Midco extends gig access to parts of Le Sueur, Steele, Blue Earth, Freeborn, Waseca and Dodge Counties

Midco announces

Homes and businesses in 15 southern Minnesota communities will now have access to Midco Gig. Midco Gig is 35 times faster than the average high-speed internet and available at an affordable price.

“The current environment has made high-speed internet more important than ever before,” said Midco President & CEO Pat McAdaragh. “From distance learning to telemedicine, Midco Gig Internet uses our state-of-the-art network to provide super-fast, reliable speeds through a modem.”

For residential customers, Midco Gig Internet will provide a large amount of bandwidth to a home network – allowing multiple users to surf, stream, download and game at the same time. For business customers, Midco Business Gig Internet will deliver the internet capacity needed to support employee productivity and serve customers.

The 15 southern Minnesota communities include: Alden, Blue Earth County, Claremont, Clarks Grove, Ellendale, Elysian, Freeborn County, Geneva, Glenville, Le Center, Medford, Medford Township, New Richard, Waterville and Waterville Township.

Midco Gig Internet is now available in 95% of the communities Midco serves. It’s part of Midco’s ongoing promise to deliver services that enhance people’s lives wherever they live and work.

Mankato Free Press on rural wins in Legislature

Mankato Free Press outlines the impacts of 2021 Legislative session on rural Minnesota…

Outstate Minnesota was not forgotten in the final decisions of the Minnesota Legislature as investments will flow into child care, broadband, meat packing and some regulations will be eased for farmers.

The specifics on broadband…

Broadband efforts also found widespread bipartisan support as the Legislature approved some $70 million in broadband funding for projects over the next two years. While that is only moderately higher than the last two years and the needs are said to be near $200 million, the initial funding will likely be followed with years of higher funding as federal COVID funds come through the pipeline.

Significant areas of outstate Minnesota have no or very poor broadband coverage making running a business difficult and leaving some school kids going to McDonald’s to connect to Wi-Fi.

Telemedicine gains momentum during pandemic and policy changes will keep it going

The Pine Journal reports…

Behavioral and mental health treatment was ahead of other specialties in terms of telemedicine use before the pandemic, but patients have still increasingly turned to those services over the past year.

One study found that telemedical care for mental health or substance abuse disorders increased from 1% of visits before the pandemic to 41% in October 2020.

For most people providing and receiving medical care, the escalated adoption of telemedicine is one of the silver linings amid the devastation of the pandemic. The funds funneled into the technology reflect its increased use. Investment in telehealth technologies in the first half of 2021 was greater than all of 2020, according to an analysis from management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

While the benefits of telemedicine have been especially appreciated among people who live with physical disability or mental illness, telehealth has also created new barriers for users during a time when medical support was vital.

Telehealth was an important tool…

A NAMI survey found that telehealth visits provided connection in a time when people were starved for it, especially while grappling with mental illness.

“Great to be able to connect with services right from my home. Being able to continue to be in visual connection with my therapist during the most isolated days/weeks of this pandemic was crucial. Nice to see people without masks on!” one respondent wrote.

Several respondents stated that they appreciated the relief of not having to figure out transportation for in-person appointments. Others wrote that they thought it was the safest option for themselves and their families during the pandemic, and it allowed them to stay in a comfortable environment on days they weren’t feeling well.

Unfortunately access to technology was a barrier to some…

“The elderly and kids are the ones who probably lost the most ground in terms of the pandemic and having to move to telehealth,” Abderholden said.

survey conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health also found that these were the groups most affected by barriers with technology.

Although many communities found some solutions…

The SEMCIL [Southeastern Minnesota Center for Independent Living] team offered a repository of 20 iPads and 50 Chromebooks to those in need during the pandemic, fueled largely by CARES Act dollars.

But access wasn’t the only issue…

Older patients seeking treatment for mental illness often encountered technological issues, sometimes only accessing their telehealth services after a provider walked them through how to download the software. Some users stuck with audio-only services, a lifeline for those living in areas with poor internet access.

Even for technology savants, telehealth posed a different problem: screen-time burnout.

School-age children who spent all day in front of their computers engaging in remote schooling would often not feel like diving into emotional issues in the same setting.

“The technology worked fine, but my child was burnt out on doing everything via video and started ending the sessions early. I’m not sure how to make the engagement better though,” wrote one respondent to the NAMI survey.

There were also privacy concerns for people who shared spaces with family members and couldn’t find a discreet area to candidly express their struggles with a mental health professional. Bastin found herself moderating what she said and when, even as she logged into her therapy sessions in the privacy of her room, because she worried family members might hear through the walls.

Regulations have been changed to make telemedicine easier now and in the future…

For years, advocates have tried to loosen restrictions surrounding telemedicine access. When the pandemic prompted widespread use of telehealth services, legislative changes finally followed.

The location where patients are eligible to receive telehealth services broadened in spring 2020 under emergency power authorization, enabling in-home care, and not solely in-hospital or clinic care. A second change allowed for audio-only care, a shift from previous regulations that restricted telehealth visits to video.

Legislation passed in June 2021 as part of the Health and Human Services bill made these changes part of law, not just part of the emergency powers declaration. The coverage of audio-only services is still in question due to concerns regarding quality of care, Renner said, but it is protected for at least the next two years.

Sen Klobuchar proposes bill to help social media channel misinformation

Broadband Breakfast reports

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, introduced a bill Thursday that would remove online platforms’ Section 230 liability protections when the platforms are used to spread misinformation about coronavirus vaccines or other public-health emergencies.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects online platforms like Facebook and Twitter from civil liability for third-party content posted on their platforms. The measure has come under intense scrutiny over the past year, with prominent figures from both major political parties calling for reform.

Klobuchar said she decided to pursue new legislation because previous attempts to persuade Facebook to regulate the content have not been successful, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Interesting to hear some of the reasoning…

The bill’s introduction cites a report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which says that only 12 social media pages are responsible for a significant amount of false information being circulated about vaccines.

Last week, President Joe Biden said that Facebook was “killing people” by spreading misinformation about coronavirus vaccines. Biden later clarified his statement, saying that he wasn’t accusing the company of murder, but wanted them to “do something about the misinformation.”

The following day, Facebook rejected Biden’s criticism in a blog post, saying that 85 percent of its U.S. users either want to be or already have been vaccinated, citing this as evidence that Facebook was not the reason Biden’s goal of a 70 percent vaccination goal by July was not Facebook’s fault. Facebook said it was helping efforts to vaccinate the country by operating vaccine clinics in low-income communities in several states.

Mankato getting more fiber with Consolidated and faster downloads with Spectrum

KEYC News Mankato reports news from Spectrum…

Good news for internet users in our area, two of the area’s main broadband providers are both upping internet speeds for its customers.

Spectrum increases its download speeds from 100 to 200 megabits in Mankato and surrounding areas.

And news from Consolidated…

In an effort to close the local digital divide, Consolidated Communications also brings faster speeds to its customers through its fiber rollout.

Upgrading about 5000 homes in North Mankato and Mankato to fiber optic cable from its traditional copper wire cable.

“This will enable high-speed gigabit symmetrical speeds to these customers homes and small businesses. We are seeing a drastic increase in the demand for bandwidth across the country, especially here in Southern Minnesota where we call home, Mankato is such a special we are excited to bring these faster speeds to our customers,” said Consolidated Communications Senior Director of Operations, Ryan Walker.

The rollout is part of Consolidated’s plan to upgrade more than 70% of its service to fiber optics by 2025.

MN regulators refuse CenturyLink’s request to drop landline service quality rules

Earlier this month, I wrote about the MN Dep of Commerce and Attorney General’s Office calling out CenturyLink for landline customer service. Today we have a little follow up; Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Minnesota utility regulators Thursday unanimously rejected CenturyLink’s petition to abandon or modify key landline service rules, saying it would hurt consumers who depend on hard-wired telephones.

CenturyLink, Minnesota’s largest landline phone provider, petitioned the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to jettison two long-standing regulations covering customer service response times.

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and Department of Commerce both recommended against the change and in a different report said the phone company was violating the regulations.

Here’s part of the explanation…

[PUC] Commissioner Valerie Means said that landline service is still relevant, particularly to elderly, rural and lower-income customers. “There are customers whose sole service is landline, and those customers deserve quality of service [protections].”

Means said she agreed with the Commerce and Attorney General’s offices that the request should be denied. Both agencies represent the public interest before the commission.

But quality of customer service was called out too…

In June, CenturyLink asked the PUC to eliminate or modify the “interruptions of service” rule, which states that landline providers should take care of 95% of out-of-service phone complaints within 24 hours after they’re reported.

The company also wanted the PUC to rescind or change its “answering time” rule, which says landline providers need to answer 90% of their customer service phone calls within 20 seconds.

There are other voices speaking out too in support of the decision…

Jeff Lachler, a staff representative for the union representing 700 CenturyLink workers, said the phone company’s “problem is entirely self-made.… The company could decrease broadband repair times by hiring more technicians.”

In a filing with the PUC, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) said that CenturyLink has reduced its Minnesota workforce by 52% over the last four years.

Ian Dobson, an assistant Minnesota attorney general, told the PUC that “CenturyLink has the money to dedicate to broadband services if it chooses to do so. … We shouldn’t cut off or weaken the protections for those who remain [with landline].”

And in support of CenturyLink…

Frontier Communications, Minnesota’s second-largest landline phone provider with about 90,000 customers, has supported CenturyLink’s petition to abandon or modify the two service quality rules. A Frontier representative spoke in favor of it at Thursday’s meeting.

Norwalk, Conn.-based Frontier has had its own service quality issues with Minnesota consumers and regulators in recent years. Investigations by the Commerce Department and the attorney general found a broad array of alleged violations at Frontier, leading to legal settlements with both in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

PUC Commissioner John Tuma on Thursday noted the absence of other Minnesota telecom providers in support of CenturyLink’s request — particularly the Minnesota Telecom Alliance, a trade group representing 70 companies.

MinnPost looks at Legislature’s impact on rural areas.

MinnPost looks at Legislature’s impact on rural areas. Here’s what they said about broadband…

Minnesota legislators this year tried to address many of the issues facing Greater Minnesota, from farming pollution to broadband access, meat processing capacity and lack of child care. Here’s a look at some of the policy and spending proposals with outsized impact outside of the seven-county Twin Cities metro area that did — or didn’t — get through the majority-Democrat House and the Republican-led Senate this year.

Broadband grant program

State broadband officials recommended $120 million in new spending on high-speed internet infrastructure in Minnesota over the next two years. Lawmakers eventually voted for $70 million, which is still the largest one-time infusion of cash into Minnesota’s grant program. The $70 million was paid for by the federal stimulus plan approved by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year. It’s still not enough money to completely close Minnesota’s longstanding disparities in internet access.

They don’t do into greater detail but the fact that it isn’t state money is a flag because it means that federal rules may apply, which means lower speed goals and other factors. Also it puts broadband off a budget line item in a way and I never think that’s such a good thing. On the other hand, it’s nice to use federal funds where we can.

Dakota County Broadband Report 2020

Every county should publish a county broadband annual report! If you do have one – please send it my way. If you don’t,  Dakota Broadband Board (DBB) model is a good one to use (starts on page 19)…

In 2020 the Dakota Broadband Board continued to make significant strides towards its goal of connecting and serving public facilities throughout its member communities in an efficient manner. As stated in the Joint Powers Agreement, the intent of the DBB is:

  • To create a high-performance institutional network for the efficient management of physical network assets owned among members (conduit, fiber, cable, etc.), and to enable more efficient and lower cost price agreements for member for a variety of IP-based services
  • To utilize excess capacity to enhance business attraction, business retention, and economic development opportunities through wholesale access to private sector providers
  • The DBB will not be a retail provider of services to businesses and residents in Dakota County

Project activity continued to increase in 2020 for DBB members. These projects not only improved the way that members were able to serve the public across a variety of programs and platforms, but also increased redundancy in the network to protect against unexpected interruptions and enabled members to better plan for and react to emergencies in their communities. Over 17 miles of fiber were added to the network as a result of DBB projects in 2020.

Through collaborative planning efforts and improvements in administrative processes, the organization also continued to produce effective and responsive outcomes for its members.

The broadband landscape in Dakota County in Dakota County will continue to change. At the conclusion of 2020, the DBB was in the process of considering the issuance of a Request for Proposal (RFP) to facilitate the update of its current Systems Plan. This process will help provide DBB Board members with the data needed to continue to move the organization forward in the future

The report goes on to highlight DBB Projects, Project Planning, Collaboration and Partnership (they excel here!) Budget Summary and Communication and Process Improvement.

Also Dakota County is ahead of the game in many ways and very generous with the information they share.

EVENT Aug 18: Minnesota Broadband Coalition Meeting

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

Save the Date!
Minnesota Broadband Coalition Meeting

Wednesday, August 18, 2021
9:30 -11:30 a.m.
Via Zoom
Agenda Coming Soon!
Join Zoom Meeting 
Meeting ID: 885 8579 5879
Passcode: MRBC
One tap mobile
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Dial by your location
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
Meeting ID: 885 8579 5879
Passcode: 400730
Find your local number

Please RSVP by replying to this email or Emily Murray to indicate attendance or absence.
Feel free to extend this invitation to other interested stakeholders.

EVENT July 28: Lunch Bunch join the Task Force then chat after

Each month the Blandin Foundation hosts two conversations or lunch bunch sessions. This month the second Lunch Bunch, which focuses on Digital Use and Inclusion, falls on the same day of the MN Broadband Task Force meeting. The Task Force goes from 10am to 12:30 pm. The Lunch Bunch goes from noon to 1pm. So I had an idea. I propose that folks join me at the Task Force (when you can) and that we meet for Lunch Bunch after.

The Task Force holds space at the end of each meeting for public comments. They almost never get comments but I think they would be well served by hearing from folks on the frontlines who need better broadband. So if you have a story to share – I especially invite you to join me in the meeting. If you are interested in watching but not being seen, I livestream the meetings on Facebook too.

Once the Task Force meeting ends, I will pop into the Lunch Bunch meeting and Mary Magnuson has kindly offered to hold open that space until I get there. And I figure we can talk about the Task Force meeting and/or anything related to the Task Force. Over the years I have attended most of the Task Force meetings through the many iterations of the group.

Register now!

EVENT July 28: MN Broadband Task Force July Meeting

The MN Broadband Task Force is meeting next Wednesday. It is open to the public and there is always time for public comment. I will be livestreaming via Facebook too for folks who don’t want to join the meeting…

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband
July 28, 2021
10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
ZoomGov meeting
Join on your computer or mobile app
Click here to join the meeting
Or call in (audio only)
(669) 254-5252
Meeting ID: 161 491 0984
Passcode: 258350

10:00 a.m. – 10:10 a.m. Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from June 14, 2021 Meeting

10:10 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.  OBD Update

  • Angie Dickison, OBD Executive Director
  • Diane Wells, OBD Deputy Director

10:15 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Connecting Minnesota: MnDOT’s Fiber Optic Partnership Study

  • Kristin R. White, Executive Director, Connected & Automated Vehicles Office (CAV-X)

11:15 a.m. – 11:20 a.m. Break

11:20 a.m. – 11:50 a.m. CNS Broadband Operations Map Demo

  • Paul Solsrud, Product Manager, Cooperative Network Services, LLC

11:50 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.   Subgroup Updates

12:15 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. Public Comment, Other Business, September Meeting Plans, Wrap-up

 

Hennepin County board authorizes $10M toward eliminating digital divide

From Hennepin County – big investment in the future and an opportunity to keep an eye on Office of Broadband and Digital Inclusion for good ideas…

On Tuesday, July 20, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners authorized the use of up to $10 million in federal funding to continue the county’s efforts in eliminating the digital divide. A newly created Office of Broadband and Digital Inclusion will take action to reduce disparities in access to broadband internet and support for digital literacy.

Digital equity

“We believe digital equity is foundational for strong post-pandemic society,” said Chela Guzmán-Wiegert, Assistant County Administrator for Disparity Reduction. “We intend to leverage all available resources to meet this need in our most impacted communities.”

The COVID-19 pandemic magnified a longstanding gap between connected communities and areas that lack the infrastructure to participate in an increasingly digital world. With input from community, local government, business, and non-profit partners the Office of Broadband and Digital Inclusion will create a Digital Equity Plan to guide efforts to eliminate the digital divide.

Connecting Hennepin

In 2020, Hennepin County leveraged CARES Act funding to launch Connecting Hennepin, an initiative to address three critical areas of the digital divide: devices, connectivity, and digital literacy. With the help of community organizations and distribution partner PCs for People, the initiative provided more than 8,000 laptops to residents who lacked reliable access to technology. Connecting Hennepin also piloted a program to help residents secure internet hotspots or subsidized internet services.

Infrastructure, devices, and education

The Office of Broadband and Digital Inclusion will pursue opportunities to deepen broadband penetration throughout Hennepin County and leverage the county’s existing fiber-optic infrastructure to help resolve broadband gaps through public-private partnerships with internet service providers.

Federal funding through the American Recovery Act will also support:

  • Community-based digital navigation and technology adoption
  • Education for digital literacy, privacy, and internet safety
  • Free, low-cost, or loaned computers for county clients and other prioritized residents

Emergency Broadband Benefit

Connecting Hennepin is currently promoting the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), a federal program designed to reduce internet costs. The program provides discounted or free internet to many households. Learn more about the EBB and other Connecting Hennepin programs at hennepin.us/tech.

Fridley storm shelter also used as learning hub and literacy center

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on a project involving Libraries without Borders and Park Plaza Cooperative, a community of manufactured homes. I wrote about the project last October (2020); it’s fun to see that they are able this year to provide in-person programming without COVID restrictions…

[A] call came from Libraries Without Borders, a nonprofit with the mission of bringing knowledge and information to people in need. And with it came the offer to turn the diverse community’s storm shelter into a learning hub by supplying Wi-Fi connections, books, art materials, computers and iPads.

“It could be everybody’s dream to walk to a building and use a library,” said Seefeld, who has lived at Park Plaza since 1998 and served as its president for the past 10 years. “Reading brings people together.”

Many of the 83 families who live at Park Plaza are immigrants whose primary language is not English. About 30% have trouble accessing a library due to a lack of transportation, or can’t get to a library when it’s open, according to Anoka County Library and Libraries Without Borders officials.

But residents did turn out Saturday for a celebration kicking off an ambitious series of live programs that will include everything from English language classes to reading, writing and computer skills.

It’s not the first program in the area…

In 2018, Park Plaza opened a new aboveground storm shelter strong enough to withstand an F5 tornado. The building has a kitchen, gyms and rooms with tables and chairs — a perfect space for a learning and literacy hub.

“I think it’s great,” said Fridley Mayor Scott Lund. Using the building as a library and connecting people to it can only be positive, he said. “It’s great thinking on their part.”

Libraries Without Borders had already brought its “Wash and Learn Initiative” to Minnesota, partnering with libraries to bring story times to laundromats. As the nonprofit in 2018 launched its Manufactured Housing Initiative to reach the estimated 22 million people in the United States who live in manufactured homes, it called Seefeld.

And the model in Minnesota could start a bigger trend…

Park Plaza could serve as a model for other manufactured home parks, said Libraries Without Borders Executive Director Adam Echelman. The nonprofit is looking to bring library services to a few such communities in southern Minnesota, he said.

Minnesota policymakers are speaking up for federal infrastructure funding (including broadband)

The Bemidji Pioneer reports

Minnesota mayors and business leaders on Monday, July 19, urged Congress to advance a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, citing deteriorating roads, rail and broadband services that impeded economic progress in their cities.

The local leaders said they were among more than 400 mayors across all 50 states pressing their local delegations to back the proposal as the U.S. Senate prepares to take up the plan this week.

Access to broadband isn’t just a rural issue!

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has highlighted McKinsey & Company’s recent survey of 25,000 Americans about their view of the future, the pandemic and their identity. The Twin Cities overall surveyed in slightly better shape that other areas but there was a disparity gap…

The racial disparities are particularly stark. Only 29% of Blacks in the Twin Cities region believe that most people can find good jobs — many fewer than among Black Americans as a whole (40%) or compared with their fellow Minnesotans (46%). Moreover, 56% of Blacks in the Twin Cities say their race hurt their job prospects, a level 15 percentage points higher than the national average and the highest of any city surveyed. Blacks and Hispanics in the Twin Cities were also much more likely to have lost income over the course of the pandemic; Blacks in particular were feeling much more vulnerable economically. Both groups cite affordable health insurance as a significant barrier to their well-being at much higher rates than the U.S. average.

Broadband was listed as a tool that could help lift people to a better place…

Across race, gender, income and education, COVID-19 exacerbated existing inequalities; it would be a shame if the emerging recovery resulted in more of the same. Improving racial and social equity is a national concern, but there is wide scope for local action. In the Twin Cities, many businesses have pledged to do more, and indeed the private sector here has a long track record of constructive civic action. But how? The survey offers some hints.

Looking specifically at Black Minnesotans, more than half said that lack of experience, training or education was a barrier to changing jobs — 23 points more than the national average; 57% were interested in training programs or acquiring new skills. They were much more likely than other Black Americans — and three times as likely as their white neighbors — to cite a lack of financial services as a problem, and also considerably more likely to say they cannot afford internet access. Providing training, expanding access to broadband and offering affordable financial services — these are all things where the private sector can lead.

Broadband levels the playing field whether you’re in Grand Portage or North Minneapolis.