What’s the difference between unserved and underserved? Not much when the definitions are low

I’m a big fan of Doug Dawson. He has worked with a wide range of communities and providers. He understands policy and he knows what’s it’s like on the frontlines. He’s practical. This week he has an column in CircleID that hits on something that was a big issue in Minnesota a few years ago but that I just saw pop up again yesterday…

The main reason to scrap these terms is that they convey the idea that 25/3 Mbps broadband ought to be an acceptable target speed for building new broadband. Urban America has moved far beyond the kinds of broadband speeds that are being discussed as acceptable for rural broadband. Cable companies now have minimum speeds that vary between 100 Mbps and 200 Mbps. Almost 18% of homes in the US now buy broadband provided over fiber. Cisco says the average achieved broadband speed in 2020 is in the range of 93 Mbps.

The time has come when we all need to refuse to talk about subsidizing broadband infrastructure that is obsolete before it’s constructed. During the recent pandemic, we saw that homes need faster upload speeds to work or do schoolwork from home. We must refuse to accept new broadband construction that provides a 3 Mbps upload connection when something ten times faster than that would barely be acceptable.

Words have power, and the FCC still frames the national broadband discussions in terms of the ability to provide speeds of 25/3 Mbps. The FCC concentrated on 25/3 Mbps as the primary point of focus in its two recent FCC broadband reports to Congress. By sticking with discussions of 25/3 Mbps, the FCC is able to declare that a lot of the US has acceptable broadband. If the FCC used a more realistic definition of broadband, like the one used in Minnesota, then the many millions of homes that can’t buy 100/20 Mbps broadband would be properly defined as being underserved.

In the last few months, the FCC decided to allow slow technologies into the $16.4 billion RDOF grant program. For example, they’ve opened the door to telcos to bid to provide rural DSL that will supposedly offer 25/3 Mbps speeds. This is after the complete failure in the CAF II program, where the big telcos largely failed to bring rural DSL speeds up to a paltry 10/1 Mbps.

It’s time to kill the terms unserved and underserved, and it’s time to stop defining connections of 10/1 Mbps or 25/3 Mbps as broadband. When urban residents can buy broadband with speeds of 100 Mbps or faster, a connection of 25/3 should not be referred to as broadband.

Doug mentions how Minnesota has used the concept of unserved and underserved in our speed goals. We do but we bumped up the numbers….

There are also states that have defined the two terms differently. For example, the following is the official definition of broadband in Minnesota used when awarding broadband grants in the state:

An unserved area is an area of Minnesota in which households or businesses lack access to wire-line broadband service at speeds that meet the FCC threshold of 25 megabits per second download and 3 megabits per second upload. An underserved area is an area of Minnesota in which households or businesses do receive service at or above the FCC threshold but lack access to wire-line broadband service at speeds 100 megabits per second download and 20 megabits per second upload.

But those numbers are a few years old now. It might be time to revisit.

Don’t despair, look at what we are learning through COVID, like the importance of broadband

The West Central Tribune today posts a pep talk on getting through the pandemic our best selves…

Like an end-of-summer, little kids’ tee-ball game, this pandemic seems to be dragging on forever. We are so done. But rather than folding up the camp chairs early — and giving up on wearing masks, distancing, and other simple actions we vigilantly and selflessly can take to protect ourselves, our families, and our neighbors — let’s recommit to taking this moment as seriously as its 159,000 U.S. deaths and counting. Let’s recommit to banding together, rather than sowing division, to beat this thing.

And let’s pause to consider all that COVID-19 is teaching us, including the need to rally around and support local private businesses; to attract more economic activity in our community in order to expand, diversify, and strengthen our tax base; to insist that our government bodies operate with urgency; and to expand high-speed internet so it’s accessible to everyone.

And a big part of that is recognizing and fixing the issue of broadband…

There perhaps has been no need more exposed by COVID-19 than the need to broaden broadband. With so many Minnesotans working from home, attending classes and meetings from home, and shopping from home, reliable, high-speed, truly border-to-border broadband is as critical in 2020 as electrification and indoor plumbing were 100 years ago. While great strides have been made by both state and federal governments, politics too often has been put ahead of appropriate funding, and an estimated 14% to 17% of nonmetro Minnesotans are still without internet access or the speeds needed for videoconferencing and other school and business activities.

Lake Crystal and Madelia are certified as telecommuter-friendly communities

I wrote about the big announcement from DEED’s Telecommuter Forward Program last week, but it’s always fun to see local communities get local recognition for their efforts. Mankato Free Press reports

Two area cities have been recognized for promoting the availability of telecommuting options.

Lake Crystal and Madelia are among the first group of Minnesota communities certified as telecommuter-friendly.

These 23 cities, townships and counties across Minnesota are being recognized for their efforts to coordinate and partner with broadband providers, Realtors, economic development professionals, employers, employees and other stakeholders.

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on MN Broadband Coalition and speed test notes

Today, the Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable participants heard from Nathan Zacharias, representing the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition about the new statewide broadband speed test.  With large numbers of participants, Minnesota will be able to create a new broadband map that demonstrates the availability and use of high speed Internet.  The new map will also show where high-speed broadband is not available.  Large numbers of tests will increase the validity of the maps.  The software system has a built-in feature that provides the required number of tests to ensure statistically valid information.

While there is clear value for this tool at the state level, there is huge value at the local level.  Cities, townships and school districts can use this information in their own broadband planning and development programs as well as for digital equity initiatives.  Local efforts to promote and complete the speed test will provide clear evidence that supports grant applications and local leadership.

For complete information, go to the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition website at http://mnruralbroadbandcoalition.com/speedtest .

Next week, August 18th at 9 am, Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (www.ilsr.org) will lead a discussion about public engagement in broadband network development.  Join us.

Chat log: Continue reading

A quick look at CARES tech spending in MN

MinnPost recently published an article on how (in general) rural counties are spending CARES money. People have been asking me about CARES, in part I think because broadband seems like an acceptable use for the funding and the application/distribution process has a quick turnaround. I know Dakota County and Crow Wing County were talking about CARES for technology. The MinnPost article revealed a few more…

 

  • In Alexandria, most of the $1.05 million the city received in CARES Act money will be spent on technology upgrades for employees to work from home and to better record and stream council meetings and other city business. “Currently we can’t easily or with any quality, connect the mayor and council to the public through video,” said city spokeswoman Sara Stadtherr.
  • In all, a draft plan for Moorhead’s $3.28 million would spend $1.28 million on city expenses like election support, public building improvements, telework equipment, public housing upgrades and public safety staff salaries.
  • Nick Leonard, deputy administrator of Otter Tail County in west-central Minnesota, said he expects the bulk of their $7.21 million will be used on grants for small businesses and nonprofits. While the county has incurred plenty of expenses, Leonard said the county board wants the money largely to flow back into the community. A draft plan, which Leonard said was just a “starting point” for the board, earmarked $4 million for the business grant program and $1.5 million for housing food and financial assistance. Other cash was reserved for education, high-speed internet projects, public safety expenses and more.

State policy recommendations for better broadband – MN gets a nice nod

Speaking to a group in NY, Christopher Ali gave some recommendations to help with a pandemic tech plan that included digital equity…

  1. A local-first approach
    • A local-first approach means a policy apparatus that encourages local digital champions through training and communication. It means acting as a resource for local communities, not just for funding, but for planning, advice, and communication. It can also mean creating certification programs, like the Telecommuter Forward! program in Wisconsin that recognizes communities with broadband infrastructure capable of supporting telecommuting.
  2. An “all-hands-on-deck” approach
    • This means encouraging small ISPs and municipal projects. There is some controversy here, as New York City has recently received pushback for its $2 billion Internet Master Plan which includes a substantial municipal investment. Many detractors point to a so-called failed municipal project in Bristol, Virginia, but there are also hundreds of successful municipal broadband projects across the country. Solving the digital divide means embracing all options and stakeholders, including public options and public- private partnerships.
  3. “Access” means more than just infrastructure. Access means digital inclusion.
    • This means thinking about plans for affordability, and digital literacy and skills development.
  4. Policies must be data driven
    • New York State should consider state-wide data collection processes to augment FCC data. Crowdsourcing data is a phenomenal tool in our toolbox. Here, I look to the work of Measurement Lab and Professor Sascha Meinrath at Penn State University. Working together with millions of crowdsourced data points, Professor Meinrath demonstrated how the FCC’s broadband map was wrong by upwards of 50% throughout all of Pennsylvania.
    • In addition to the quantitative data, qualitative data should also be gathered. One of my most powerful learning experiences about broadband was participating in a community listening session with Representative Abigail Spanberger in Louisa County, Virginia. I heard stories of community members frustrated over their lack of connectivity, stories of an inability to work because of slow internet speeds, and an inability to sell one’s home because of the undesirability of a home without high-speed internet. These are powerful stories, and I would highly recommend this Commission hear the stories of those unconnected.
  5. Adopting aggressive, future-oriented goals
    • We should be planning for tomorrow, not trying to meet the connection speeds of 2015. This means being technologically neutral, but not technologically blind. Both New York and Minnesota, for instance, designate a community as “underserved” when connectivity is below 100mbps download/20 mbps upload speeds. Jon Sallet, whom I’ve already cited, recommends 100/100 as a baseline in his Benton Institute for Broadband & Society report Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s. Policies need to be ambitious and aggressive and need to compel providers to anticipate the broadband needs of communities in the years to come.

And in the midst of his speech, he mentions Minnesota…

Minnesota is also a national leader in state broadband policies, not necessarily because of the level of public funding, but because of the its scope and scale. Minnesota’s Broadband Office operates not only as a grantor of funds, but as a clearinghouse of information and as a trusted advisor to communities working on cataloguing their broadband needs.

Pew Research released a report in February 2020 highlighting best practices for state broadband plans, and among their recommendations was a broadband office that does what Minnesota does – communicates, coordinates, plans, and funds. Other important best practices for states include setting forward-looking goals and rallying stakeholders around these goals; supporting broadband planning on a regional and municipal level; engaging local digital champions; providing tools for community planning; promoting broadband adoption and digital literacy; championing small providers; collecting data from grantees; and one of my favorites, creating certificate programs for communities that reach certain connectivity thresholds, such as for telework.

Minnesota does do a good job – but part of doing a good job is keeping on top of things. With that in mind and based on my conversation with folks in Chisago County yesterday, I’m encourage an update on some of our goals. COVID is big enough to push a greater need sooner than 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026.

 

On Senate Floor, Klobuchar Highlights Need to Keep Families Connected During the Pandemic and Invest in Broadband

Senator Klobuchar speaks about the need for broadband…

Here are

On the Senate Floor, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) spoke about the impact that the lack of access to broadband is having on Americans during the coronavirus pandemic– particularly students and low-income families – and the critical need to bring high-speed internet to every family, regardless of their zip code. 

“Access to broadband, as I just noted, has become more critical now than ever as schools and workplaces are closed in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus where teachers, many with pre-existing conditions simply cannot put themselves at risk. And where we know going forward that we will continue to have a substantial number of kids learning remotely. As I said, even before the pandemic one study found that about 42 million Americans nationwide lacked access to broadband, reports have also found that only 66 percent of black households, 61 percent of Latino households, and 63 percent of rural households have broadband at home of the quality that would allow them to work and to conduct their business and to participate in school and telecommuting and health care…,”Klobuchar said in her remarks.

“In rural areas of my state, about 16 percent of households lack access to broadband even at baseline speeds. That means we have one hundred forty four thousand households that don’t have access to the Internet. One of the saddest stories I remember was a household on one of our tribal areas that got and paid for their own high speed Internet and the parents looked out the window and saw all these kids in their lawn. And that’s because they were trying to get that access to the internet at that one household to be able to do their homework. That was a story from Leech Lake Reservation…”

I’ve always believed that when we invest in broadband, we invest in opportunity for every American. If we could bring electricity to everyone’s home in the smallest farms, in the middle of areas with very little population, we can do this in the modern era. Otherwise we are going to continue to have — Have and Have Nots. It shouldn’t depend on your zip code, whether or not your kid can learn to read. It shouldn’t depend on where your zip code is to figure out what their homework is the next day. All Americans should have access to high speed internet. This pandemic has put a big magnifying glass on what was a problem for many, many years and it’s time to act now.”

As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, Klobuchar has long championed closing the digital divide and expanding access to the internet. 

In July, Klobuchar introduced TheAccessible, Affordable Internet for All Actwith Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mark Warner (D-VA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) following introduction in the House of Representatives by Majority Whip James Clyburn and the Rural Broadband Task Force. The bill will invest $100 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities to close the digital divide and connect Americans to ensure they have increased access to education, health care, and business opportunities. The bill passed the House as part of the House comprehensive infrastructure package in July. 

In May, Klobuchar and Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Rosen introduced theSupporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Actto help ensure that college and university students with the greatest financial needs can access high-speed internet during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill would appropriate $1 billion to establish an Emergency Higher Education Connectivity fund at the National Telecommunications Information Administration to help ensure that college and university students at historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and other minority-serving institutions, as well as rural-serving institutions, have adequate home internet connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill provides federal support for these colleges and universities to directly help students in need pay for at-home internet connections and equipment such as routers, modems, Wi-Fi hotspots, laptops, tablets, and internet-enabled devices to students. 

The legislation has gained support from over 60 organizations and in a letter released by Higher Learning Advocates and 59 partner organizations, the group called on Congress to include the Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act in the next relief package.  

In March, Klobuchar and Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) introduced bipartisan legislation to sustain rural broadband connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic. TheKeeping Critical Connections Act would appropriate $2 billion for a temporary Keeping Critical Connections fund at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help small broadband providers sustain internet services and upgrades for students and low-income families during the pandemic.

In April, Klobuchar and Cramer and Representatives Peter Welch and Roger Marshall led a bipartisan, bicameral letter urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to include dedicated funding to help small broadband providers sustain internet services and upgrades for students and low-income families in any future legislation in response to the pandemic.

Also, in March, Klobuchar and Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Peters, and John Thune’s (R-SD) bipartisan legislation to improve the FCC’s broadband coverage maps was signed into law. The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act would require the FCC to collect more granular data from fixed, wireless, and satellite broadband providers, strengthen the accuracy of data from mobile broadband providers, consider a process to ensure data is reliable, and create a process for state, local, and Tribal governments to challenge the FCC maps’ accuracy.

Klobuchar has also urged the FCC to take action to ensure students have access to the internet so they can continue learning while schools are closed during the pandemic. In March, Klobuchar led a letter with Senators Peters and Jon Tester (D-MT) urging the FCC to ensure that all K-12 students have internet access and can continue learning from home as schools nationwide are closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter also asked the FCC to create a searchable web portal to help consumers locate existing resources to help them connect to the internet.

In April, Klobucharjoined a letter led by Senator Markey with 32 Democratic Senators to Senate Majority Leader McConnell, House Speaker Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Schumer, and House Minority Leader McCarthy expressing disappointment in the lack of broadband funding for distance learning in the third coronavirus relief package and urging them to include at least $2 billion for E-rate funding for schools and libraries. Klobuchar joined another letter led by Markey with 18 Democratic Senators to Leader McConnell and Commerce Committee Chairman Wicker requesting $2 billion for E-rate funding in the third relief package.

In March, Klobuchar joined a letter led by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) with 12 other Democratic Senators to Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer urging them to include funding in the third relief package to support expanding digital distance learning—including for devices for children to access the internet and complete their schoolwork online—and closing the homework gap.

Transcript of remarks as delivered below and video available HERE. (or below)

Continue reading

How do you find yourself living a life without broadband? How does half a country get left behind?

CBS Sunday morning last weekend ran an interesting article on “The great broadband divide.” The stories won’t be new to most readers, but it’s always good to see the case being made in mainstream media.

The point out the discrepancy in deciding how many people are online:

  • FCC says 23 million people don’t have broadband
  • Microsoft says 162 million don’t have broadband

CBS goes on to explain that the FCC gages by census tract. So if one person has access, they say they all do. Which is a little like deciding that everyone in my zip code has a Master’s degree, because I do.

Also CBS tackles the idea that the FCC definition of broadband is not fast enough, which more and more people are finding is the case especially with the pandemic and more people trying to work and learn from home. They mention the efforts school have gone to try to meet the needs of students by handing our hotspots or printing out homework packets – for those who can’t access broadband due to availability and/or affordability.

About 6 and a half minutes into the segment, they go into federal funding for broadband. Gigi Sohn talks about the poor return on FCC’s investment in broadband.

The final  message in the story is that the digital divide is getting deeper.

MN Broadband Task Force August Meeting notes & video

The Task Force met this morning. There is a new member, Jason Hollinday from Fond du Lac. They heard from Minnesota Department of Education Overview on CARES Act Funding for Distance Learning and from a few experts from the Department. The difficulty is balancing the immediate need for infrastructure with investing in infrastructure that will be around and sufficient for the long term. Bernadine Joselyn was able to talk about the ConnectedMN program that augments the federal funding.

The talked about the need to get started writing the annual report and Task Force members expressed an interest in engaging more in broadband activities in and around the state. And each of the subcommittees reported on their mid-meeting discussions:

  • Report out by Minnesota Model Subgroup (Chair: Brian Krambeer; Members: Steve Fenske, Theresa Sunde, Paul Weirtz)
  • Report out by Barriers and Technology Subgroup (Co-Chairs: Marc Johnson, Dave Wolf; Members: Nolan Cauthen, Steve Giorgi, Jim Weikum)
  • Report out by Economic Development and Digital Inclusion Subgroup (Chair: Bernadine Joselyn; Members: Dale Cook and Micah Myers)

 

Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition Launches Statewide Speed Test Initiative

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

“The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition is pleased to announce the launch of the Minnesota Speed Test Initiative,” said Vince Robinson, Chair of the MN Rural Broadband Coalition. “There is no doubt that the lack of broadband in rural Minnesota hampers telework, distance learning, and telehealth.
Our goal is to find out exactly where broadband service is available in rural Minnesota and what speeds people are receiving.”
TAKE THE TEST: http://mnruralbroadbandcoalition.com/speedtest
A pilot program for speed testing is ongoing in St Louis, Koochiching, and Itasca Counties. The Range Association of Municipalities and Schools has been leading the way to create a different set of broadband maps based on approximately 7,000 broadband speed tests submitted by area residents and businesses.

These speed tests, mapped by GEO Partners, clearly show the speeds available in cities and townships across the three northern Minnesota counties.
“For years we’ve been relying on incomplete data to make big decisions on broadband infrastructure in Minnesota,” said Nathan Zacharias, Project Manager for the Minnesota Speed Test Initiative. “Most broadband maps stop at the census block, township, or county level. The Minnesota Speed Test Initiative will give us house-by-house data that just isn’t available anywhere else. We’re very excited to get this project in the field.”
The speed test can be taken with any device that has an internet or cellular connection and takes less than one minute to complete. No personal information will be collected. Testing data will be statistically valid and provide a map of what service levels are for any given area in the state. This information will be an important tool for communities that are planning a broadband expansion project through the FCC, USDA, or MN Borderto-Border Broadband Grant Program.
COVID-19 has shown us how important access to broadband is for every Minnesotan now that we’re being asked to work, learn, or receive care from home. Broadband is no different than any other basic utility that people need. It is an essential part of our daily lives.

Lake Shore City to seek bids from providers to extend broadband (Cass County)

Pine and Lakes Echo Journal reports…

Continuing work started three years ago to provide better internet service in underserved areas, the Lake Shore City Council agreed Monday, July 27, to seek bids from providers for improved broadband in the city.

Council member John Terwilliger cast the only “no” vote. After hearing from Pequot Lakes School Board member Susan Mathison-Young during the meeting, which everyone attended online via Zoom, Terwilliger said the city should table any action for a month to wait for more information to be gathered regarding programs available to help improve broadband access.

Other council members agreed the city could seek proposals from broadband providers while exploring other programs at the same time.

City Administrator Teri Hastings said COVID-19 funds the city receives could be used toward broadband services. The first step, she said, is to get an idea of what it would take to build out areas of Lake Shore that are currently underserved. The city planned to seek bids from CTC, TDS and Charter Communications, internet providers in the Lake Shore area.

Hastings also said Sylvan Township is receiving additional money from Cass County for broadband.

“So there are some options out there to help improve broadband for the community,” Hastings said.

Mathison-Young said areas underserved by broadband is a problem throughout the state, not just in Lake Shore. She said 28% of all Minnesota students have internet issues, and businesses and groups are working with state government to bring broadband to those rural students who are underserved.

She advised the council to wait to seek bids from providers until more information is gathered about programs designed to help with this issue. Also, she said Thursday, July 30, the state will have a better idea of what schooling will look like this fall with an announcement by Gov. Tim Walz.

“If some is digital curriculum, which is a strong possibility, this has to be ready to go,” she said.

 

EVENT Aug 4: Task Force on Broadband agenda & instructions

Online and open to all, here are the details from the Office of Broadband Development

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband

August 4, 2020

10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

 

Webex/Conference Call
Dial-in:
1-619-377-3319 or 1-888-742-5095, Passcode 3249482049

Meeting link:

https://intercall.webex.com/intercall/j.php?MTID=m084c72bdb90f292b59fc021ac3ebd7de

PW: DEED

Meeting Number: 130 292 7338

10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from June 24, 2020 Meeting

10:15 a.m. – 11:10 a.m.  Minnesota Department of Education Overview of CARES Act Funding for Distance Learning Alicia Waeffler, Equity and Opportunity Programs Supervisor

Michael Dietrich, ESEA Policy Specialist

Sara George, ESEA/ESSA Title I Part A Program Specialist

11:10 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.                Break

11:15 a.m. – 11:35 a.m.  Report out by Minnesota Model Subgroup (Chair: Brian Krambeer; Members: Steve Fenske, Theresa Sunde, Paul Weirtz)

11:35 a.m. – 11:55 a.m.  Report out by Barriers and Technology Subgroup (Co-Chairs: Marc Johnson, Dave Wolf; Members: Nolan Cauthen, Steve Giorgi, Jim Weikum)

11:55 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Report out by Economic Development and Digital Inclusion Subgroup (Chair: Bernadine Joselyn; Members: Dale Cook and Micah Myers)

12:15 p.m. – 12:25 p.m. Discussion of Report Writing Process

12:25 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. Public Comment, Other Business, September Meeting Plans, Wrap-up

Dakota County plans for CARES and Broadband (Meeting Aug 4)

If you have an interest in what’s happening in Dakota County or you just want to hear/see what another county is doing, you might consider attending the discussion (online and in person) in Dakota County

WHEREAS, Dakota County is committed to be a high-performing organization for the citizens of the County; and

WHEREAS, the Workshop will be an opportunity for the County Board to discuss Broadband; and

WHEREAS, staff recommends holding a workshop to allow staff to receive direction from the County Board on Broadband.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the Dakota County Board of Commissioners hereby schedules a County Board Workshop for Tuesday, August 4, 2020, following the General Government and Policy Committee, in the Boardroom, Administration Center, 1590 Highway 55, Hastings, MN, or via telephone or other electronic means if necessary due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to receive comments on staff direction for Broadband.

You can learn a little more about their plan (easier to read on their site)

Update On Process And Timeline For Potential COVID-19 Related Broadband Expansion Using CARES Act Funding

PURPOSE/ACTION REQUESTED
Provide an update on the process and timeline in developing COVID-19 related Broadband Expansion in Dakota County.
SUMMARY
The County is interested in learning about potential opportunities to invest CARES Act funds to better support our residents to engage in remote learning, work from home, and other activities that require a robust network of connectivity and to better meet the public service needs revealed by the pandemic. Dakota County requires broadband infrastructure built out to serve the unserved and underserved. The County is interested in exploring all technologies available to address the unserved and underserved areas of the County (Attachment A). These areas can be large or small geographically or in population.
The County will mail letters of interest (Attachment B) to all service providers (Attachment C) in the County asking them to respond with project areas that can be built out to better serve the residents of the County. Submissions must specify the unserved or underserved area(s) to be addressed, the total cost and funds requested from the County, and the timeline including the firm completion date. The Information Technology (IT) Department will review and recommend the best potential projects and setup meetings to fully develop project plans.
Proposed Time Line:
July 28, 2020 – send Letters of Interest to all service providers
August 12, 2020 – deadline for receipt of responses
Week ending August 21, 2020 reviewing responses
Request Board approval in September
Contracts for approved projects executed September
October/November buildout
Payment before December 1st
County IT will update the board with specific project locations, cost and project schedules.
RECOMMENDATION
Information only; no action requested.
EXPLANATION OF FISCAL/FTE IMPACTS
Funding for any projects, if approved, would be expected to use CARES Act funds with an amount to be
determined.

And a look at the letter that is going out…

DATE: July 28, 2020
TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Dan Cater, Chief Information Officer
SUBJECT: Broadband Connectivity within Dakota County borders
Dakota County Government has an interest in expanding high speed internet throughout Dakota County as the COVID-19 situation has illustrated the need for faster more reliable connectivity for our citizens, business, and other agencies.
The County is interested in learning about potential opportunities to invest CARES Act funds to better support our residents to engage in remote learning, work from home, and other activities that require a robust network of connectivity and to better meet the public service needs revealed by the pandemic.
Dakota County requires broadband infrastructure built out to serve the unserved and underserved. The County is interested in exploring all technologies available to address the unserved and underserved areas of the County. These areas can be large or small geographically or in population.
Attached is the most recent service inventory map produced by the State of Minnesota Deed Office of Broadband. CARES Act requires an aggressive timeline. Submissions must specify the unserved or underserved area(s) to be addressed, the total cost and funds requested from the County, and the timeline including the firm completion date. Work and payment need to be completed before
December 1st of this year. A high-level timeline is below:
– July 28th – letter soliciting proposals/plans
– August 12
th – deadline for receipt of responses
– Week ending August 21st review responses, setting up zoom meetings
– Request Board approval in September
– Contracts executed in September
– October/November buildout
– Payment before December 1st
Please let us know if you have an interest in discussing in providing a solution by contacting
Dan.Ferber@co.dakota.mn.us or Dan.Cater@co.dakota.mn.us.

Dakota County is always generous with public access to documents, which I think can be a gift to counties with fewer staff working on broadband.

Which students are left behind when learning goes online? Spoiler alert, there’s no spoiler

As every parent, teacher and student in Minnesota waits to hear later today from Governor Walz about how the State recommends schools handling pandemic learning this fall, I think it’s helpful to look at who is left behind when/if we move education online.

Online education is tough enough when all of the tech pieces are there; lack of computer and broadband makes is almost insurmountable. Only last year, report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis finds Minnesota is one of the worst states in the country for education achievement gaps. We need to find ways to make that gap more narrow and shallow. Proving access to adequate technology is a small, but necessary step because as the report below shows, technology does not currently help to close that gap. And the irony is, it could.

Here’s the status as Future Ready Schools reports…

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a near-total shutdown of the U.S. school system, forcing more than 55 million students to transition to home-based remote learning practically overnight. In most cases, that meant logging in to online classes and accessing lessons and assignments through a home internet connection.

Sadly, that was not an option for children in one out of three Black, Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native households. Nationwide, across all racial and ethnic groups, 16.9 million children remain logged out from instruction because their families lack the home internet access necessary to support online learning, a phenomenon known as the “homework gap.”

According to an analysis of data from the 2018 American Community Survey conducted for the Alliance for Excellent Education, National Urban League, UnidosUS, and the National Indian Education Association, millions of households with children under the age of 18 years lack two essential elements for online learning: (1) high-speed home internet service and (2) a computer.

Here’s what they found in Minnesota:

Percentage of Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 19%
Number of Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 264,334

Minnesota By Income

Percentage of Households with Annual Income Less Than $25,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 40%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Less Than $25,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 50,660
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Between $25,000 and $50,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 29%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Between $25,000 and $50,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 66,298
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Between $50,000 and $75,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 24%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Between $50,000 and $75,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 44,869
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Between $75,000 and $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 15%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Between $75,000 and $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 74,704
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Greater Than $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 9%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Greater Than $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 27,803

Minnesota By Race

Percentage of White Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 17%
Number of White Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 184,337
Percentage of Asian Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 14%
Number of Asian Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 12,461
Percentage of Black Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 27%
Number of Black Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 44,036
Percentage of Latino Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 35%
Number of Latino Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 30,226
Percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 37%
Number of American Indian/Alaska Native Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 9,655

Minnesota By Location

Percentage of Nonmetro “Rural” Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 29%
Number of Children in Nonmetro “Rural” Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 79,087
Percentage of Metro Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 17%
Number of Children in Metro Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 182,209