OPPORTUNITY: ConnectedMN opens it’s second round of tech funding today!

ConnectedMN opens it’s second round of tech funding today! Here’s the latest from ConnectedMN

We’re accepting applications for grants to bring tech devices, internet access, and digital learning support to students across the state, especially communities most in need, including students who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color, students from low-income families, and students residing in rural Minnesota.

The deadline is January 26. Decisions will be made Feb 16. Get more details on who, why and how from their website.

Here’s a little background on ConnectedMN from their email alert…

Since early May 2020, the Partnership for ConnectedMN has worked as a public-private partnership to bring tech devices, internet access and programmatic support to students across the state. Over the last 7 months, we have raised and distributed $2.15 million in grants to organizations serving the connectivity and computing needs of an estimated 68,000 students and their families in urban and rural communities. With these resources, grantees are providing access to devices, internet connectivity, supportive mentors, coaching and tech support. We have also listened to community needs and connected organizations and providers in pursuit of devices and connectivity.

The Minnesota Broadband Coalition meeting notes: great concern on RDOF, plans for 2021

Today the Minnesota Broadband Coalition met. They spoke about what’s been happening with the Legislature (no broadband funding, but exposure) and what they are working on for next year. Top priorities are to get funding for the grants (in base budget) and funding for the Office of Broadband Development.

There was a big discussion on the impact of RDOF on broadband grant applications in the hopper now. The problem is that the Office of Broadband Development (OBD) is assessing grant applications now and RDOF funding was just awarded in areas that were also included in MN grant applications. A secondary problem, is that many people are skeptical that the big winner in Minnesota (LTD Broadband) will meet the needs of the communities they propose to serve. The OBD was unable to talk about the impact of the RDOF funding but they did say that they invited applicants to remove LTD RDOF areas from their current applications.

As predicted last week by a MN Broadband Task Force member, providers being forced to look at whether they will enter a market, now slated for LTD development.

A Coalition member mentioned a potential loop hole inherent in the RDOF process.  Specifically, RDOF grants have been announced but not awarded. Grants are announced based on an applicant’s short form applications; Grants will be awarded based on whether their long forms are accepted.

The Office of Broadband Develop seems to have two choices – act as if they funds have been awarded or move forward as if they haven’t. Large swaths of unserved areas in Minnesota are in LTD proposed coverage areas. (Note blue areas in map at left below – and compare that to the map on the right, which show unserved areas in pink and served areas in green).

The RODF grants for LTD span 10 years, which means there’s the potential to put many communities in a waiting room unless/until they get coverage from LTD. But right now there’s an opportunity to help the communities who have potentially winning Minnesota grant applications.

Based on input from members, the Coalition is going to ask the OBD to move forward with grants without regard to RDOF.

Here are more complete notes on the meeting: Continue reading

“RDOF was a major fail” says MN Task Force member … we need to alert MN legislators

As promised, there’s more commentary coming on the RDOF results. And as a quick reminder – LTD was awarded nearly $312 million to build Gigabit broadband in Minnesota in the next 10 years. People are skeptical that this will happen, as MinnPost reports

In an interview, Corey Hauer, LTD Broadband’s CEO, said he was confident his company could grow fast and meet the challenge. But local competitors and broadband experts said they were concerned LTD could not deliver what it promised, especially since the company has focused primarily on wireless internet technology while it now promises fiber-optic connections.

The award came up at the last MN Broadband Task Forde meeting last Friday.

You can hear concern from at least one member about the ability of LTD (the big winner in Minnesota) to deploy the broadband that they have promised. The concern is multifaceted. Their primary concern with the federal funding is that it won’t happen. From the Task Force perspective, the greater concern is that legislators will assume that RDOF will serve the proposed areas and that therefore no further state funding is needed. An unintended consequence is that the promised funding might prevent other providers from going into those areas, companies that would have provided folks with speeds that would meet the MN broadband state goals. They are concerned that unlike what happens with Minnesota’s state program, the FCC will not follow through with oversight on provider performance.

Funny enough, an earlier iteration of the Broadband Task Force heard from LTD in February 2018. He spoke about their fixed wireless service – not fiber, which I think reflects the concerns that people have about LTD being able to fulfill the obligations it undertook through the RDOF application. They have a history of fixed wireless, not fiber. He also notes that speeds of 10/1 can be as welcome to some customers as 25/3. Again, this is from Feb 2018.

As you can hear, CEO Corey Hauser said that 80 percent of traffic comes from streamlining services. He spoke about the services they provided at the time:

  • 3 Mbps
  • 6 Mbps
  • 10 Mbps
  • 25 Mbps

(Presumably he is talking about download, since that was his focus.) He mentioned that Netflix usually required 2.5Mbps. He could only think of one use for Gig access – game updates. Then he outlines a number of applications and required speeds.

He spoke about cable companies and complaints about broadband pricing. And complaints about telecom broadband service in cities.

He spoke about utilities, building the case that a fixed wireless company has several options for broadband services. About minute 18:30 – he speaks about State funding for broadband – making the case that the State shouldn’t spend money “Cadillac” services when a lesser car will do. He’s annoyed that State funding has gone to overbuild areas where he already provides 25/3 services. He was annoyed because the services that he provided was not considered broadband by Minnesota statute. Annoyed at MN maps because they didn’t reflect his services.

He asks and answers: Why is fixed wireless best? Capital costs because he doesn’t have to spend money to reach every house until they want it. So a lower take rate isn’t a problem for LTD.

About minute 28:20, he speaks about TV White Spaces.

About min 29:42, he takes umbrage of the 25/3 speed goal as 10/1 is also a responsible service as compared to no service or satellite service. He also spoke about the CAF tiers – comparing the 25/3 and 10/1 tiers – saying both have their place.

It may be valuable to note that Reps Baker and Layman were in the meeting as well and clearly Rep Baker had been in earlier communication with LTD. It led to s discussion on government investing in technology that meets the needs today and in the future.

It would be great to see Minnesota get the upgrade that’s promised with RDOF funding – the concern is that it won’t happen and with a dibs on certain communities for 10 years, those communities are in danger of falling farther and farther behind.

LTD Broadband is big winner in MN – that’s different

Earlier this week FCC announced the winners of the RDOF funding. There was a standout winner in Minnesota – LTD Broadband. In fact, beyond Minnesota, the LTD Broadband win is one of the biggest in the US. I’ve heard from several people who have been surprised by this. This is the first, but may not be the last, compilation of what folks are saying about RDOF.

Muninetworks (Chris Mitchell) is also in a mode of comment gathering…

The auction resulted in far more gigabit – 85% of locations I believe – than anyone expected, at far lower subsidy than expected. However, there is a lot of frustration and confusion because it is not clear that some of the top bidders can deliver. NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association – shared my original enthusiasm for RDOF and our concerns – best articulated over the years by Jon Chambers from Conexon – that the FCC was going to blow this auction by not ensuring those who bid had the capacity to deliver on the promised level of service. Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, wrote this and recently tweeted on this:
Not feeling quite as bullish about this final outcome for RDOF #1 and worry that it will take years to show that rural America is still waiting for #broadband and resources needed will be gone. Hoping @FCC has a robust back-end review so the process won’t fail Americans again.

Doug Dawson, President of CCG Consulting, has addressed this in the greatest detail so far, arguing that this “means the FCC believes that fixed wireless technology is the functional equivalent of fiber” even though the underlying point-to-multipoint architecture “can’t be used to deliver giant bandwidth to more than a few customers – and it’s not really designed to deliver gigabit download, and certainly not a symmetrical gigabit.” The result? “By allowing WISPS to claim gigabit capabilities, the FCC cheated huge numbers of people out of getting fiber.”

And specifically about LTD…

But the real puzzle is LTD Broadband, the WISP that took away the biggest awards. They are slated to get $1.3 billion over the next 10 years to build gigabit to more than 500,000 locations – often islands in the middle of non-subsidized areas.

Notice that LTD only qualified to bid to build fiber at the gigabit tier. They do not have permission to substitute wireless, from what I (and everyone else I have talked to) understand.

OK, so what? Assume that LTD will just build fiber. Cooperative Network Solutions has published a map of the winners. These are high cost areas that were bid so long ago that successful fiber network operators in the adjacent areas decided the subsidies were too low for them. Somehow LTD is going to get financing and the expertise to build these areas all out with lower subsidies than what local folks could do?  Seems improbable.

MinnPost also spoke about LTD…

While local broadband advocates celebrated the infusion of cash, the grant awards also raised some eyebrows. That’s because one relatively small company with Minnesota ties came away with the vast majority of the federal money for the state: LTD Broadband.

The company won nearly $312 million to develop high-speed internet in Minnesota, which is far more than was granted to other competitors, including larger companies like CenturyLink and local cooperatives like Arrowhead Electric. LTD Broadband’s success stretched beyond Minnesota, too. The company was awarded $1.32 billion in total for projects across 15 states, the highest amount of cash for any company in the FCC’s round of grants.

In an interview, Corey Hauer, LTD Broadband’s CEO, said he was confident his company could grow fast and meet the challenge. But local competitors and broadband experts said they were concerned LTD could not deliver what it promised, especially since the company has focused primarily on wireless internet technology while it now promises fiber-optic connections.

More on LTD…

LTD uses an internet technology called fixed wireless, where homes get service from a signal placed high on a structure, such as a water tower or a silo. It can be delivered cheaper than fiber-optic cables, which require physical connections to houses.

State officials in Minnesota prefer fiber projects in their own grant programs because they say the technology is more reliable and delivers faster speeds.

Hauer said Minnesota officials have been reluctant to support fixed wireless, which he says can meet essentially every need of home customers and businesses besides unusual tasks like downloading large games.

Still, Hauer said LTD has done fiber projects and will actually be obligated to build fiber in the grant areas. He said there may be a component of fixed wireless in broadband development for the grant program, but declined to go into details, saying the FCC prohibits divulging of certain development plans for grant-winners for now.

The company will be required to offer gigabit internet, which has speeds far above what Minnesota considers to be high-speed broadband. Hauer also contends LTD can spend less to grow their coverage, giving the feds more bang for their buck.

And a view from another provider…

Joe Buttweiler, director of business development for Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC), which is headquartered in Brainerd, said there is “a lot of anxiousness right now about the results.”

Auction winners must submit a longer application in coming months that gives more detail on their broadband plans, finances and technology to the FCC.

Buttweiler said many in the industry don’t believe LTD can offer gigabit speeds with fixed-wireless technology, but said if they intend to use fiber, “we’d love to see the plans that they’re going to provide to the FCC.”

Buttweiler said building a “full-fiber network throughout all of Minnesota” will be an expensive task that could be hard to fulfill at the cheap price LTD has promised. “I just have a really difficult time believing they can do it for that amount of money,” he said.

Buttweiler’s CTC is a member of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, while LTD is not. CTC also is a competitor. The company was awarded $2.04 million from the FCC grants.

FCC announces 22 RODF winners in Minnesota – LTD Broadband is big winner

The FCC reports

The Federal Communications Commission announced today that millions of rural Americans in 49 states and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands will gain access to high-speed Internet service through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction. Auction results released today show that bidders won funding to deploy high-speed broadband to over 5.2 million unserved homes and businesses, almost 99% of the locations available in the auction. Moreover, 99.7% of these locations will be receiving broadband with speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps, with an overwhelming majority (over 85%) getting gigabit-speed broadband. CCO Holdings, LLC (Charter Communications) was assigned the most locations, just over 1.05 million. A total of 180 bidders won auction support, to be distributed over the next 10 years.

A broad range of providers successfully competed in the Phase I auction, including cable operators, electric cooperatives, incumbent telephone companies, satellite companies, and fixed wireless providers. And the FCC’s structuring of the reverse auction yielded significant savings, as competitive bidding among over 300 providers yielded an allocation of $9.2 billion in support out of the $16 billion set aside for Phase I of the auction. Importantly, the $6.8 billion in potential Phase I support that was not allocated will be rolled over into the future Phase II auction, which now can draw upon a budget of up to $11.2 billion in targeting partially-served areas (and the few unserved areas that did not receive funding through Phase I).

 

Here are the Minnesota totals:

  • Total dollar amount: $408,150,745.60
  • Winning bidders: 22
  • Locations assigned: 142,841

Here are the winners in MN

AMG Technology Investment Group Minnesota LLC
Amount: $ 3,736,316.00
Locations: 1,408

Arrowhead Electric Cooperative, Inc.
Amount: $ 18,462,273.10
Locations: 4,879

CenturyLink, Inc.
Amount: $ 15,646,093.10
Locations: 3,265

Consolidated Communications, Inc.
Amount: $ 11,126.00
Locations: 12

Consortium of AEG and Heron
Amount: $ 6,709,428.00
Locations: 1,150

Farmers Mutual Telephone Company
Amount: $ 759,822.00
Locations: 332

Federated Telephone Cooperative
Amount: $ 537,399.00
Locations: 248

Fond du Lac Communications Inc
Amount: $ 1,046,123.00
Locations: 728

Gardonville Cooperative Telephone
Amount: $ 63,903.00
Locations: 24

Great Plains Consortium
Amount: $ 81,700.60
Locations: 402

Halstad Telephone Company
Amount: $ 3,118,056.40
Locations: 603

LTD Broadband LLC
Amount: $ 311,877,936.40
Locations: 102,005

Midcontinent Communications
Amount: $ 4,453,803.70
Locations: 6,058

Minnesota Connections c/o Consolidated Tel Company
Amount: $ 2,040,278.70
Locations: 979

Paul Bunyan Rural Telephone Coop
Amount: $ 16,307,892.10
Locations: 5,088

Roseau Electric Cooperative, Inc.
Amount: $ 1,228,494.00
Locations: 266

Savage Communications
Amount: $ 6,090,479.10
Locations: 4,541

Space Exploration Technologies Corp.
Amount: $ 8,424,807.60
Locations: 7,529

Wikstrom Telephone Company
Amount: $ 983,637.00
Locations: 228

Windstream Services LLC,
Amount: $ 6,548,964.10
Locations: 2,899

Winnebago Cooperative Telecom
Amount: $ 20,541.70
Locations: 178

Wisper-CABO 904 Consortium
Amount: $ 1,671.00
Locations: 19

 

FCC looks at Controversial Spectrum/Education Decision in Pai’s Final Days

Voqual reports

Chairman Ajit Pai appears to be moving full steam ahead on a controversial spectrum item in his final days as head of the agency. According to the FCC’s list of items on circulation, he recently shared a Petition for Reconsideration that was filed by ten education groups regarding the Commission’s July 2019 decision on Educational Broadband Service (EBS) spectrum. If the item receives three votes while on circulation – which some believe may already be the case – the Commission can move forward and dismiss the petition, thus denying schools a meaningful opportunity to acquire EBS licenses and connect students.

A coalition of 23 educational groups is now calling on Chairman Pai not to move forward on this controversial item. In a letter to Chairman Pai led by the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB), the organizations explained three important reasons why this item should not be considered until the incoming presidential administration and the new FCC has had a chance to fully consider the ramifications of the Petition for Reconsideration.

$10 billion of proposed Federal Emergency Relief Package for broadband

Politico reports

STAT DU JOUR: $10 BILLION — That’s how much a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers, including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), is allocating for broadband connectivity as part of its $908 billion emergency relief plan unveiled Tuesday. Manchin explicitly mentioned broadband as a priority during a news conference Tuesday.

And slightly more info (or context) from Benton

A bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers, including Sens Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), is allocating $10 billion for broadband connectivity as part of its $908 billion emergency relief plan. Sen Manchin explicitly mentioned broadband as a priority during a news conference introducing the measure. Prospects for the proposal are still unknown, and likely shaky given the handful of days left in the 116th Congress. But these lawmakers have spoken with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and leadership in their parties about the proposal, and they’re expressing urgency about moving at least some pared-down rescue package before lawmakers leave this month.

Which states are using CARES Act funding to expand broadband – and who in Minnesota?

Pew looks at what states are doing to apply CARES Act funding to expand broadband…

Nationwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened demand for internet connectivity as work, education, and access to services have shifted online, highlighting the urgency of reaching unconnected Americans. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed by Congress and signed into law in March 2020, provided more than $2 trillion in economic stimulus to address the pandemic. Among its provisions, the act created the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), designating $150 billion for payments “to state, local, and tribal governments navigating the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.”1 States can use this funding to cover pandemic-related costs incurred from the beginning of March through the end of 2020 that were not anticipated in their budgets before March 2020, including broadband access.2

States’ efforts to expand connectivity using these federal resources have focused on four specific needs: increasing access to online learning for K-12 and postsecondary students, supporting telehealth services, deploying more public Wi-Fi access points, and investing in residential broadband infrastructure, especially in rural and underserved areas.

Here’s who invested in each area:

  • Digital learning: Alabama, Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee
  • Telehealth: Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, Oregon, and Vermont
  • Public Wi-Fi: Idaho, Arizona, Missouri
  • Residential broadband infrastructure: Delaware, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and South Carolina started new programs. Vermont and Tennessee expanded programs.

The offer advice to policy makers…

States have directed significant Coronavirus Relief Fund resources toward providing temporary help, such as hotspots and public Wi-Fi access, for people who lack reliable home internet connectivity. These efforts, though important, are not long-term solutions to the problem of inadequate residential broadband service. As policymakers work to provide reliable, high-speed internet access to more underserved neighborhoods, they should:

  • Prioritize connecting more residences to existing infrastructure. Broadband network infrastructure may be available in communities, but that does not mean every household is connected to it. In many cases, the last pieces of the network—a line extension, service drop, or customer premises equipment—are lacking. The costs to fill those gaps generally fall on property owners and are often prohibitive. Public programs that provide funding for these parts of the network can bring more residents online, particularly in rural and remote communities.
  • Invest in planning and oversight for long-term solutions. Broadband projects represent a significant investment in infrastructure and can take months or even years to complete. Successful state broadband grant programs undertake extensive planning and stakeholder engagement to be sure projects are ready to launch when funding becomes available and employ accountability measures to assess the feasibility of applications, track grantee progress, and ensure that funded projects are successful and meet community needs. Vermont, for example, has a broadband program and an Emergency Broadband Action Plan, which identify short- and long-term needs and position projects to take advantage of funding opportunities, respectively. The state’s CRF allocations reflected these efforts and priorities, but states can use this same approach to deploy smaller amounts of money in nonemergency circumstances.
  • Coordinate across levels of government to support broadband deployment. Current federal funding sources for broadband have limited engagement with state-level initiatives, which may offer more targeted strategies for addressing the digital divide. The Coronavirus Relief Fund offers more flexibility than standard federal funding sources, allowing states to tailor resources to meet their needs and build on existing progress and programs designed to close gaps in broadband access.

Minnesota, as a state, did not do much with CARES funding. The reason I’ve heard from folks is twofold: first Minnesota could not be assured to complete projects in the deadline set in CARES, also Minnesota has pushed CARES funding decisions to local government.

With that in mind, I’m sharing the list I have of Minnesota CARES projects. If you have projects to add to the list, please let me know:

  1. Le Sueur County gets Fiber from MetroNet thanks to CARES
  2. Itasca County Approves CARES Act Funding for Broadband
  3. Dakota County approves $800,000 in CARES Act funding for broadband
  4. 46 percent of MN school CARES funding so far going to technology
  5. Mille Lacs County looks at CARES funding for wireless broadband
  6. Alexandria, most of the $1.05 million the city received in CARES Act money will be spent on technology upgrades 
  7. Moorhead’s $3.28 million includes some telework equipment
  8. Otter Tail County reserved some cash for high-speed internet projects
  9. Crow Wing County puts $1.5M of CARES funds into broadband & CTC
  10. FCC Announces 77 More CARES Act Telehealth Awards: 2 are in MN (Rochester and Onamia)
  11. HBC Expands Broadband in Rural Winona and Dakota Counties with CARES
  12. Bevcomm gets CARES funding to improve broadband in Faribault County
  13. CTC recently received CARES Act funds to deploy better broadband to serval areas, including Cass County

Preparing for next round of coronavirus broadband funding

Craig Settles and the Daily Yonder look at the ups and downs and future of COVID-related broadband-focused funding…

Under normal conditions, partnerships are the key to success with technology deployments. But because of the pandemic, billions of dollars went to broadband, telehealth, and other technologies nationwide in just six months and there wasn’t much time to do the partnership dance between communities, co-ops, ISPs (Internet Service Providers), vendors, and other organizations.

There are some ups…

“Itasca County just approved funding that will go to Paul Bunyan, an awesome telephone co-op in northern Minnesota,” said Ann Treacy who works at the Blandin Foundation. “Dakota County partnered with Hiawatha Broadband Communications, an ISP well-known for great work.”

And some downs…

But there are warning signs as well. Deb Simpier, CEO of Althea, recounts, “An Oregon county lined up an ISP for CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security] funding with no formal RFP or solicitation of proposals though it is a $1 million buildout. Is that even legal? The CARES Act funding is required to be spent before the end of this year. What happens if the ISP can’t finish and the government won’t pay them?”

 

It looks like there is more funding in the making…

Currently, many in Congress are lobbying for a CARES Part 2, another $1 or $2 trillion, of which much will go for broadband and other technologies. Hopes are to see the legislation this month or in December. Also, the U.S. House has $100 billion broadband legislation waiting for the election dust to settle. That would be $20 billion a year for five years.

There are some tips for better, quick partnerships…

“One of the reasons we were successful, is that we had begun grassroots planning for a regional network long before the stimulus act came to be,” said John Campbell, Board Chair of OpenCape. “You need to be planning now, urgently, for that next round of grants that is likely coming early next year. Get a head start on it. The more you know, the better prepared you are, the more successful your grant application will be.”

Partners within communities also are critical. They show funding agencies the depth of a community’s needs as well as the project’s likelihood of success. Are the Chamber of Commerce and churches on the broadband team? Their participation can drive broadband adoption. Library and schools can turn the tide for telehealth adoption.

AT&T Donates $150,000 to Help Drive Economic Mobility and Social Equity for Underserved Communities in Minneapolis and St. Paul

Good news from AT&T…

AT&T* is committed to creating economic opportunities and fostering upward mobility for underserved communities in Minneapolis and St. Paul. As part of this commitment, AT&T is donating $150,000 through its Believe Twin CitiesSM initiative to five local organizations that share in our mission to create more opportunities and paths to success for traditionally underserved communities in the Twin Cities.

This donation is part of a $10 million commitment from AT&T to boost economic opportunities in underserved communities across the country.

“Many of our fellow citizens in the Twin Cities lack access to quality education, economic opportunity, homeownership and other attributes that develop wealth and build the middle class,” said Paul Weirtz, President of AT&T Minnesota. “AT&T is proud to invest in these local organizations that are working to address these disparities.”

The challenges facing underserved communities in the Twin Cities, including poverty and homelessness, have been exacerbated by high unemployment rates, the coronavirus pandemic, and social unrest around the country. Our hope is that our $150,000 in contributions will help alleviate some of these inequities.

AT&T has donated to the following organizations:

  • Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ): A $50,000 AT&T contribution will support NAZ’s efforts to eradicate racial inequities and opportunity gaps that affect families who live in North Minneapolis. Programs and services supported include family wrap-around support, family and scholar achievement coaching, early childhood education, K-8 support activities, and parent empowerment and education. The mission of NAZ is to permanently close the achievement gap and end generational poverty in the Northside by helping low-income families put their children on a path to college.
  • Urban League Twin Cities: A $25,000 contribution from AT&T will support the Urban League’s efforts to launch a Center for Social Justice in the Twin Cities. The focus of the Center will be to promote access to justice and rule of law, advance equity and build capacity within the African American community through civic engagement, community organizing, and public policy research and advocacy. For 94 years, the Urban League Twin Cities has been a relentless advocate for equity, justice and power for African descendants in Minnesota.
  • Urban Roots: A $25,000 contribution from AT&T will support Urban Roots’ community development services and programs for underserved youth. For over 50 years, Urban Roots has provided educational and employment opportunities to teens and young adults on St. Paul’s east side to improve their health, job skills and career pathways while contributing to the community’s health and environment.
  • Way to Grow: A $25,000 contribution from AT&T will support Way to Grow’s early childhood education programs that help meet the needs of isolated and under-resourced families in Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center. Programs and services include providing weekly educational home virtual visits, helping parents create a learning environment at home, and connecting families to critical resources to meet basic needs. The mission of Way to Grow is to work closely with parents and communities to ensure children within the most isolated families are born healthy, stay healthy and are prepared for school.
  • Minnesota Technology Foundation: A $25,000 contribution from AT&T will support the Minnesota Technology Foundation’s programs that introduce underserved youth to careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professions. These programs include STEM scholarships for undergraduates, Tech Experience Tours for high school students, and after-school activities focused on math and science for underserved youth in the metro area.

AT&T has a long history of equality; participating in this struggle is a moral and business imperative – not just for AT&T but for all companies and for all communities and citizens.

Believe Twin Cities

AT&T leaders launched Believe Twin Cities in December 2019 with $100,000 in contributions to Twin Cities’ nonprofits to support homelessness services. In May, AT&T and the AT&T Foundation donated nearly $100,000 as part of Believe Twin Cities to help Minnesota residents experiencing homelessness or hunger amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Believe Twin Cities is an extension of AT&T Believes℠, a company-wide effort, localized to create positive change in our communities. AT&T Believes harnesses employee engagement, supports it with company resources, and joins with area organizations and non-profits to make an even bigger impact on local communities and society at large.

FCC opens Connected Care Pilot Application: funding for low-income and vets

The FCC provides more information on their Pilot Program, which will provide up to $100 million from the Universal Service Fund over a three-year period to support the provision of connected care services, with an emphasis on supporting these services for low-income Americans and veterans….

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today announced that the Connected Care Pilot Program application window will open on November 6 at 12:00 p.m. ET and will remain open for 30 days through December 7, 2020, at 11:59 p.m. ET.  The Public Notice also provides additional guidance concerning the application submission process, prerequisites for the submission of an application, and provides examples of services eligible for support.  The Pilot Program will provide up to $100 million from the Universal Service Fund over a three-year period to support the provision of connected care services.

“In the past year, connectivity has become an increasingly critical component of delivering health care services in our country,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.  “Spearheaded by Commissioner Carr, our Connected Care Pilot Program explores how universal service support can provide next-level health care to our nation’s most vulnerable populations, including low-income Americans and veterans.  With the opening of this application window, the FCC affirms its commitment to driving the future of health care delivery and supporting innovative pilot projects across the country.”

“I want to thank Chairman Pai for the chance to lead the FCC’s work on this telehealth initiative—one that will improve patient outcomes and drive down the costs of care for so many Americans,” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr.

The Commission adopted rules for the Connected Care Pilot Program on March 31, 2020.  The Connected Care Pilot Program is open to nonprofit and public eligible health care providers, located anywhere in the country.  Specifically, the Pilot Program will use Universal Service Fund monies to help defray the costs of connected care services for eligible health care providers, providing support for 85% of the cost of eligible services and network equipment, which include: (1) patient broadband Internet access services; (2) health care provider broadband data connections; (3) other connected care information services; and (4) certain network equipment.  The Pilot Program will not provide funding for end-user devices.

On September 3, 2020, the FCC issued a Public Notice with guidance on program eligibility and information that applicants will be required to submit as part of their applications.  An eligibility determination is required for each health care provider site that will be included in an application for the Pilot Program.  Health care provider sites that the Universal Service Administrative Company has already deemed eligible to participate in the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program or COVID-19 Telehealth Program may rely on that eligibility determination for the Pilot Program.

The Commission will accept applications for the Pilot Program through an online application system available on the Universal Service Administrative Company’s website beginning Friday, November 6, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. ET.  After the close of the application window, the Commission will make timely filed applications available in the Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) under Docket No. WC 18-213.

For further information regarding today’s Public Notice, email ConnectedCare@fcc.gov. Additional information and updates will be posted on the Connected Care Pilot Program web page.

$9.27 Billion for Small Business COVID Relief – but not enough

The Institute for Local Self Reliance looks at government pandemic grants and loans…

An analysis by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has found that cities, counties, states, and community organizations have established more than 800 programs to provide financial assistance to small businesses in the wake of the pandemic. These programs have deployed more than $9.27 billion in grants and loans. They have been fast, tailored to local needs, and have filled critical gaps in federal aid. They have helped businesses stay afloat and retool. Most of these programs have run out of funds, some within hours of launching. One important way Congress should address the unprecedented crisis facing small business is by quickly providing the resources local governments need to do this important work.

You know who benefits from these funds that run out so quickly? People with broadband fast enough to let them respond. That seems like it’s an exaggeration – but when I spoke to Pam Lehmann at Lac qui Parle County about broadband and their COVID preparation it came up immediately:

Senator Tina Smith champions increased in investment in telehealth

Senator Tina Smith has a letter to the editor in The Hill, detailing the need for another round of COVID19 telehealth funding…

Unfortunately, by July, the funds were depleted after being distributed to hundreds of providers in 47 states and Washington, D.C. That’s why earlier this month, I joined with Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) to introduce the bipartisan COVID-19 Telehealth Program Extension Act to invest an additional $200 million so that many more providers can deliver telehealth services during the pandemic. Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) have also introduced a bipartisan House companion bill.

This new funding is especially needed now, as we enter the cold winter months with the country experiencing a significant surge in infections and deaths.

As I’ve tracked the success of the FCC’s telehealth program in my home state of Minnesota, providers of all sizes — from the Mayo Clinic to a small rural tribal provider — tell me how valuable it has been for their patients in overcoming barriers to getting the care they need during this pandemic.

One senior clinical psychologist said telehealth has been “transformative,” by eliminating transportation as a barrier to seeing a doctor. She told me that “among my patients, the mere thought of having to take multiple modes of transportation to access health care is enough to cease the pursuit of care.” Transportation is an especially acute problem in rural areas, where patients often have to travel long distances for services, with very few public transportation options available.

Another Minnesota provider told me that telehealth has allowed her “to reach more patients, while providing the same level of care.” Still another said their clinicians were able to use telehealth services to increase patient contacts, resulting in a 38 percent drop in their “no-show” rates for appointments over two months.

Telehealth also eases the fears of those with preexisting health problems, by allowing them to avoid the risk of visiting a hospital or clinic during the pandemic. And, for parents who lack childcare, it allows them to get health services without the burden of having to arrange for their children’s care while they see their provider in person.

Investing in Telehealth Beyond the Pandemic

As a member of the Senate Health Committee, I’ve championed telehealth because it’s proving to be an important tool in closing some of the most significant gaps in patients’ access to health care services. And it can continue to serve as a lifeline and address social determinants of health, not only during this pandemic, but into the future.

Itasca County Approves CARES Act Funding for Broadband

Itasca County has approved funding for broadband. I want to thank Tamara Lowney for the heads up in an email…

In addition to the grant overview, I worked with Arvig and Paul Bunyan to present 4 broadband infrastructure projects, 2 near Marcell (Turtle Lake area), 1 just north of Nashwauk, and 1 in Harris Township.  I am excited to report that all 4 projects were approved for a commitment of Itasca County CARES Funds of over $293,000.

Then I was able to find a little more info from Paul Bunyan

At their October 20 meeting, the Itasca County Board of Commissioners approved CARES Act funding to help support Paul Bunyan’s fiber broadband expansion into northern Nashwauk, the Bozich Addition subdivision, and areas of south of Pokegama Lake on Gama Beach, North Gama Beach, and South Gama Beach Roads!

Project Design and engineering work will begin right away. Due to the early freezing weather, services won’t be available until 2021.

CTC gets $3 million from ReConnect

We’ve already recognized and celebrated the investment, but the official word is out

The Trump Administration today announced that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $3 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in Minnesota. This investment is part of the $550 million Congress allocated to the second round of the ReConnect Program.

“The need for rural broadband has never been more apparent than it is now – as our nation manages the coronavirus national emergency. Access to telehealth services, remote learning for school children, and remote business operations all require access to broadband,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said. “I am so proud of our rural communities who have been working day in and day out, just like they always do, producing the food and fiber America depends on. We need them more than ever during these trying times, and expanding access to this critical infrastructure will help ensure rural America prospers for years to come.”

Consolidated Telephone Company will use a $3 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network, which will connect 819 people, 34 businesses and 25 farms to high-speed broadband internet in Morrison County, Minnesota.