and GDP growth. A 10-percentage-point increase of broadband access in 2014 would have resulted in more than 875,000 additional US jobs and $186B more in economic output in 2019. The analysis also showed that higher broadband speeds drive noticeable improvements in job growth, albeit with diminishing returns. As an example, the gain in jobs from 50 to 100 Mbps is more than the gain in jobs from 100 to 150 Mbps.

The findings suggest further analysis is warranted before setting too high a threshold for broadband speeds (both uplink and downlink). Doing so could discourage investment in promising new technology that doesn’t yet meet predetermined thresholds but offers potential cost and rapid deployment advantages over today’s solutions. Furthermore, innovative solutions can help spawn a competitive broadband environment that improves affordability of broadband for all households. Overly stringent mandates on speed, on the other hand, run the risk of ruling out these innovations before they gain a market foothold.

Stakeholders should focus on several considerations as they move forward.

  • Place a renewed emphasis on adoption and affordability by ensuring consistent user experiences, analyzing trade-offs between delivering higher speeds and innovative new technologies, and seeking diverse solutions for unique, underserved geographies.
  • Segment underserved US geographies into more granular categories that recognize the vastly different coverage and affordability needs of underserved geographies.
  • Incorporate the expected growth in broadband consumption into future investments and programs by utilizing subscriber data (e.g., running an FCC speed test).

Bridging the digital divide will likely require public or private investment in the country’s communications infrastructure including both wireless and wireline. Regardless of the specifics of the investment, these guiding principles can help yield immediate gains in providing affordable access to underserved segments of the population and move the nation closer toward broadband for all and bridging the digital divide.

Biden wants to lower broadband costs – industry says they’ve done that through subsidies but we need lower for all

Axios reports

President Biden’s promise to cut the price of Americans’ internet bills has provoked a fierce lobbying campaign by cable and telecom companies to prove that the cost of broadband has already dropped.

Why it matters: Internet providers are desperate to fend off any move to regulate the prices they charge, while the government is increasingly viewing connectivity as an essential service.

State of play: Internet industry lobbyists are publicly touting studies showing a decline in prices, attacking reports that argue otherwise and telling members of Congress there’s no need for new regulations because they already have affordable programs in place.

The article goes into detail about what’s happening, why it’s happening and the implications. The issue is that President Biden is looking to make broadband more affordable to everyone and the providers talk about ways to subsidize low income customers. There’s a difference. There’s a difference in who might be paying the subsidy. For example, the Emergency Broadband Benefit provides $50/month to low income households for broadband ($75 in tribal areas) and that is public money. There’s a difference in who qualifies for subsidies.

For many users, just lowering the price would lower the barrier and make it more affordable and sustainable to keep a connection. In fact, at a lower rate providers might get more customers who don’t need the subsidy.

A few years ago, I re-posted a letter from former Blandin Broadband Strategy Board member who explained the difference from the frontlines…

However, these subsidized programs exclude the working poor, and working and middle class who still need affordable internet; and we really need to make Internet affordable for all. …

During that time I found out there was a new cheaper fiber option in my neighborhood through US Internet, and so I switched over and ended up saving about $500 a year. I put away that money and put $300 into a retirement account, spent $100 on groceries, and spent $100 towards travel.

Thanks to this new internet option I was unexpectedly able to save more for retirement and take a much needed vacation. Well, I told everyone about US Internet, but became shocked to hear that cheaper internet wasn’t an option for some because of the neighborhoods they lived in. (Fiber networks like Google Fiber and US Internet are often relegated to upper class neighborhoods because of a guaranteed profit). In Twin Cities the current internet service system makes working people in poorer neighborhoods have fewer, but more expensive, internet service provider options.

Low-Cost Devices Matter for Broadband Policy

I just bought one of my kids a computer – a Mac something. She had tried to go cheap and in the end that computer didn’t meet her needs as an emerging artist. She was trying to get hired to go logos and run social media on her phone or the iPad she shares with her sister, in the end it tarnished her experience and her employability. I’m invested in her employability and learning to shift some of her art online so I was able to make the investment. But I wanted to make her promise not to tell her sisters! Computers are expensive. But I know having people use broadband with the wrong tool can backfire.

Communities need to make the same decision to invest in all members of their community to increase employability, which will in turn increase demand for broadband.

I got back to my desk and ran into Colin Rhinesmith’s article no this exact topic (Why Low-Cost Devices Matter for Broadband Policy). I’ll excerpt the portion that highlight’s Minnesota’s PCs for People…

In my report, I wrote that “low-cost or free computers are often just as important as having access to low-cost or free internet options.” Half of the organizations that participated in my study recognized that this tactic was a key part of their broader digital inclusion efforts. I also learned that many of these organizations worked to refurbish and resell computers at more affordable prices.

PCs for People—in Saint Paul, Minnesota—was one of the organizations that I visited. The organization makes desktop and laptop computers accessible for individuals and families with limited monthly incomes. In Benton’s Innovators in Digital Inclusion series, National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director Angela Siefer explained, “PCs for People’s strategy is to: 1) procure high-quality, retired electronics from corporations, 2) leverage automation to efficiently refurbish computers, and 3) distribute equipment nationally at a lower cost than any other organization.” The PCs for People location in Saint Paul also made it incredibly convenient to access for individuals and families and, as such, became a trusted community institution.

During my visit to PCs for People (pictured left), I learned why low-cost devices were just as important as low-cost broadband service. As Casey Sorensen, PCs for People Executive Director explained,

Our average client is a family of three, usually a single parent and two kids, and they make about $12,000 a year. So they don’t have a lot of discretionary money that they can spend on services or products, but they do have some ability to pay. We found that if they provide a little bit of funds for a computer, they will treat it a little bit better. They will spend more time with it if they can make an investment in it, and most of the families that we are working with do want to make investments. They understand that getting a computer is a once-in-every-three-years purchase that they have never been able to do before, and our challenge is how do we make that at a price point that they can afford?

Many community members also told me that while they had internet access on their phones, they found it nearly impossible to apply for jobs on such small screens.

Just recently I wrote about folks who didn’t have broadband at home – cost, cost of computers and no interest were on the shortlist…

Some 27% of adults – up from 17% in 2019 – say they do not have broadband at home for some other reason, including 11% who say it is because they are not interested, do not care for it or do not need it.

Broadband non-adopters were asked which, among the reasons they mentioned, was the most important reason they did not have a broadband subscription at home.2 Some 27% of non-broadband users say the most important reason for not having broadband at home is cost – including 20% who say a monthly broadband subscription is too expensive and 7% who say a computer is too expensive.

I suspect many of those without interest have just not been given the right tool.

US 2021 Digital Equity Act proposes $1 billion in grants for digital inclusion

NDIA (National Digital Inclusion Alliance) reports

Originally introduced in April 2019 by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (WA), and reintroduced in 2021 the Digital Equity Act proposes to authorize more than $1 billion in Federal grant funding over the next five years to support digital inclusion programs throughout U.S. states and territories.

The Senate bill has been cosponsored by Senator Portman (OH).

The Digital Equity Act would create two major Federal grant programs, operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), to promote digital equity nationwide. The proposed funding for each program is $125 million per year for five years — a total of up to $1.25 billion.

One program would be carried out through state governments, with funding allocated by formula, and would incorporate state-by-state digital equity planning followed by implementation grants to qualifying programs.

The other would be an annual national competitive grant program, run by the NTIA, to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, and/or communities of interest anywhere in the U.S.

The Digital Equity Act references definitions of “Digital Inclusion” and “Digital Equity” developed by NDIA.

The NDIA has a host of tools to understand more, act and spread the word.

More white patients get COVID tested via telehealth; more black patients tested in ER

The UK Daily Mail reports…

White patients were more likely to be screened for Covid-19 during telehealth visits during the pandemic than their peers of other races, a new study suggests.

A research team led by members of the Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute analyzed health record data at Hennepin Healthcare, a safety net hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to gauge when people were tested for COVID-19 based on a variety of demographic factors.

Researchers found that white patients were significantly more likely to receive a Covid-19 test than all other racial groups when they performed a doctors visit via telehealth, accounting for 64.5 percent of all tests.

Black patients received only nine percent of Covid-19 screenings performed by telehealth, while accounting for 45 percent of tests performed in an emergency department.

Black and white patients were around evenly likely to receive a Covid-19 screening in an in-patient setting, at 35.7 percent and 37.6 percent respectfully.

Researchers noted that patients who were receiving their tests in an emergency room or in-patient setting were more likely to need more intensive treatment, as their case of the virus was caught later than those who were screened via telehealth.

Non-English speakers were also tested less online (and off)…

Patients who speak English received a majority of the screenings no matter the setting, including a whopping 88 percent of screenings  performed via telehealth, and nearly 70 percent of tests overall.

They give some reasons…

Not all Americans have access to the stable internet connection necessary to access telehealth.

There is also a problem with insurers not knowing how to bill the visits properly, though many states, like Illinois, have passed laws regulating telehealth visits as normal doctor visits in terms of insurance and billing, preventing patients from being denied these visits by their insurance.

Researchers may have found another potential disparity in this study, though, as more research goes into the system that may be the future of medical care.

Health equity in Covid-19 testing was a problem early on in the pandemic as well, with the CDC reporting that ethnic minorities often faced barriers such as discrimination, transportation, lack of health care and more to not receiving same access as their white counterparts.

Many underserved, primarily minority, communities also were left without the needed supply of tests early on in the pandemic.

32,638 MN households enroll in Emergency Broadband Benefits

USAC (Universal Service Admin Co) reports on enrollments and claims for Emergency Broadband Benefits (EBB). As of June 7, 32,638 MN households had enrolled. According to Erik Flock at E-Rate Central, that is 1.5 percent of the Minnesota total households. Compared to other states, Minnesota ranks 30th for adoption rates. Louisiana has highest adoption rate (4.7 percent) and North Dakota has the lowest (.2 percent) with the statewide adoption rate is 1.9 percent.

Want to know more about EBB? Or want to help others find out about it? Send them to GetEmergencyBroadband.org.

US home broadband at 77 percent according to Pew

Pew Research reports

Smartphone ownership (85%) and home broadband subscriptions (77%) have increased among American adults since 2019 – from 81% and 73% respectively. Though modest, both increases are statistically significant and come at a time when a majority of Americans say the internet has been important to them personally. And 91% of adults report having at least one of these technologies.

A Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults conducted from Jan. 25 to Feb. 8, 2021, also finds that some Americans have difficulties when trying to go online. Some 30% of adults say they often or sometimes experience problems connecting to the internet at home, including 9% who say such problems happen often. Still, a majority of Americans say these connection troubles occur rarely (41%) or never (21%).

I’m always interested in what they find out about who isn’t online…

While a growing share of Americans say they have a high-speed internet subscription at home, 23% do not.

Financial barriers are among the more common reasons why Americans do not subscribe to high-speed internet at home: 45% of non-broadband users say a reason is that the monthly cost of a subscription is too expensive, while about four-in-ten cite the cost of a computer as too expensive.

Similar shares of non-broadband users say a reason is they have other options for internet access outside of home (46%) or their smartphone lets them do everything online that they need to do (45%). A smaller share of Americans (25%) say they do not have a home subscription because broadband service is not available where they live or not available at an acceptable speed.

Some 27% of adults – up from 17% in 2019 – say they do not have broadband at home for some other reason, including 11% who say it is because they are not interested, do not care for it or do not need it.

Broadband non-adopters were asked which, among the reasons they mentioned, was the most important reason they did not have a broadband subscription at home.2 Some 27% of non-broadband users say the most important reason for not having broadband at home is cost – including 20% who say a monthly broadband subscription is too expensive and 7% who say a computer is too expensive.

A Guide to help libraries build telehealth centers

Something for my librarian friends, a guide helps libraries build telehealth centers – Shhhhhh! The Doctor’s In. Guide to Connecting Library Patrons to Better Health

This guide lays out how to a) get to the heart of patrons’ healthcare needs, b) create something that’s never been done in your community before, and c) market your telehealth and broadband grant proposal. More than video chats, telehealth uses intranets and Internet networks to observe, diagnose, initiate or otherwise medically intervene, administer, monitor, record, and/or report on the continuum of care people receive when ill, injured, or wanting to stay well. I’ll take this definition one step further and differentiate between 1) real-time telehealth, 2) store-and-forward telehealth, and 3) “passive” telehealth.

A little more info…

This guide lays out a straightforward needs assessment process so you get a representative portrait of how telehealth can benefit the community. Libraries reach out and touch virtually everyone in their communities across the entire economic spectrum, so it’s quite exciting to imagine telehealth capabilities at work. Healthcare professionals weigh in on how to get the maximum impact from telehealth technology in your library. The guide also gives you tips and pointers on getting the best from your IT investment. Not only does it address access to broadband but also broadband and telehealth adoption and training. Ultimately, it takes funding to transform community dreams into reality. The guide offers insights into federal grant programs that fund libraries and telehealth: the FCC’s E-rate program, the Institute for Museums and Library Services (IMLS), and Health & Human Services (HHS), plus links to other valuable resources that help you.

Student Home Connectivity Study: how students do homework in 13 rural, urban and suburban school districts

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) has released a study on Student Home Connectivity. It looks at how students were able to get online from home in 13 US school districts. They look at speeds, devices, mobility and other factors that impact a student’s ability to do their homework. School districts include urban, rural and suburban school districts with an eye toward providing actionable recommendations for policymakers.

Here’s a summary of their findings…

The findings and recommendations in this report are divided into four distinct topics. The recommendations in this report should be considered a guide for school leaders to support local decisions. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to implementing supports for student home internet connectivity. In fact, it is evident that no one solution will meet the needs of all students. Therefore, school districts must use a variety of strategies and interventions to ensure digital equity. The findings in this report are organized into four topics:

  1. Learning with Video is Essential for Education
  2. Students are Mobile and Rely on WiFi
  3. Certain Communities, Especially Remote and Rural Areas, Require More Support and Resources
  4. The Remote Learning Experience is Significantly Impacted by Device Quality

Learning with Video is Essential for Education

  • Over 85% of network traffic in remote learning is used for video (both synchronous and asynchronous).
  • A sufficient upload speed is critical for uninterrupted participation in synchronous video.
  • A sufficient download speed is critical for uninterrupted viewing of synchronous or asynchronous video.
  • Video-intensive content and applications are increasing in use and this trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Students are Mobile and Rely on WiFi

  • Many students participate in online learning activities outside of the student’s home, including joining from peers’ homes, and even attending classes from other cities, states, and countries.
  • 92% of students use WiFi instead of a wired connection, which makes it critical to address home WiFi issues.
  • Alongside district-provided devices, students often concurrently use mobile devices, such as their personal phone or tablet, which contributes to increased home bandwidth needs.

Certain Communities, Especially in Remote and Rural Areas, Require More Support and Resources

  • Students in more remote or rural areas most often have limited internet access.
  • Students working in areas with a large concentration of students may experience poor connectivity.
  • Even students from higher socioeconomic families have frequent problems in remote learning/online meeting experiences.

The Remote Learning Experience is Significantly Impacted by Device Quality

  • Quality of student experience can be impacted by age, type, and quality of device, as well as device configuration (i.e., user authentication and network filtering tools).
  • Student experience can be improved by routinely collecting datasets that provide insight into the student use of district-provided devices.

Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch Notes and Video

Thanks so much to everyone who came to the Lunch Bunch today. There was no focused topic – we heard about what folks are doing and what questions are coming up. Highlight is funding. Folks are wondering how the various federal, county and state streams of funding are going to work together. Can ARPA (American Recovery Plan Act) funding go to areas that have qualified for RDOF? It seems like maybe. Will state grants come from the state or federal budget? Which and how will folks decide which buckets are the best fit for funding broadband? How can we manage the Emergency Broadband Benefits for households?

So many questions and a lot of educated guesses and some shared resources – also shared from the chat below.. The video is very much like eavesdropping on a conversation but I thought I’d share for folks who want to know.

Chat:

12:31:21 From  Teresa Kittridge  to  Everyone: Home page: www.100ruralwomen.org. Webinar series: https://100ruralwomen.org/projects/breakfastclub/. And our 100 in 100 project: https://100ruralwomen.org/projects/100-in-100/

12:40:27 From  Michelle Marotzke  to  Everyone: michelle.marotzke@mmrdc.org

12:48:12 From  Jennifer Frost  to  Everyone: OBD has listed some resources on EBB on our Digital Inclusion page at this link: https://mn.gov/deed/programs-services/broadband/adoption/

12:57:35 From  Scott Cole-ConnectedMN/Collectivity  to  Everyone: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ZU9gj6PVXE8Co8rMVr-8x3PvCeYV4OhR/view?usp=sharing

12:57:58 From  Mary Magnuson (she/her)  to  Everyone: The next infrastructure Lunch Bunch is June 9. Register: https://blandinfoundation-org.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMucOygqT4oE9z8V1akDGePCae1FdkwYCz0

12:58:39 From  Jennifer Frost  to  Everyone: The grant examples can be found at this site https://mn.gov/deed/programs-services/broadband/maps/recordings.jsp

12:59:56 From  Ashley Schweitzer  to  Everyone: If folks are interested in the ECF funding, Benton has some analysis

Access and Impacts Report: tracking Internet Essentials customers before the pandemic

The Technology Policy Institute just released a report on Access and Impacts: Exploring how internet access at home and online training shape people’s online behavior and perspectives about their lives

This research addresses these questions through a survey of subscribers to Comcast’s Internet Essentials pro[1]gram. The 2020 survey was fielded prior to the pandemic; it has a total of 618 respondents. The research also has a longitudinal design by which 218 respondents from a 2018 survey were called back in 2020.

They look at three questions:

  • How does having access at home shape people’s online behavior?
  • What factors may influence people’s online behavior once they subscribe?
  • Does having home internet access affect how people view their lives?

Here are the high level findings:

A study of Comcast Internet Essentials customers finds that home broadband service has…

A home access effect: 81% of IE subscribers say it helps a lot in carrying out online tasks, which in turn is correlated with:

  • Acquiring more computing devices
  • Expanding the scope of online activities
  • Optimism about the future

A digital skills effect, which is limited to the 34% of IE users who have had formal digital skills training.

  • Skills training is linked to higher levels of confidence in digital skills
  • This, in turn, has a link to greater internet use for education and other purposes
  • There is a correlation between digital skills training and people’s optimism about their futures

Looking at people’s digital skills training experience shows that:

  • Education is a large motivator for pursuing training

  • Learning how to better manage privacy and security of personal information also plays a role

  • Both in-person and online modes of training matter to users.

  • The time and location of training matters to those who pursue it, and many say a time that better fits their schedules would improve the training experience

EVENT TOMORROW: Lunch Bunch on Digital Use and Inclusion – noon to 1pm

Just a reminder that we’re meeting Wednesday (tomorrow) to chat about Digital Use and Inclusion. In the spirit of summer starting – it’s an open topic day. So please bring your questions, your answers, your updates. We’re happy for it all.

I know the Emergency Broadband Benefits have been a hot topic on various chat groups. The MN legislature is a limbo – the budget spreadsheets are expected on Friday if anyone has more info on that. Or I just did a some quick research on telehealth. In other words, we’re wide open.

Register here.

Cable/broadband average costs almost $1200 annually in US

Telecompetitor reports

Americans spend $147 billion annually – an average of $1,141 annually per household on cable and internet bills, according to an analysis of household cable/internet spending from doxo based on anonymized billing data. More than four-in-five households (82%) pay cable and internet bills, which average $116 a month.

The research suggests that the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which pays $50 a month ($75 in tribal areas) toward the cost of internet service for low-income families, could help considerably with paying broadband bills.

Minneapolis made the lowest price list…

The five major municipalities with the highest average internet and cable bills were New York ($133), Boston ($129), St. Louis ($125), Los Angeles ($123) and Kansas City, Mo. ($121). The five major municipalities with the lowest average monthly internet and cable bills were Salt Lake City ($98), Miami ($101), Minneapolis ($101), Philadelphia ($106) and Denver ($108).

Cable and internet bills amount to 2% of consumers’ income per year, according to doxo’s analysis of household cable/internet spending data.

FTC suing Frontier for internet that’s too slow

Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

The Federal Trade Commission and six states are suing Frontier Communications for not delivering the internet speeds it promised customers and charging them for better, more expensive service than they actually got.

In its complaint, filed Wednesday in federal court in California, the FTC said thousands of Frontier customers have complained that the company was not delivering promised speeds. Customers said they couldn’t use the internet service for the online activities they should have been able to.

The complaint concerns what’s called DSL internet, an older type of network that’s sent over copper telephone wires. Phone and cable companies today build networks which can handle much faster speeds. The FTC says Frontier provides DSL service to 1.3 million customers in 25 states, mostly in rural areas. It has about 3 million internet customers overall.

Minnesota is not part of the suit but…

The Minnesota attorney general’s office settled with Frontier last July over possible deceptive billing practices. The company agreed to disclose its prices to new customers before they get service and said it would pay $750,000 in restitution to customers. It also agreed to invest at least $10 million over four years to improve its broadband network in the state. West Virginia in 2015 required the company to spend $150 million to boost internet speeds for rural customers as part of a settlement.

[Added May 20, 7:41pm]

The folks from Frontier have asked me to include post their response to the original article…

Frontier Communications Parent, Inc. (“Frontier”), today responded to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission and State officials in Arizona, California, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin claiming that Frontier made material misrepresentations to consumers in descriptions of its digital subscriber line (“DSL”) Internet services.

The following can be attributed to a spokesperson for Frontier:

“Frontier believes the lawsuit is without merit. The plaintiffs’ complaint includes baseless allegations, overstates any possible monetary harm to Frontier’s customers and disregards important facts including the following:

 

  • Frontier offers Internet service in some of the country’s most rural areas that often have challenging terrain, are more sparsely populated and are the most difficult to serve.
  • Frontier’s rural DSL Internet service was enthusiastically welcomed when it was launched and has retained many satisfied customers over the years.
  • Frontier’s DSL Internet speeds have been clearly and accurately articulated, defined and described in the Company’s marketing materials and disclosures.

Frontier will present a vigorous defense.”