Is five years the expiration date for a broadband goal or definition? If so, time’s up!

The FCC definition of broadband is 25 Mbps down and 3 up (25/3). The Minnesota State speed goals are 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026. I sat in the room while that state speed goal was hammered out – over several months in 2015 – five years ago! (Federal definition changed in 2010 and 2015.)  Keen minds will remember that that MN base upload actually decreased in 2016, when the legislature moved from:

(2010) Universal access and high-speed goal.
It is a state goal that as soon as possible, but no later than 2015, all state residents and businesses have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of ten to 20 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of five to ten megabits per second.

To

(2016) Universal access and high-speed goal.
It is a state goal that:
(1) no later than 2022, all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to high-speed broadband that provides minimum download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second and minimum upload speeds of at least three megabits per second; and
(2) no later than 2026, all Minnesota businesses and homes have access to at least one provider of broadband with download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and upload speeds of at least 20 megabits per second.

Do we need new speed goals?

It seems like a good time to revisit speed goals – especially since we’ve seen an accelerated increase in demand due to COVID raising questions of equity for those are the wrong side of the digital divide. (Just yesterday Rep. Eshoo introduced Legislation to update the National Broadband Plan.) Also lots of people are looking at increasing funds to close that divide – folks like the US Senate and House, MN Legislature,  and even groups such as the American Connection Project Broadband Coalition (ACPBC). The speeds we use to define broadband and dole out funding will impact the communities that get funding and their ability to take classes online, participate in telehealth, work online – even Zoom with family and friends.

Last month, the MN Broadband Task Force heard from former FCC member, Jonathan Chambers who was very clear about saying that broadband is not a static speed. It reflects usage and need. He also reminded members about the National Broadband Plan (2010), which set a goal of 100 million homes with 100 Mbps access and 4/1 access for the rest. “Aim too low, get too low,” he said.

He shared an interactive map that shows all funding disbursed from the Universal Service Administration Corporation for High Cost and Connect America Fund programs from January 2015 through March 2020 by provider on a map that shows served and unserved areas (25/3). Below you see three views. (Click in enlarge.) First the view of served/unserved areas. Next in red we see the area served by Paul Bunyan, the orange area is still unserved and they have received $39,518,942.85 in CAF and High Cost money. Finally, in red is the area served by Frontier, orange is still unserved and we see they have received $144,143,070 in CAF money since 2015.

Those companies received funding because the areas they served were previously unserved. (So local communities care about speed goals and definitions.) They are supposed to be providing service that qualifies those areas as served. (So, providers and the funders should care about the goals and definitions.)

Speed goals and definitions matter!

What is the right speed?

You can look at what other states are doing, see how we compare with other countries, remember that in 2010 we were shooting for 100 Mbps for most homes and/or look at what industries and sectors are going to need in the future. Here are some examples…

The USDA’s A Case for Rural Broadband focuses on precision agriculture…

  • A leading, multinational network hardware and telecommunications equipment technology conglomerate projects that the average global download speed will double from 39 Mbps in 2017 to 75 Mbps by 2022
  • Disparities in broadband infrastructure directly impact rural citizens and businesses – including agriculture, which stifles the modernization of food production urban and suburban citizens rely on.
  • Rural broadband has become a national priority to address the e-connectivity gap and deliver increased economic and societal benefits. The American economy stands to capture substantial gains from e-connectivity through adoption of Next Generation Precision Agriculture. USDA’s analysis estimates that connected technologies are poised to transform agricultural production and create a potential $47-$65 billion in annual gross benefit for the United States.

Vox recognizes the need for symmetrical broadband for something we have all become almost too well acquainted with…

  • Upload capacity is key to video conferencing services. So if your Zoom meetings aren’t going so well, you might be maxing out what your old infrastructure can handle. But if you’ve got a fiber connection, you should ask your ISP about getting symmetrical upload and download speeds.

The FCC created a Household Broadband Guide. The chart says it all – or all they have to say. They aren’t specific about upload vs download but I know that even when there are only two of us at home – we are advanced users with two of us on different Zoom calls and often on our phones as well – and post COVID, I think many households are in similar positions.

The need for increased speed become even clearer if you look at their activity by speed (again only download). One telecommuter or one student using 5-25 Mbps. Again, that pushes most households beyond federal definition and quickly inching toward (or beyond) the MN 2026 speed goal.

We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but it seems getting the most broadband we can is one way to prepare. In the last week, I have been meeting with small businesses in Chisago County via Zoom. Well, I can meet with most by Zoom but several couldn’t because they didn’t have enough broadband.

That’s the difference between being able to work from home or losing your job. It’s the difference between seeing the doctor remotely or going into the office – if they’re open. It’s the difference between your kids talking classes online or to borrow from a story Senator Klobuchar shared today…

There was a story of a girl just last week out of Otter Tail County who drove to Battle Lake to do her biology quizzes in the liquor store parking lot.

Senator Klobuchar proposes legislation to invest $100 billion in broadband

Governing reports…

Standing outside the Nobles County, Minn., Government Center on the afternoon of July 3 with city and county officials, Sen. Amy Klobuchar discussed her proposed legislation that would invest $100 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities across the country.

Klobuchar, who co-chairs the Senate Broadband Caucus, introduced the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act on July 1. In the House of Representatives, the legislation is being led by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat.

They spoke about many reason for needing better broadband…

In rural Minnesota, Klobuchar said Friday, it’s critical that the ag sector has access to high-speed internet.

“With modern-day farming, you’ve got to have access,” Klobuchar said. “I remember when we had avian flu, one of the companies actually put in its own broadband so they could monitor temperature for their turkeys growing.

“These are the kinds of things that are going on all the time. But to me it’s not really separate from the pandemic, because we know it was an issue before the pandemic for students.”

Klobuchar cited statistics that reveal 16 percent of rural households in Minnesota currently don’t have high-speed internet. That translates to about 140,000 households.

“For Worthington at the start of the pandemic … 500 of 3,500 students didn’t have internet access,” she said, explaining that those numbers were eventually cut in half thanks to the efforts of local internet providers.

Metz, who serves on the Lismore Cooperative Telephone Co. board of directors, expressed hope that the bill would provide much-needed funding for infrastructure while also providing a boost for local telecommunications companies.

“That’s why we did this bill,” Klobuchar responded.

Need help starting that business? Here are a few places to go

Launch Minnesota and tech.mn have partnered to publish The Ultimate Guide to MN Accelerators 2020.

Most organizations listed are in the Twin Cities with a few notable exceptions:

  • Red Wing Ignite
  • gBETA Greater MN St. Cloud
  • Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator (Andover)
  • Technology Village Business Accelerator (Prior Lake)

Several of the accelerators have an affiliation with a college. Some seem to focus on one industry or another. Some are more like a college program and others are more like a coworking space. Like looking for a new neighborhood, each has its own charm, you just have to find the one that suits you.

Land O’Lakes, Inc. and partners launch a growing coalition to close America’s digital divide

Land O’Lakes announces…

Today, 49 organizations spanning multiple industries announced they have joined forces as part of a new coalition dedicated to helping close America’s digital divide. Convened by farmer-owned cooperative Land O’Lakes, Inc., the newly formed American Connection Project Broadband Coalition (ACPBC or “Coalition”) will advocate for public and private sector investment to bring high-speed internet infrastructure to rural areas, in addition to advocating for policies and contributing their own resources to facilitate remote education, health and mental health  services, job opportunities and more, with the goal of connecting and lifting up all American communities through access to modern digital technology. The Coalition is continually adding members who share a desire to connect the country.
“All too often, farmers, business owners and even school children are disadvantaged by being on the wrong side of our country’s digital divide, a problem that has become more acute as we deal with the challenges of COVID-19,” said Beth Ford, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes, Inc. “But this isn’t just a rural issue. The American Connection Project Broadband Coalition represents a mix of companies from tech, health care, agriculture, and more who understand the ramifications of our country’s broken internet infrastructure and who have the willingness and expertise to help address this need. We are so grateful to our partners who recognize that connecting all Americans is possible and who are willing to work with us to close our country’s digital divide and invest in our collective future.”
Currently, the ACPBC is made up of 49 businesses, trade associations, non-profits, municipalities and academic institutions. In addition, the Coalition works with organizations like The Business Roundtable and individual political leaders to jointly advance their efforts in this area.
In conjunction with the launch of the Coalition, the companies today sent a letter to President Trump and congressional leadership urging them to “enact groundbreaking broadband connectivity legislation that includes the necessary resources to close the digital divide in this country.”
The Coalition recognizes that bridging America’s digital divide is a costly goal, but firmly believes it is worth the investment. The Federal Communications Commission estimated in 2017 that it would cost $80 billion to bring high-speed internet to remaining parts of the country that do not have access, while a more recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report estimated it would require “between $130 and $150 billion over the next five to seven years, to adequately support rural coverage and 5G wireless densification.” However, a study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Technology Engagement Center has found that “better adoption of online tools and digital services by businesses outside metropolitan areas could create 360,000 new full-time jobs in rural areas and add more than $140 billion to the U.S. economy over the next three years.”
In the letter, the Coalition added, “As we look to help our nation recover from this global pandemic, let’s make a smart investment in the future competitiveness of this country and ensure that all Americans, in both rural and urban areas, are able to access the internet.”
The member companies have also collaborated in a number of ways prior to launch. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Land O’Lakes, Inc. and other partners have established free, guest Wi-Fi access points outside Land O’Lakes’ business locations in more than 150 communities. For example, Microsoft donated hotspot boosters to further the reach of the guest Wi-Fi, so that area residents could safely conduct business, communicate with family and friends, and carry out other daily activities online while staying socially distanced in their cars.
In April, the Coalition sent a letter to all 50 U.S. governors, asking for their support of the initiative and inviting them to leverage their own resources to add more Wi-Fi hotspot locations around their states. In addition, the Coalition asked states to support policies that would make telemedicine more accessible and affordable and urged their support of robust state and federal infrastructure investments to solve rural internet connectivity challenges. Separately, the Coalition has worked closely with governors from 11 states who recently called on Congress to pass groundbreaking legislation to bridge the digital divide.
The Coalition plans to expand its membership and continue its advocacy work in the coming months. Many of the members have taken steps individually to help close the digital divide through donating funds and equipment, and part of the group’s activity will be to identify new ways to work together to maximize the reach of these actions and fill needs that have not previously been met.

MN allows telehealth consults for cannabis authorization

The [Washington] Spokesman Review reports…

Until recently, the term “telehealth” was known in the medical community, but not the cannabis community.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak sent the country into lockdown, medical marijuana users in many states can now check in with a health care provider by video for authorization, rather than an in-person meeting.

According to MPP.org, 31 states currently allow telemedicine for cannabis patients – 11 of which have temporarily altered their laws as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic.

The following 11 states also allow patients to receive virtual advisement for medical marijuana prescriptions under the stay-at-home/safer-at-home orders put in place across the country: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio and Rhode Island.

CNS acquires WCTG creating unified state-wide fiber network

Big news from CNS

– Cooperative Network Services, LLC (CNS), a Minnesota fiber-optic transport carrier announced today that it has purchased the assets of West Central Transport Group, LLC (WCTG), a major fiber network in west central and southern Minnesota.

The deal will increase the CNS backbone network to a total of 2,500 route miles of fiber, and including partner assets, brings the network total to 10,200 route miles of fiber and 40,000 on-net/lit buildings.

Combining the assets of these two networks will enable MN’s rural telecom and broadband providers to deliver increasingly advanced services faster.

“This acquisition fits perfectly with the CNS purpose of Bringing More Broadband to More Rural Places… it creates new opportunities for success for many rural MN independent telecom providers, ensuring they have access to essential network services, and that they have a stake in the transport business for the future,” said Jason Dale, CNS CEO. “As technology and rural transport economics have changed, it’s clear that a unified state-wide network is a key ingredient to remaining relevant in the transport world. By combining these two complimentary networks, we’ve taken a huge step forward. We are extremely excited for this new chapter.”

The decision for combining these networks was an obvious one since eight of the owners of WCTG are also CNS owners, and the two networks have a long history of partnering together. These relationships will lend themselves to a quick transition, and early growth opportunities. The WCTG network will operate under the CNS subsidiary Fiber Minnesota, LLC.

“WCTG felt the CNS team was the perfect choice to continue meeting the needs of customers and neighbors,” said Jake Anderson, President of WCTG. “We are excited for the opportunities and crucial connectivity our combined networks will bring to the state of Minnesota and beyond.”

Similar to surrounding states

Minnesota’s fiber transport landscape has long been made up of smaller regional networks, but as technology has progressed, so too is the need for a larger, unified network.

For years, Minnesota has differed from neighboring states, where the independent telephone/ broadband providers joined forces decades ago to create statewide networks – enjoying robust facilities and advanced centralized solutions.

“This is a big win for the independent telecom providers in MN,” said Dean Bahls, CNS’ Network Manager. “The increased footprint will provide direct connectivity to more CNS owner companies, as well as connectivity to many more on-net customers throughout large portions of the state.”

The CNS Network currently uses Cisco NCS2K/15454 ROADM and has a proven track record of uptime. The newly acquired network also uses the same platform and will mesh together seamlessly.

Streamlined quoting and turn-up

With the increase of on-net route miles, quoting circuits will be faster, and pricing will be more competitive. Customers will enjoy highly available services, with faster resolution times.

Network of Networks

As with the current CNS network, through partnership with 702 Communications, the newly combined network will be branded under the Aurora Fiber Optic Networks name and will continue to be a part of the INDATEL nationwide network of networks.

The CNS purpose is to Bring More Broadband to More Rural Places. With that goal in mind we provide a variety of services to the rural telecommunications industry.

Cooperative Network Services (CNS) is a key provider of high-capacity fiber-optic backhaul for much of Minnesota, providing IP/TDM Transport, Special Access Circuits, and Ethernet services to the carrier, enterprise, and SMB markets.

CNS’ ownership consists of 20 cooperative telephone and broadband providers operating in and around Minnesota.

In addition to the CNS transport network, we also provide professional services to rural providers throughout the country, including: Engineering, Consulting, Video Product Management, Human Resources, and Graphic Design services.

Our ownership consists exclusively of cooperative telecommunications providers, and CNS reflects the cooperative spirit and values of its owners in the services it provides. By working together as a group, CNS provides the benefits and efficiencies of consolidation that much of the rest of our industry has experienced in recent years, while at the same time offering services that no single member could offer alone. This is very much in keeping with the cooperative mission. Do More. Together.

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Minnesota’s Children Press archive

Anne Brataas, director of the Minnesota’s Children Press and other enterprises, was our guest presenter.  She described how she is active in the Grand Marais community empowering kids age 5-15 with technology and communications skills around community messaging.  There is a strong focus on entrepreneurship so that kids develop both skills and attitude to achieve economic self-sufficiency.  Most recently, the kids have been creating messaging around community health during the pandemic for residents and visitors to Grand Marais.  Using marketing strategies borrowed from Burma Shave, they find sign sponsors, create the verbiage, and make and install the signs.  Profits go to community projects like a new cover for the practice rolling log at the YMCA or a new sun shield at a local park.

The discussion included active conversation about the current pressures on local newspapers, many of which are cutting the number of papers published per week, including the Duluth paper.  Becky Lourie noted that many of the articles in her very local papers in northern Pine and Carlton County are written by citizen journalists.  We also talked about the ability of local media, especially with active youth involvement, to address the gaps of information around local history, including a focus on indigenous people and other people of color.  Anne calls this “whole history.”  Finally, we had an active social justice discussion on the uneven impact of the pandemic on people based on race and economic status.

Next Tuesday, July 14 at 9 am, we will talk about 5G.  Brian Pickering will be our guest expert.  Brian is Nokia’s Vice President of 5G Product Sales North America.  This is a great opportunity to learn about how 5G technologies and services might impact your community’s broadband services and the way that your residents, organizations and businesses use technology. (See slides.)

Webinar chat: Continue reading

Highlighting the benefits of telethealth in treating mental health in rural MN

MinnPost interviews Kristi K. Phillips, chair of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Committee on Rural Health, Phillips, who lives with her family in Litchfield, about the impact of telehealth in rural Minnestoa…

MP: I grew up in a small town. Back then nobody talked about their mental health. I’ve lived in the city for decades and many people here now seem pretty comfortable talking about mental illness. Are attitudes changing in rural communities?

KP: There is still a perceived and real stigma in rural communities about seeking mental health care. If you’ve ever been to a waiting room in a rural clinic, many times it’s like a social hour. It seems like everybody’s there. When you are wanting a zone of privacy around your mental health, this kind of thing makes people hesitant to go in.

One silver lining is telehealth. Since COVID hit, and I’ve been able to provide remote mental health services. Because of that, I’ve seen more famers and farm families than ever. More clients are willing to meet with me via telehealth because it offers more privacy. They don’t need to come into the clinic and risk seeing all their neighbors in the waiting room.

MP: Clearly the privacy that telehealth provides is a major plus. Do you see other benefits to remote therapy?

KP: Things are just so much more spread out in the country. I’ve had clients who’ve had to drive an hour each way to see me. At harvest time, that kind of time commitment is just not possible. Telehealth opens up new options. I can be working with patients wherever they are. They can have an appointment on their smartphones. My therapy appointments last 45 minutes to one hour. Telehealth makes that time commitment more obtainable for busy people. And we can schedule appointments at flexible times. I can work around their schedules.

MP: That flexibility is probably important, because people are juggling so much right now.

KP: Since I began offering telehealth, I’ve had almost a zero percentage of no shows. That’s completely the opposite of how it is for in-person appointments. If someone isn’t there at the scheduled time, I can almost always reach them: Most people carry their cellphones with them wherever they go. Maybe they’ve been distracted and forgotten their appointment. When I reach them on the phone, they’ll say, “I completely forgot the time. Let me pull over.” They can meet with me wherever they’re at.

MP: Is telehealth particularly helpful in Greater Minnesota, where mental health providers are few and far between?

KP: In Litchfield we are an underserved shortage area for mental health care. This is where I think telehealth can be especially helpful. If people don’t show for their in-person appointments, it is difficult to fill. We don’t have many of those kinds of issues with telehealth. People who are actually registered for appointments are getting seen. And we can see more patients in a day. People don’t feel like they have to take a half day off work just to travel to an appointment. They can say, “I’ll see you over my lunch hour,” and we can make that happen.

There are so many benefits that have come from telehealth. It’s unfortunate it took a pandemic for us to finally get comfortable with using these tools to make our lives better.

MP: After hearing your enthusiasm, it almost seems silly to ask you this, but do you see any disadvantages to telehealth?

KP: You do miss some of the micro-expressions that you’d observe in person. Some clients say they find telehealth impersonal or uncomfortable. But the benefits exponentially outweigh those types of issues.

MP: Do you hope to continue offering telehealth as an option for patients into the future?

KP: Yes. The majority of my patients want to be seen by telehealth.

Blandin on Broadband eNews: MN Monthly Recap: Broadband, Policy, COVID-19 (July 2020)

Save the month of October: Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand
Interesting times require innovative solutions! So, the Blandin conference planning team has decided to lean in and move the annual conference online – and reformed it into a monthlong series of opportunities. Coming in October!

Blandin in part of State Plan to Close Digital Divide
Governor Walz announces Public-Private Partnership to support technology needs of Minnesota students. Partnership for a ConnectedMN is led by Best Buy, Comcast, Blandin Foundation, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Business Partnership, in collaboration with the State of Minnesota.

MN Broadband Task Force June 2020
The Task Force heard from Microsoft Airband about their offerings. They also heard from former FCC member, Jonathan Chambers who mentioned maps that showed public investment by county and talked about the need to focus on future proof network or prepare to pay for upgrades.

State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Impact of COVID-19

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

Chisago County
What to do with schools in the fall? Online, in-person, hybrid. Chisago asks an expert about online education

East Range Iron Range
Five public safety broadband projects led by East Range Iron Range Blandin Broadband Communities program

Golden Valley, Minneapolis and Willmar
Three MN healthcare facilities get FCC funding

Grand Marais
Minnesota Children’s Press Story Scouts use Instagram to encourage COVID precautions in the community

Hubbard County
Hubbard County vets office provides telehealth option

Iron Range
Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects with Iron Range Tourism Bureau

Jacobson
Jacobson Community Center get creative with WiFi

Little Falls
Little Falls MN bypasses maps that exaggerate broadband coverage to form partnership with CTC

Minneapolis
M Health Fairview expands telemedicine to homeless shelter

Nessel Township
CenturyLink to bring fiber to 1,000+ homes in Nessel Township, MN

Northern MN
Northern MN appreciates ConnectedMN state funds to get kids connected

Rice County
Views of broadband expansion in Rice County

Rochester and Onamia
FCC announces 77 More CARES Act telehealth awards: 2 are in MN

Two Harbors
Wilderness health gets $800,000 for telehealth in Two Harbors

Winona County
Winona County to votes on approval of a 300-foot telecommunications tower near Lewiston

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Notes on previous Blandin Broadband Roundtables

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Broadband advocates in Saint Louis County have been engaged in a crowd-sourced broadband speed test that is yielding fascinating and useful results.  Approximately 7,000 completed tests have led to clear conclusions made visible through sophisticated GIS mapping tools. Several neighboring counties are now moving forward with a similar strategy and there is an emerging consensus that this should be a statewide initiative.

The GEO Partners mapping tool provides address-specific data about the actual speed a customer is receiving.  The biggest value will be for local areas that have low-speed connections. The most important data will be collected in places where the state and federal maps show broadband service in excess of 25 Mb/3 Mb and the actual service is less.

The benefits of this approach are many.  It offers clarity to local government leaders about what broadband services are actually available.  This statistically valid evidence helps build community consensus.   State officials could use this data in adjudicating grant challenges from competing ISPs.  Federal programs would consider this information as input when deciding which regions were eligible for federal programs based.  Importantly, prospective providers could use this information to determine the actual quality of existing networks where they are considering expansions.

The results show very clear differences among providers and among different technologies and are no surprise to anyone working on broadband issues in rural areas.  While some customers may buy low-speed services for affordability reasons, the lack of any high-speed connections in an area can be used as evidence that high-speed service is not widely available or simply too expensive.

At community meetings in rural areas, the display of broadband maps often brings reactions of disbelief and testimonials of poor service.  Today, the burden of proof to correct these maps is on local leaders who have only these individual stories to bring to state and federal elected officials and staff.  A crowd-sourced statewide broadband speed test would create a second source of reliable data that could be a strong counterweight to the existing over-optimistic maps submitted by providers.

Stay tuned for more information on this emerging statewide initiative.  Large numbers of tests are required to be statistically valid.  Getting too a statistically valid sample in your area will be a local responsibility and require participation of a wide variety of promoters – local units of governments, chambers of commerce, school districts, lake associations, churches and other community organizations.

EVENT July 7: Broadband Roundtable on innovative options for local media

An invitation from the Blandin Foundation…

Join Blandin Foundation on Zoom Tuesday morning at 9:00 am for our weekly Broadband Roundtable conversation. This week, Anne Brataas of Grand Marais will share her passion for local media, especially that which is created by young people. Anne is active in The Story Laboratory and the Minnesota Children’s Press. With the current challenges faced by traditional local press, this session will be incredibly interesting. Bring your thoughts and ideas.

You can register for this and future Roundtables here

For more information, or to share ideas for future Roundtable starter topics, contact Mary Magnuson at memagnuson@blandinfoundation.org.

Save the month of October: Fall Broadband Conference is morphing into Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand

Interesting times require innovative solutions! And that’s why I’m genuinely excited to tell folks about the First Ever Blandin Broadband Virtual Dispersed Conference. I’m on the planning team; and while I love the annual get-togethers, it might be fair to say I was most enthusiastic about creating somethign new this year. I am so excited!!

The world is in flux and broadband seems to be at the center of it. The COVID-19 pandemic and guidelines on social distancing are creating the need and opportunity to do things differently, often with an online element. Meanwhile, the internet and social media are allowing people from all over the world in real time to witness and participate first-hand in the movement to end racial inequities in Minnesota and nationwide.

From telework to distance learning to keeping in touch with family and friends; from citizen journalism to starting a movement online; one thing is certain – access to broadband and the skills to use it is more important than ever.

So the conference planning team has decided to lean in, to take advantage of the technology we’ve been promoting for so long to meet the educational, professional, and civic needs of the attendees and hopefully demonstrate new ways to work and meet that you can bring back to your community.

What does this mean? Picture a month of broadband Sundays. (Not really, but sort of!)

The conference will be entirely virtual – but that doesn’t mean just a series of online lectures. We have created different opportunities for discussion, interaction and collaboration and a few traditional presentations to happen over the course of four weeks. Here’s a rough outline: (More to share later!)

  • Week 1 (Oct 5-8): three mornings of “in real time” online events including speakers and small group discussion
  • Weeks 2 and 3 (Oct 9-26): customized programming based on your level of involvement and interest with special sessions, a chance to pilot future programming, a book club, regular online space just to chat, mentor match-making with host of local and national experts arranged by the planning team, a virtual happy hour. You choose your level of involvement. No expectations – only opportunities.
  • Week 4 (Oct 27-29): mirroring the first with three mornings of “in real time” online events including speakers and small group discussion.

We’ll group folks in cohorts so you won’t need to feel like you’re traversing the terrain alone. And we’re lining up speakers to include experts, practitioners and researchers who know broadband infrastructure, policy and digital equity. I am so excited about the speakers we have – but I’ll build up some suspense now. Just let you know what’s coming.

Please let me know if you have any questions. This is the 16th conference.  We’re all pretty used to the “regular way” and this year will be different in the same way kindergarten roundup is different from college drop off. Still very cool – but new.

CenturyLink to bring fiber to 1,000+ homes in Nessel Township, MN (Chisago County)

Yahoo! Finance reports…

CenturyLink, Inc. CTL announced its plans to bring fiber to more than 1,000 homes and enterprises in Nessel Township, MN. Residents of this rural area will have access to reliable and high-speed Internet. The Monroe, LA-based communications company’s fiber and IP-based network capacity combined with its financial strength positions it well to support customers and boost shareholders’ value in the long term.

CenturyLink has a significant presence in Minnesota, with more than 17,000 miles of fiber and one million connections. The company’s investments and Minnesota’s Border to Border Broadband Development Grant Program will help meet the state’s goal of extensive broadband service. This public-private partnership project is aimed at providing the fiber and electronics needed for high-speed connections of up to 940 Mbps. It complements other similar projects in Minnesota’s underserved areas, providing more than 3,300 connections since 2014.

MetroNet Announces Acquisition of Minnesota’s Jaguar Communications

From Business Wire…

MetroNet, a provider of fiber-optic internet, TV and phone service, today announced the acquisition of Owatonna, MN-based Jaguar Communications, a fiber optic internet company serving Owatonna, Mankato, Rochester, and several other Minnesota communities. The combination of the two companies allows MetroNet to expand its ultra-high-speed fiber optic footprint to residential and business customers across the Midwest. MetroNet is expecting to invest an additional $150 million or more in growing the Minnesota market to expand services to additional communities and neighborhoods.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The transaction was officially completed yesterday.

“Jaguar Communications shares our vision of providing customer-focused, fiber optic telecommunication services to homes and businesses,” said MetroNet President John Cinelli. “As we grow our fiber optic network in Minnesota, Jaguar Communications is a perfect fit. We look forward to fully integrating as a company, and we welcome them into the MetroNet family.”

Jaguar Communications currently serves Carver, Scott, Dakota, Nicollett, Le Sueur, Rice, Blue Earth, Waseca, Steele, Dodge, Olmstead, Freeborn and Mower counties in Minnesota with Gigabit speed internet. This acquisition will allow MetroNet to leverage Jaguar’s fiber optic infrastructure to provide these markets with MetroNet’s products. Jaguar customers will continue to benefit from gigabit internet speeds options with no data caps, full-featured fiber phone service, and fiber IPTV.

“Over the years, Jaguar Communications has proudly served Southern Minnesota and an agreement with MetroNet just made sense. This merger is the right next step to better serve our customers and provide further opportunities for our employees,” stated Jim Ward, Owner of Jaguar Communications. “This acquisition means accelerated expansion in Minnesota, reaching more residents and businesses that are eager for ultra-high-speed fiber optic services.”

The two companies are expected to fully integrate under the MetroNet brand in the months to come, and plan to integrate all MetroNet product line features in early 2021.

Can we change habits with a hashtag? #MaskUpMN

The connection to broadband is tenuous here – except it’s a great use of technology to help keep our businesses open and our people healthy! Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development has started a social media campaign – #MaskUpMN…

With COVID-19 cases surging in other states, and with the busy Fourth of July weekend ahead of us, it’s more important than ever to take steps to protect your customers and your employees. One of the best ways to do this is to encourage customers to wear masks. The Walz-Flanagan Administration is helping businesses spread the word that by masking up, your customers are helping your business stay open.

We invite you to participate in the #MaskUpMN campaign this weekend to raise awareness that the best way we can keep our economy open is to wear masks. …

But masks are more than just a courtesy – they are the most effective tool we have against the spread of COVID-19. CDC recommends that you wear a cloth mask over your nose and mouth in restaurants, bars and all other public places where it is hard to stay 6 feet away from others. The Minnesota Department of Health offers up-to-date guidance on when and how to wear a mask here.

As Minnesota makes progress towards fully reopening the economy, we’ve continued to release updated guidance on best safe practices for businesses. From protocol for managing occupancy to general food safety, you can find stay safe guidance for businesses and organizations here.

They even offer a few suggestions, I’ll include my fave…

Please share the following social media messaging on your channels and encourage your networks to celebrate safely this holiday weekend. We’ve also provided some graphics to accompany these posts, which you can find here.

  • Happy Fourth of July, Minnesota! This weekend, please remember to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep your friends, family and neighbors safe. #MaskUpMN

This might be a message readers can share with their constituents, clients and favorite businesses.

Northern MN appreciates ConnectedMN state funds to get kids connected

WDIO interviews Bernadine Joselyn on the new ConnectedMN initiative…

Bernadine Joselyn is with the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids, the state’s largest rural-based philanthropy.

“Truly, the silver lining in the work from COVID-19 is that it has shown a huge light on the inequities at the heart of our public education system,” she said.

It’s led to an initiative called ConnectedMN.

The Blandin Foundation, along with private companies like Best Buy and Comcast, along with the state, are stepping in donating and raising money to help.

“Part of what we hope to do is invest in immediate needs and invest in longer-term solutions,” Joselyn said.

At Hibbing High School, some of those immediate needs this spring were hotspots for internet access.

State announces public-private partnership to help tech needs of families with children in school

The hotspots were what saved us the most with letting kids get on for their distance-learning,” said Hibbing High School Principal Mike Finco.