OPPORTUNITY: Pine County Digital Inclusion Survey

Here’s an opportunity for folks in Pine County and an idea for other communities as Pine County News reports

The Pine County Digital Connection Committee is conducting a digital inclusion survey in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development’s Office of Broadband Development (OBD), to gather information to inform the digital equity plan that the OBD is preparing as part of the federal Digital Equity Act.

OBD defines digital inclusion as the condition in which all Minnesotans have the option and opportunity to use technology – including internet access – in ways that bring meaning to their daily lives. The feedback and insights provided through this survey will profoundly shape the content of the digital equity plan and play a significant role in determining the state’s future strategies to advance digital inclusion.

The survey can completed online until June 20, 2023 at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/R/T2LG6ZB or scan this QR code with your camera on a smartphone:

Those without access to the internet can complete a paper survey.  Copies of the paper survey are available at the Office of the County Administrator, Pine County Courthouse, 635 Northridge Drive, Suite 200, Pine City.

Frontier Communications plans to stick with copper for 3-5 years

Fierce Telecom reports

Frontier Communications still has hundreds of thousands of copper passings, but it doesn’t seem like that footprint will be taken offline anytime soon. CEO Nick Jeffery said during an investor conference this week the operator thinks it can get more bang for its buck deploying fiber than decommissioning copper – at least in the short term.

Jeffery has a history with turning down copper networks, having done so several times in his previous role as CEO of Vodafone UK. He said Frontier has studied the process in “great detail,” with early pilots showing “it’s possible” and “an important source of savings.” But, he added, Frontier expects the majority of savings in the short term to come from fiberizing copper customers rather than decommissioning copper.

“I think full copper decommissioning, central office grooming and all of that sort of stuff is important. But I think when we think about the next use of an incremental dollar, it’s much better spent building fiber in the short run versus copper decommissioning,” he said, noting fiber customers make fewer customer service calls and require fewer truck rolls. “I think full copper decommissioning will be important but I think in a three to five year time horizon.”

Imagine if you lived in an area with copper and you knew there was no plan to convert any time soon. According to a press release from 2020, they have 90,000 customers in Minnesota; I don’t know if they are copper or fiber…

Frontier provides telephone and internet service to approximately 90,000 customers in Minnesota, many of whom live outside the Minneapolis–Saint Paul metro area and have limited options for high-speed internet service.

The good news is that apparently Frontier will be talking to them…

That said, Frontier isn’t planning to ignore copper customers until fiber arrives. Jeffery said it is making “very targeted investments” in its copper network, for instance in areas where weather events disproportionately degrade performance. He added it has started communicating with its copper customers again, “which is something the old Frontier had never done.”

Apparently Frontier has a lot of copper and may have plans to get more with government subsidies…

As of the end of Q1 2023, Frontier still had nearly twice as many copper passings as fiber, with 9.9 million copper and 5.5 million fiber locations covered. But the reverse was true of its customer statistics, with 1.6 million fiber broadband customers to 987,000 copper customers. Overall fiber penetration as a percentage of total passings stood at 32.2% while copper was at 11.3%. Fiber penetration within its fiber footprint specifically, however, was 43.5%.

But Frontier isn’t planning to convert all of its copper customers to fiber. Frontier’s Chief Strategy Officer Vishal Dixit previously said it will see how many additional copper customers it can reach with the help of government subsidies.

OPPORTUNITY: more funding to promote the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)

The FCC announces funding opportunities…

The Federal Communications Commission today announced details for additional outreach grant opportunities to promote the Affordable Connectivity
Program (ACP). The outreach grants seek to enlist targeted trusted community messengers to develop innovative outreach strategies to reach historically unserved and underserved communities.
With today’s announcement, the Commission is issuing two Notices of Funding Opportunity (NOFOs) for up to $10 million, targeting $5 million for the National Competitive Outreach Program (NCOP) and $5 million for the Tribal Competitive Outreach Program (TCOP). Eligible NCOP applicants must submit applications by no later than 6:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) on June 30, 2023. Eligible TCOP applicants must submit applications by no later than 6:00 p.m. EDT on July 28, 2023. …

The ACP is a $14.2 billion FCC program created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that helps
ensure that qualifying low-income households can afford the broadband they need for work,
school, healthcare, and more. The program plays an integral role in helping to bridge the
broadband affordability gap.
Additional information and resources
For questions about the grant opportunities, contact ACPGrants@fcc.gov. For assistance using
www.grants.gov, please contact the Help Desk at (800) 518-4726 or email support@grants.gov.
For Section 504 Compliance support, please contact the FCC Section 504 Compliance Officer at
To find out about eligibility requirements and apply for ACP, go to GetInternet.gov


MN high school tech education is the worst

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports

In the next 10 years, Minnesota businesses will have to fill 81,000 tech jobs, including 45,000 in the next five years, vacancies mostly from retirements and job changes to other states, according to the Minnesota Technology Association (MTA). In that same span, there will be an additional 6,500 IT jobs.

Minnesota projects to produce only 6,600 new tech workers by 2032, not nearly enough to address all the positions.

Technology is a profitable career choice…

As of 2022, there are roughly 110,000 tech employees in the state. That figure ranks 18th among the 50 states, according the Computing Technology Industry Association. A year ago, Minnesota ranked 12th in net tech employment.

Experts forecast the state’s unemployment rate for tech occupations to stay at 1.1% through 2027. Software developers and analysts are the most sought after workers in Minnesota with more than 7,000 positions advertised each month, though employers fill only 1 in 4 of those positions each month.

In Minnesota, the annual median tech wage is $94,715, 106% higher than the state’s median wage. Depriving students, especially those living in underrepresented communities, from high salaries can be a detriment to the state’s economy, experts said.

Schools are not helping…

Minnesota ranks last in the U.S. in the percentage of high schools offering computer science coursework with only 21% doing so. Of those schools, 12% are in urban areas, according to MTA. The national average of states whose schools offer computer science courses is 53%.

Meanwhile in Iowa, 71% of high schools offer a computer science course, and in Wisconsin, it’s 66%. North Dakota recently signed into law a bill that makes taking at least one computer science or cybersecurity course a requirement for graduation.

EVENT: June 17: Community broadband discussion in Wiscoy Township (Winona County)

The Winona Post reports

The Minnesota Department of Economic Expansion is helping host a Digital Inclusion Committee in Wiscoy Township in southern Winona County. The committee will receive community feedback from folks that are lacking good broadband access, then use this information to help write Minnesota’s Digital Equity Plan.

The committee is being hosted by resident Dan Wilson. “Minnesota is expected to invest more than $275 million in broadband internet expansion in the next couple years, and I wanted to make sure that rural voices are a part of the conversation on how to spend it,” Wilson said.

The community conversation is open to anyone in the area lacking access to high-speed broadband. The group will discuss the impact of not having good internet access and possible solutions. The meeting will take place on Saturday, June 17, from 2-3:30 p.m. at 30935 Zephyr Valley Lane, Rushford. Refreshments will be provided.

I assume this meeting is part of the outreach for the State’s Digital Equity Plan being written by the Office of Broadband Development.

NTIA Commits Nearly $500,000 in Internet for All Grants to White Earth in MN

NTIA  reports

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced today it has awarded grants totaling $4,997,592.68 to 10 Tribes as part of the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (TBCP).

With funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, these new grants bring the total of the program to over $1.77 billion awarded to 157 Tribal entities. Record investments in high-speed internet deployment are a key part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda.

These grants from President Biden’s Internet for All initiative will help reduce monthly Internet service costs, plan for future Internet infrastructure investments, upgrade network equipment, and purchase devices.

White Earth Band of Chippewa in MN was one of 10 recipients:

They received $500,000.00: This Broadband Use and Adoption project will equip 6 community centers/business incubators with computer stations and online training courses for the approximately 3,343 White Earth Tribal Members.

Minnesota Broadband ranks 39 by Broadband Now

Every year, I write up MN broadband county report, including a ranking. It’s an opportunity for some counties to bask in the glory and lights a fire under some others. It’s good to know where you stand and why. It was great to see that Broadband Now has just ranked states by broadband access to broadband including access to low price plans and fiber-optics – and the quality of their internet. It was less great to see that Minnesota ranked 39. Here are the details:


  • Rank: 39
  • Wired / Fixed Wireless Broadband (%): 95.6
  • Wired Low-Priced Broadband (%): 11.1
  • Fiber-Optic Service (%): 38.1
  • Median RTT (Round Trip Time aka latency): 17.7
    RTT Score: 16.28
  • Median Download Speed: 64.3
  • Download Score: 38.57
  • Median Upload Speed: 11.2

Turns out as a nation, we’re not doing well with access to low cost broadband, which they define as $60 per month or less. The great discrepancy is RTT (latency).

I am most frustrated with Minnesota’s median upload speed. It’s what I hear about most from folks who are frustrated with their broadband. Upload speeds, to me, indicate interaction such as learning and working. Upload is where consumers become producers. It’s the tool you need if you want to thrive online or use the online world to thrive.

EVENT May 18: Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Help your community because digitally accessible

This is an invitation from the City of Minneapolis. They have a whole team that focus on technology and digital inclusion. Many Minnesota cities, town and counties do not. If wish you had such a team, this might be a great one-hour, online session for you…

Join the City of Minneapolis as we celebrate GAAD on Thursday, May 18

Digital inclusion: It’s an ongoing journey toward accessibility May 18, 2023

11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. CDT

Register for this free event<https://app.smartsheet.com/b/form/dba7b9f4256947c083a4ffd7cf2c30e7>

About the session

Making key changes to your website and the digital services that you offer can create a better experience for everyone. We call this digital accessibility.

Join our session to learn how the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County are creating a more positive, inclusive digital experience for all.

In our session, you’ll learn:

*   How we’re making our organization’s digital experience more accessible.

*   How to make digital content accessible for all the ways that people think and those who’ve experienced trauma.

*   Resources to help people learn how to use technology and the internet.

*   Assistive technology and help offered at Hennepin County Libraries.

*   Ways to work with others to make things more accessible for everyone.

*   We encourage government employees to attend. This free event is open for anyone to attend.

Who should attend

We encourage government employees to attend, especially those in Minnesota. This free event is open for anyone to attend.

Visit our event webpage for more information.

EVENT May 15: Paul Bunyan Communications and Red Lake Nation Affordable Connectivity Program Sign Up Day

I share for the folks in the area who might benefit (please tell a friend who isn’t online and might benefit). I also share for other communities that might host a similar event…

Paul Bunyan Communications and the Red Lake Nation are holding another a sign-up day for the Affordable Connectivity Program on Monday, May 15 from 1-4 p.m. at the Red Lake Community Center, 15041 Great Nation Drive.

The Affordable Connectivity Program will help to lower the cost of broadband service for eligible households struggling to afford internet service and provides a discount of up to a $30 per month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for qualifying households on qualifying Tribal lands.

A household is eligible if one member of the household meets at least one of the criteria below:

  • Has an income that is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines;
  • Participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, WIC, or Lifeline;
  • Participates inone of several Tribal specific programs, such as Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal Head Start (only households meeting the relevant income qualifying standard) Tribal TANF, or Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;
  • Is approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating broadband provider’s existing low-income program.

Eligible households can enroll at the sign-up event, through a participating broadband provider, or by going to ACPBenefit.org to submit an online application or print a mail-in application and contacting their preferred participating broadband provider and selecting a plan.  Additional information about the Emergency Broadband Benefit is available at www.fcc.gov/ACP, or by calling 877-384-2575 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. ET any day of the week.


Is your community taking advantage of ACP? Benton has a tool to help figure that out?

The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)  provides 17 million households up to $30 per month in subsidies to offset the cost of broadband. In Minnesota, 193,678 have signed up. Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has created a tool to help determine whether that number is good or not, based on how many people qualify – down to the zip code level…

The Benton Institute’s ACP Performance Tool is a resource for any community that wants to answer the question: “How are ACP sign-ups going?” To answer, search a 5-digit zip code on the tool’s website. The ACP Performance Tool returns results that show two important numbers for the zip code area: 1) how many households have signed up for ACP (from government data) and 2) the expected number of households enrolled (the output from a statistical model discussed more below).

The difference between actual ACP enrollment and expected enrollment is a measure of performance. The tool places the zip code area into one of five performance categories:

  1. Highest: Where actual enrollments exceed expected enrollment by 40%
  2. High: Where actual enrollments are between 10% and 39% greater than expected
  3. Medium: Where actual enrollments fall between 9% and -9% of expectations
  4. Low: Where actual enrollments are between -10% and -39% of expectations
  5. Lowest: Where actual enrollments are below expected ones by 40% or less.


Electronic Health Records used less in rural hospitals – what do MN hospitals look like?

A recent GAO report indicates

Electronic health information exchange is the ability to exchange medical records and other health information electronically among health care providers and between health care providers and patients. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act provided federal enhanced Medicaid matching funds to states through 2021 to support certain efforts to advance electronic exchange. Nearly all states used these funds, and most have identified other sources to sustain those efforts. Survey data show that the use of various electronic exchange methods among hospitals and physicians has increased in recent years. However, GAO found that as of 2021, reported use among small and rural hospitals was lower than that of other hospitals.

The GAO surveyed seven states to see what happened to that funding and how hospitals were using Electronic Health Records (HER). Minnesota was one of those states. The table below shows how Minnesota hospitals are exchanging information. It is eye opening to see that 40 percent of MN hospitals often use mail or faxes and 73 percent receive them! It’s worth noting that both MN and Colorado have a higher percentage of use of EHR vendor network; that’s because in both states most hospitals used the same vendor.

One concerning factor across the board (for most readers here)…

Stakeholders we interviewed, including representatives from state agencies and HIE organizations, also noted that broadband access and availability in rural communities had improved in recent years, primarily due to federal and state efforts aimed at expanding broadband. However, they noted that despite these efforts, lack of broadband access, particularly in very rural areas of the country, continues to be an impediment to electronic exchange.

I’m not patient waiting for a kid’s strep throat results; I can only imaging the USPS playing a role in other diagnosis and I’d hate to think that lack of broadband was a cause!

Imagine moving to an area with slow internet – would you work like Barbara Drӧher Kline to fix it?

This week, the Benton Institute tells the story of one of Minnesota’s most tenacious broadband champions…

Barbara Drӧher Kline thought she knew what she was getting into when she moved halfway across the country and bought a 1890s farmhouse in rural Le Sueur county, Minnesota. Contractors advised her to tear the house down, but she loved a fixer-upper, especially after she had refined her remodeling skills on her previous home in California, a redwood log cabin near San Francisco.
Drӧher Kline wasn’t scared by a rural lifestyle either. Both she and her husband, John Kline, had roots in the state, and he had grown up nearby.
The plot twist was something even HGTV had not prepared her for: slow internet.
The internet service provider for her new home, Frontier Communications, offered outdated technology with frequent outages and notoriously poor customer service.

Barbara has been very active as a Blandin Broadband Communities champion, a speaker at various Blandin and other local events and she was on the last iteration of the Minnesota Broadband Task Force. We are glad she is here. Her lack of good broadband has helped her help her new community but it is frustrating to imagine moving into a new place, albeit a fixer-upper and funding inadequate broadband…

“We just assumed there would be something…we lived in a canyon in northern California, and we had a bunch of different options there,” she said.

Realtors are legally required to disclose lots of information to prospective buyers, like whether the house runs on a septic tank or certain potential hazards like flooding or earthquakes. Internet, however, is less regulated than other fields.

It turns out realtors are the MLS housing database only reveal whether a house can get connected, not if the connection is any good. Realtors and home buyers are interested in changing that…

Among surveyed realty associations in Minnesota and California, realtors agree that the MLS should provide more ways to disclose information about a home’s internet connection but are hesitant to call for another mandatory field.

Across the board, realtors emphasize the shared duty of homebuyers and realtors to avoid assumptions and ask informed questions throughout the process.

After trying various options and getting engaged, Barb found a solution for help herself…

She struck a deal with Bevcomm: she would pay $2,700 of the cost to extend service to her home and the company picked up the rest, an estimated $3,000 – 4,000.

“We were that close, so we could afford to do it, and now it would be double that. Most people can’t afford to do that,” she said.

But she’s used her experience to help others in the community…

When she ran for a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2018, poor internet was one of the bread-and-butter issues that motivated her, and something her neighbors echoed.

While she lost the election, a tide started to turn, at least in her county. Individual requests like that of Drӧher Kline became fodder for a larger public-private partnership between Bevcomm, Le Sueur county, and the state. As part of that deal, and many other similar projects, Bevcomm contributes roughly 25 percent, the state gives 50 percent of the funding, and the county covers the rest, said Bill Eckles, the CEO of Bevcomm.

Barb continues to work on it…

With the advent of a state broadband grant program and the recent influx of COVID-19 relief dollars, Eckles said Bevcomm has seen fewer calls from neighbors like Drӧher Kline, and more counties that come forward with proposals of their own.

But Drӧher Kline is still worried about the math. Now she sits on the Minnesota Governor’s Task Force on Broadband, where she’s working to change the funding formula to lower the burden on taxpayers and encourage more companies like Bevcomm to serve rural counties like hers.

One thing Barb wanted me to help clarify, she is not opposed to state and federal tax investment in broadband – it’s the burden of property taxes.

OPPORTUNITY: USDA offers new funding to Promote the Expansion of High-Speed Internet in Rural Areas

The USDA reports on funding for technical assistance to help rural communities get better broadband…

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced the availability of $20 million to deliver broadband technical assistance resources for rural communities, and to support the development and expansion of broadband cooperatives. USDA is offering the funding under the new Broadband Technical Assistance Program. The program supports technical assistance projects such as conducting feasibility studies, completing network designs and developing broadband financial assistance applications. Funding is also available to help organizations access federal resources, and to conduct data collection and reporting.  “USDA is committed to making sure that people, no matter where they live, have access to high-speed internet. That’s how you grow the economy – not just in rural communities, but across the nation,” said USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Xochitl Torres Small. “USDA is partnering with small towns, local utilities and cooperatives, and private companies to increase access to this critical service which in turn boosts opportunity and helps build bright futures.”
This initiative is made possible through President Biden’s historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provides $65 billion to expand access and lower costs of high-speed internet.. This initiative has been designed to work in conjunction with other high-speed internet programs to meet President Biden’s goal to connect every community in America with affordable, reliable, high-speed internet. Today’s announcement reflects the goals of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to rebuild the economy from the middle-out and bottom-up.

USDA encourages applicants to consider projects that will advance the following key priorities:

  • Assisting rural communities recover economically through more and better market opportunities and through improved infrastructure;
  • Ensuring all rural residents have equitable access to USDA Rural Development (RD) programs and benefits from RD funded projects; and
  • Reducing climate pollution and increasing resilience to the impacts of climate change through economic support to rural communities.

Applicants must choose one of the following funding categories:

  • Technical Assistance Providers: Applicants must propose to deliver broadband technical assistance that will benefit rural communities. Up to $7.5 million is available. The minimum award is $50,000. The maximum is $1 million.
  • Technical Assistance Recipients: Applicants must be the recipients of the broadband technical assistance. Up to $7.5 million is available. The minimum award is $50,000. The maximum is $250,000.
  • Projects Supporting Cooperatives: Applicants must propose projects that support the establishment or growth of broadband cooperatives that will benefit rural communities.  Up to $5 million is available. The minimum award is $50,000. The maximum is $1 million.

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities, create jobs and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural, tribal and high-poverty areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov. 

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.


OPPORTUNITY: Become an international Digital Equity Accelerator Mentor

The Digital Equity Accelerator Group is looking for mentors. Looking like an interesting opportunity…

The Digital Equity Accelerator (“Accelerator”), a project of Aspen Institute in collaboration with HP, works to advance social and economic equality by investing in not-for-profit organizations and NGOs that are accelerating digital inclusion. The Accelerator is administered by Aspen Digital, a program of the Aspen Institute.

The 2023 Accelerator cohort is made up of 10 organizations from Mexico, Malaysia and South Africa (Learn more about them here). As part of the Accelerator, each organization (“Mentee”) is paired with a Mentor to support them through the duration of the program (May 2023 – November 2023).

The Accelerator Mentorship Program serves as a core part of the Accelerator programming. The primary responsibilities of the Mentor are to support their Mentee in achieving their learning objectives, navigating the Accelerator curriculum, and serving as a coach and advisor. Mentors serve as an extension of the Accelerator programmatic team, namely collaborating with Mentees to define their growth objectives, identify and overcome obstacles/roadblocks, identify resources and growth opportunities.

Successful Mentors are professionals who are passionate about helping nonprofit organizations grow and expand their impact, and who are able to dedicate a total of approximately 75 hours between 19 May 2023-19 November 2023 (~13 hours a month) to Mentor their organization. While we do not require Mentors to be in the same country as their Mentee, Mentors do need to be available during the Mentee’s regular working hours.

Mentors will be expected to commit to the full program, which will take place entirely online. In recognition of their contributions to the development of the Mentee, Mentors will be provided a $8,000.00 USD honorarium.

Public libraries make public computers feel like your own with Personal User Privacy and Security – PUPS

Telecompetitor reports on new sresearch from the University of Kansas Institute for Policy & Social Research on the state of computer use in libraries. The idea that people get access to computers, skills and broadband from the library isn’t new – although it is still valuable. But Telecompetitor picked up on something that is new – the Personal User Privacy and Security…

The University of Kansas developed and is testing, in the libraries, a system called PUPS (Personal User Privacy and Security). PUPS is “a USB-based virtual computing environment… designed to afford public computer users increased customizability, session state per­sistence, and security as compared to the restricted use settings of most library PCs.”

In other words, while library computers are generally locked down and don’t allow for customization, PUPS gives its users the feeling of a personal computer, including the ability to download software and retain their unique user settings. They found that PUPS is most useful to users with digital access but was less useful for users struggling in the second area: digital literacy.

Having worked in libraries, I’ve seen there is a spectrum of skills that walk through the door and there always has been. There are the kids or travelers who are power users. Back in the day, they wanted the DOS prompt to get to their email. As technical as I am, they are often much more so or at least experts in some segment of use. There are folks who may need help remembering how to get to their Gmail. There are folks who, especially since prevalence of smartphones and tablets, aren’t comfortable with the mouse. PUPS targets the first and second group of folks.

There are so many reasons PUPS is a boon. It’s easier to use a computer when it looks like they way you are used to seeing it. (Just think about using a friend’s computer or phone for a minute. It’s disorienting.) Second your digital stuff is always with you. You don’t have to worry about something happening to the computer at the library or having to access “the cloud” every time you want to work on something. Finally, you can open up your files in various locations. So if you move to another part of town, you can still access your midterm report.

PUPS can help users who are digitally astute, but lacking access to a device or broadband, feel more autonomous and more digitally connected.