Stop the spread of COVID – there’s an app for that

Governor Walz just announced a new app (COVID Aware MN) that is designed to stop the spread of COVID . Here’s how it works…

COVIDaware MN uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to notify you if you have been exposed to COVID-19, so you can reduce the risk of infection for your friends, family, and neighbors, and help Minnesota slow the spread.

They offer a 5-step process…

  1. Step 1. Download the free COVIDaware MN app.
  2. Step 2. Your phone remembers other devices it meets, but won’t identify you to anyone.
  3. Step 3. Your privacy is protected. No information that will identify you will ever leave your phone.
  4. Step 4. The app checks for positive COVID-19 cases every day.
  5. Step 5. The app will notify you if you may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

This matched with the increased access of testing and accelerated return of testing, seems like this is a tool that can help.

Broadband investments have helped Minnesota’s business competitiveness

Business North reports…

The Minnesota Chamber released the sixth annual Business Benchmarks report today, a detailed analysis of economic indicators in several categories.

This report identifies positive, troubling and mixed trends in the state’s business climate:

I’m including the one that is broadband-related…

Investments in infrastructure have helped Minnesota’s competitiveness, and access to broadband continues to improve through private and public investment.

Need broadband and cultural comfort about tele-mental health especially for kids

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that need for tele-mental health is clearly there…

Despite the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, some mental health clinics aren’t seeing the increase in patients that they expected.

“We know people are experiencing higher than normal levels of stress, yet we haven’t seen an increase in our community members seeking help,” said Julie Hanenburg, executive director of Lighthouse Child & Family Services in Milaca.

Yet, mental health emergency room visits are up from last year, according to Sue Abderholden, executive director at NAMI Minnesota.


People are doing what they can but it’s not always reaching people…

Due to a relaxation of state and federal rules, more therapy is moving to telehealth visits using computers, tablets or smartphones.

The electronic visits don’t work for everyone and because of limited internet availability some do not have access.

“With some kids it didn’t work with telehealth, mainly the younger children,” Abderholden said. “Watching a Disney movie on the screen is different than doing play therapy.”

Other children were concerned about privacy and were worried that parents or siblings could hear their sessions. One telephone company provided free earphones or earbuds to help, she said.

Acceptance was also an issue. Some families declined to use telehealth at the start of the pandemic, hoping that in-person therapy would soon resume.

“In the last several weeks we’ve noticed that people were more accepting of telehealth,” Hanenburg said.

State officials announced Friday that the Ikea US Community Foundation will donate $1.2 million that will be used to broaden access to children’s mental health services.

The money will provide resources to the School-Linked Mental Health Program that pairs 58 mental health providers with 1,100 Minnesota schools.

We need to work on broadband to all – not a new goal. But also in increasing comfort with telehealth.

MN Broadband Coalition meeting notes – plans moving forward

The MN Rural Broadband Coalition met today to talk about plans moving forward. They did a nice job of getting feedback from all attendees. The notes I’m sharing are more of a glimpse than record of the meeting but I thought there might be potential members who wanted to know more about the organization. I’ve peppers screenshots of PPT slides with notes from the discussion:

What would be lost without the coalition?

  • Unified message – particularly important for funding asks, helps smaller more niche organizations have a voice at the capitol
  • Without the coalition we would have different positions/advocacy by the some of the broadband organizations. B2B program would be in jeopardy.
  • Unified voice at the legislature on broadband
  • Lobbyist to represent collective
  • Harder to create a cohesive statewide plan. Carriers would be there at the table during the final discussions when their interests may not align with the coalition.
  • We would lose a unified, bipartisan, rural voice at the legislature to ensure continued funding for broadband grants and the OBD.
  • Prior to the Coalition, there were advocacy efforts, the Coalition provided true lobbying efforts.
  • Border to border “real” broadband. Real = Future proof / expandable broadband deployment
  • It’s not only about investment…. It is also about training
  • Affordability – private? Public?

New Mission/Vision?

  • All Minnesotans have access to quality, affordable broadband that meets their needs today and into the future.
  • Fund long-term as a priority, necessity,  & essential infrastructure — treat it like rural electrification was NEEDS TO TO PART OF BASE BUDGET
  • Minnesota will have adequate funding and support for  broadband to allow participation in all online activities now and in the future.

What are the ESSENTIAL elements that will help us reach our desired future?

  • Funding the coalition is essential
    • Current funding model doesn’t allow us to do that adequately
      • Allows us to pay for a lobbyist
  • Necessary infrastructure for broadband
    • We need funding but what is it we are paying for?
    • Roadmap of what would work
    • Incentives to private providers and/or government-run utilities

What, if any, elements may fall outside the scope of what we do?

  • The coalition doesn’t want an ownership stake in the physical infrastructure nor do we intend to profit from our work
  • Affordability of services
    • At the household level vs. at the provider level
  • Defining infrastructure

Who benefits most from our efforts? (Our PRIMARY beneficiary)

  • Those who have and will become connected through the broadband grant program

The Family Video Calling Guide from Dakota County … everything you need to know to connect online over the holidays

This is a Thanksgiving gift from David Asp at Dakota County. Many folks got to know David better at the Broadband Conference this year. And now you know what a font of wisdom he is. Today he shares The Family Video Calling Guide

This guide provides an overview of six commonly used video call applications. Its purpose is to help you stay in touch with friends and family during this period of limited travel and in-person contact. The applications highlighted in this guide were selected for their cost (all are free), ease of use, device compatibility, and minimal need to create user accounts. Features and requirements of video call applications change constantly. The information in this guide is current as of the date of publication. You are welcome to share with friends and family members, but please note that Dakota County does not promote or support any tools included in this document.

It looks specifically at Apple Facetime, Facebook Rooms, Free Conference Call, Google Meet, Microsoft and Zoom

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.

Mayo Clinic learns 10 years of telehealth in 6 months

mHealth Intelligence reports

Cris Ross, the Mayo Clinic’s chief information officer, says the COVID-19 crisis forced the health system to adapt at a rapid rate, moving from about 4 percent of virtual visits before the pandemic to 85 percent during the roughest days of late spring and early summer. Supported by emergency federal and state mandates that loosened constraints on telehealth, they were able to create pathways that improved care management for patients outside the hospital.

Healthcare was facility-centered but needed to change quickly…

For the most part, Ross says, healthcare was organized around in-patient care, focused on what the provider needed inside the building to get things done. The pandemic turned that upside-down, pushing care outside the hospital, clinic or doctor’s office and forcing providers to use new tools and platforms – technology that often was more familiar to the consumer than to the provider.

In addition, providers were faced with new data and information that they hadn’t had before. Not only were they getting information about their patients and from their patients at home, through digital health devices and portals – they had access to an “overwhelming” amount of medical knowledge at their fingertips, through clinical decision support tools and online sites. This had been developing gradually before COVID-19, but the pandemic served to highlight how the process of delivering care was and could be changing.

“Remember – we were largely a paper industry just a decade ago,” says Ross. That’s a lot to take in in just 10 years.

As the coronavirus continues its course and the healthcare industry looks to adapt to a new health environment, Ross says health systems like the Mayo Clinic – which is now seeing more than a million users on its app – have to modernize the back end to meet the front end.

I may be biased but it sounds to be like they need some librarians…

Providers need to learn how to gather, sort and use the information they’re getting from sources outside the hospital, either by running it through the EHR or alongside that platform. They’re not substituting one for the other, Ross points out, but developing lines of care that adjust to both platforms. Care that has to be delivered in person will be done in person, while services that can be delivered virtually will be accommodated.

“We need to create a digital infrastructure for healthcare,” he says.

Much of that will be driven by consumer preferences, similar to what the travel and banking industries have learned. Healthcare has to be like Netflix rather than Blockbuster.


EVENTS: National Rural Health Day podcasts from the Minnesota Rural Health Conference

The Minnesota Rural Health Conference is releasing three podcasts this week to celebrate (Commemorate?) National Rural Health day. The final one most directly mentions telehealth but given the incredible growth of telehealth in 2020, I suspect it will come up in all three….

Rural Health IS a Health Equity Issue (30 min)

Release Date: November 17, 2020

Podcast Guest: Jan Malcolm, Commissioner, Minnesota Department of Health

Podcast Host: Zora Radosevich, Director, Minnesota Department of Health – Office of Rural Health & Primary Care

The ORHPC’s Director will have a discussion with the Commissioner about why rural health issues deserve special attention, how the Minnesota Department of Health supports health care professionals in rural areas, and what some of the important issues are in addressing the pandemic and its impact on rural MN.

Impact of COVID-19 in Minnesota (30 min)

Release Date: November 18, 2020

Podcast Guest: Dr. Nicholas Lehnertz, Medical Specialist 2, Division of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control, Minnesota Department of Health

Podcast Host: Mark Jones, Director, Minnesota Rural Health Association (MRHA)

Dr. Lehnertz discusses the impact of COVID-19 in Minnesota, specifically in rural areas. Hear the most up-to-date data concerning cases, deaths, testing, race-related disparities, and new findings. Learn best practices for staying safe this winter and through the holidays as well as advice to prepare rural hospitals for the next 6-12 months.

The Effect of COVID on Minnesota’s Healthcare Workforce (30 min)

Release Date: November 19, 2020

Podcast Guest: Teri Fritsma, Senior Research Analyst, Minnesota Department of Health – Office of Rural Health & Primary Care

Podcast Host: Nitika Moibi, Health Workforce Analysis Supervisor, Minnesota Department of Health – Office of Rural Health & Primary Care

Nitika Moibi and Teri Fritsma will discuss the rapid transformation that COVID has brought to the health care workforce in Minnesota – reduced hours, layoffs, and even rural retirements in certain sectors of health care. On the other hand, COVID has also caused the swift expansion of telemedicine—a likely permanent change that could improve Minnesotans’ access to care now and well into the future. Hear what health care providers say are their greatest concerns during this period.

Following Accessibility Standards 

All podcasts are also available on YouTube and include closed captioning which allows people to read spoken dialogue, as well as non-speech information, like music or sound effects.

Talking about MN Broadband on Art Ware’s Gospel Hour Radio show

It seems like a funny mix – gospel and broadband. Except I’ve certainly heard people sing the praises of broadband and the blues of not having it. Either way, I had the great honor of bring on Arthur Ware’s Gospel Hour on Sunday morning today.

Art is a broadband champion in Albany NY and the radio show is out of Skidmore College. He is a founder of Technology Financing In Healthcare exceeding. He’s active in the Intelligent Community Forum as  juror. He is an ordained evangelical pastors and has great taste in gospel music. It was fun to connect with him – as I like to think of myself as a broadband champion and I have a radio show too – Mostly MN Music out of Macalester College in St Paul MN. (It’s more podcast now due to COVID.)

The conversation is retrospective of broadband in Minnesota, starting when I worked for MRNet in 1994 and up to the Blandin Foundation’s Broadband 2020 conference. We spoke about Blandin’s earliest work with their broadband vision nearly 20 years ago, MIRC (Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities) initiative and the Minnesota Model.

Sen. Smith says we need to expand telehealth

Axios reports

The expansion in telehealth services to address the coronavirus pandemic needs to continue, Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said on Friday at a virtual Axios event.

Specifically what she said…

Patients and providers have described telehealth as a lifeline, Smith said, especially in the need for mental health care, which has exploded during the pandemic.

  • Telehealth offers an avenue for addressing the uptick in depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, “not as a complete substitution for in-person care but as a way of making care more accessible.”

  • The ability to speak with providers in the privacy of one’s own home especially helps those struggling with the stigma around mental health care, according to Smith.

  • Innovation in telehealth must continue after the pandemic ends, and “what we need to make sure is that those higher reimbursement rates on par with a personal visit don’t go away,” Smith said.

T‑Mobile Expands Home Internet to More Than 130 Additional Cities & Towns

The news from T-Mobile

 T-Mobile is expanding its $50/month Home Internet pilot service AGAIN, to more than 130 additional cities and towns across nine states. Today, T-Mobile is bringing more competition to home broadband — especially in underserved rural markets — through LTE-based coverage, with 5G service coming soon.

Here are the states with new service…

Households in Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin who are ready to break up with their home internet provider.

And here are the cities in Minnesota…

Albert Lea
Fergus Falls
Grand Rapids
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington
New Ulm
Red Wing
St. Cloud

EVENT Nov 10: MN Broadband Task Force – agenda, new member & letter from Mayors

First – the agenda for tomorrow…

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
November 10, 2020
9:45 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Virtual Meeting will use the Microsoft Teams platform:
Microsoft Teams meeting
Join on your computer or mobile app
Click here to join the meeting
Or call in (audio only)
+1 763-317-4323,,706772572#   United States, Plymouth
Phone Conference ID: 706 772 572#

9:45 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.                  Welcome, Introductions, Meeting Overview
10:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.                Gov. Tim Walz conversation with the Task Force
10:30 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.                Economic Development and Digital Inclusion Subgroup – report content and recommendations
11:15 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.                Barriers and Technology Subgroup – report content and recommendations
12:00 p.m. — 12:30 p.m.               Break for Lunch
12:30 p.m. – 12:45 p.m.                Public Comment

  • Duluth Mayor Emily Larson discussing the Minnesota Mayors Together letter
  • Other public comment

12:45 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.                  Minnesota Model Subgroup – report content and recommendations
1:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.                     Other Business, Next Steps, Wrap-up

One of the things they will be discussing is a letter from a group called Mayors Together that asks the Task to remember a few things with the recommendations…

We are writing to urge the task force, as it finalizes its report to the Legislature, to make two
clear recommendations:
• The first of these is speed. The 2026 goal of 100 Mbsp download and 20 Mbsp upload, while it may have seemed aggressive when it was adopted, now looks somewhat
modest. Why not recommend what the Border-to-Border grant has enabled in some areas of the state: 100 and 100?
• Second, we would urge the task force to tell legislators that this is an ongoing challenge, that having good access and speed is vital to all Minnesotans. As such, this investment should be a regular and recurring feature of the state’s operating budget. So, we would ask you to say that the Legislature consider the $35-50 million as an annual expenditure – for many years.

Finally, they will be welcoming the newest member of the MN Broadband Task Force…

Yvonne Cariveau is the Director of the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship in the College of

Business at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Dr. Cariveau is also Principal owner and President of

Internet Connections/VoyageurWeb, a company providing web site hosting, custom programming and

website accessibility testing services. She received her Doctor of Philosophy in Marketing from the

University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management. She resides in Mankato, MN.

Yvonne will be filling the seat vacated by Shannon Heim.

HBC Expands Broadband in Rural Winona and Dakota Counties

Big news for HBC as well as Rural Winona and Dakota Counties …

Construction is underway in parts of rural Winona and Dakota county to expand rural broadband Internet through monies provided by the CARES Act.
Hiawatha Broadband Communications, Inc. (HBC) president, Dan Pecarina, announced HBC is expanding existing networks near Pickwick and Rollingstone in Winona County. And in Dakota County, construction is underway in Nininger Township and an area near Highway 46 and 160th Street.
“HBC is proud to be partnering with Winona and Dakota counties on these projects. Each project helps us in our commitment to expand broadband to the underserved and unserved areas of our region,” said Pecarina. “The COVID-19 pandemic has really underscored how important a broadband connection is in today’s world. When completed, these projects will help provide services that will not only help students learn from home but allow their parents to work remotely.”
Construction in the Pickwick area and Nininger township is currently underway. Michael Barker, Director of Technical Operations at HBC, said the plan is to finish all construction by year’s end.
“Right now, crews are actively working near Pickwick and Nininger (township),” he said. “If the weather holds, we should complete construction operations by the end of the year.”
In addition to the fiber-optic network expansion, HBC has already activated a broadband fixed wireless tower near Nodine in Winona County. HBC will also be activating five broadband fixed wireless towers in Dakota County.
Winona County has allotted $1 million in CARES funding to pay for rural broadband expansion projects. Dakota County has earmarked $800,000 for its broadband expansion projects.
“When work is completed,” Pecarina said, “more than 800 homes that previously had no highspeed broadband access will now have the access they need for learning and working from home.”

MN East (Iron) Range Broadband Feasibility Study Presentation: lessons for the area and beyond

Thanks to Karl Schuetter from the Northspan Group for sending me info on the recent East Range Broadband Feasibility Study Presentation. It’s clearly helpful to anyone in the area but helpful to folks in different areas too. Listen to what might be similar in your community and what differentiates your situation. That will help you recognize your assets and “areas for improvement.” Honestly it really helps to see what other communities are dealing with to see your own community more clearly and it’s inspiring to hear the good questions from community members and the plans to approach decisions makers to make things happen!

(And if you have similar to share from your community – please send it my way!)

The presentation looks at:

  • Why Local Governments are Investing in Broadband
  • Lessons learned from the pandemic
  • Existing services and providers
  • Models for gigabit service (costs and financial help)
  • Next steps

From their site…

Over the past two years, the East Range has worked on a regional project to understand what we need to do to improve our broadband. Now, it’s time for our broadband consultant, Diane Kruse of NEO Connect, to share the results of her work. The data she shares will give us the necessary information to make a case for stronger service and apply for state and federal grants. Watch the video of the event here!