A Case for Rural Broadband: $47–$65 billion annually in additional gross benefit

The Benton Foundation does a nice summary of a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (A Case for Rural Broadband: Insights on Rural Broadband Infrastructure and Next Generation Precision Agriculture Technologies).

The give a high level Return on Investment…

This latest chapter in the Trump Administration’s American Broadband Initiative finds that the deployment of broadband networks and adoption of new agricultural technologies could result in approximately $47–$65 billion annually in additional gross benefit for the U.S. economy.

They also noted…

If broadband infrastructure and digital technologies at scale were available at a level that meets estimated producer demand, the U.S. economy could realize benefits equivalent to nearly 18 percent of total agriculture production. Of that 18 percent, more than one-third is dependent on broadband, equivalent to at least $18 billion in annual economic benefits that only high-speed, reliable Internet can provide.

They talk about farms without…

The report details how unreliable broadband service undermines scaling adoption of precision agriculture:

  • Some farmers dedicate significant time and effort to find workarounds to insufficient Internet service, which takes time away from managing their businesses and serving their customers.
  • Some precision agriculture technologies function with basic Internet connections, so even slow speeds are better than no connections at all. But many require a more reliable and high-speed Internet connection as a minimum requirement.
  • Without access to online learning and peer sharing platforms, farmers are less likely to succeed with technology implementation, having wasted money, time, and effort without realizing complete benefits.

And note next steps for the USDA…

This “coordinated action” must focus on six key priorities:

  1. Tailor deployment of Internet infrastructure to communities.
  2. Incentivize development of innovative technologies and solutions, both for scaling connectivity and improving agricultural production.
  3. Create the conditions that allow, encourage, and reward innovation, including identifying the statutory or regulatory obstacles that hinder new, innovative providers.
  4. Coordinate across public programs to effectively use taxpayer funds and develop new partnerships.
  5. Build capability to scale adoption and realize value.
  6. Clarify and emphasize the importance of rural connectivity to all consumers of agriculture commodities.

10 Jobs that are Going Away

Governing recently post their list of the 10 jobs that are disappearing most quickly. Here’s the list:

  1. Telemarketers
  2. File Clerks
  3. Postal Service Mail Sorters, Processors and Machine Operators
  4. Bill and Account Collectors
  5. Data Entry Keyers
  6. Order Clerks
  7. Chief Executives
  8. Production Worker Helpers
  9. Installation, Maintenance and Repair Worker Helpers
  10. Telecommunications Line Installers and Repairers

It’s an interesting list. There are some that appear to be victims of automation – the production workers, order clerks and repair workers. There are some that are victims of the Internet – telemarketers anything related to the postal service. There is one that surprised me – telecom line installers. Governing points to cord-cutting as a factor.

I mention this because I think it’s valuable to think about the role broadband, not only as the cause of some job changes, but as the solution. If I were talking to kids about jobs (and I have teenagers, so I do), I would encourage them consider the new skills they need and new jobs that will be born of new opportunity.

Minnesota in top 15 states list for remote jobs

FLexJobs reports

California, Texas, and New York were the top three states with the highest number of remote job postings last year, with others such as North Carolina, Minnesota, and Massachusetts also included on this diverse list of states. Half-time remote workers gain back 11 days a year—time they would have otherwise spent commuting (the average daily commute is 26.1 minutes). In more than half of the top U.S. metro areas telecommuting exceeds public transportation as the commute option of choice. It has grown far faster than any other commute mode.

Here are the top job listing in MN:

  • Data Entry
  • Accounting & Finance
  • Engineering

They also list remote-friendly companies:

  1. Edmentum
  2. Walden University
  3. UnitedHealth Group
  4. Carlson Wagonlit Travel
  5. Rasmussen College
  6. Wolters Kluwer
  7. U.S. Bank
  8. Deluxe
  9. Mayon Clinic
  10. 3M

State K-12 Broadband Leadership 2019: MN Case Study

A new report from SETDA  highlights the importance of state leadership and the various ways states strive to support districts and schools. Here are some of the fun facts from the report:

FCC 2018 Broadband Deployment Report reveals that only 69% of citizens in rural areas have access to both broadband (25 Mbps/3 Mbps) and mobile services (LTE at speeds of 5 Mbps/1 Mbps) compared to 98% of citizens in urban areas.

Education Networks of America (ENA), based on its experience delivering connectivity to over 7,000 schools and libraries, continues to observe and projects into the future a bandwidth growth rate of 65% per year.

Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Student Access to Digital Learning Resources Outside the Classroom report states that the primary barrier to internet access at home is affordability, especially for children from low-income families.

The report outlines various types of networks and partnerships in different states, pointing out that no two are really alike. Here is what they say about Minnesota

STATE K-12 BROADBAND LEADERSHIP

Minnesota’s constitution calls for citizens to have access to an equitable public education system. As is the case with many states, Minnesota has concentrations of population in both urban centers and large areas of rural communities. Broadband access provides students with a wide range of educational opportunities both within and outside of their communities, regardless of whether they live in a large city or a small rural township. In addition, state leadership recognizes the significance of broadband connectivity for promoting economic development, employment, and business growth. From a state level, agencies such as the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) provide funding through grant opportunities and aid programs to help communities, schools, and public libraries achieve high speed broadband access. The Minnesota Office of Enterprise Technology (MnIT) provides a backbone network (leased, not state owned) throughout the state to deliver connectivity to cities, counties, public schools and libraries in various areas of Minnesota.

Since 1993, at the regional level, the Minnesota Education Technology Networks (METN), a cooperative of regional networks, provides regional network development, support and leadership to Minnesota school districts. METN member cooperatives provide network coordination, procurement, and other support to help school districts acquire and manage broadband networks for instruction and education management. METN has also provided limited cooperative purchasing opportunities.

STATE FUNDING

Minnesota provides state funding directly to the district for external broadband connections and directly to the regional networks. Through regional partnerships, the median cost of broadband (per mbps) in Minnesota schools has dropped 84% from $15 in 2015 to $2.35 in 2018. While cost has decreased, the amount of bandwidth necessary for students to participate in digital learning has increased. In the same period of time, the median bandwidth speeds available on a per student basis has increased almost four fold from 226kbps to 890kbps. Minnesota currently provides limited state funding for connectivity on buses and previously provided one-time grants that could be used to obtain hotspot devices for students to use off campus. Minnesota does not provide funding for internal wireless connections.

STATEWIDE K-12 EDUCATION BROADBAND CONNECTIVITY

Minnesota provides education broadband connectivity through 19 regional networks. The process for joining a regional network varies slightly by region, but generally school districts join any network that can provide them with broadband services. Most school districts rely on the federal E-rate program to afford high speed broadband, so they use the corresponding competitive bid process either independently to choose a regional network or the regional network completes a competitive bid process through E-rate for the regional broadband network as a wide area network for all members. The networks are coordinated by a cooperative or nonprofit education agency that provides services to the K-12 education system. Minnesota estimates that 50% – 74% of districts participate in a regional network.

Highlight

In Summer of 2018, Southwest West Central Service Cooperative (SWWC) completed a project to provide broadband services to approximately 50 sites, including schools, libraries and other government agencies. The newly awarded contract includes fiber-based Wide Area Network (WAN) connectivity among the schools and libraries and the SWWC’s data centers, as well as managed routers providing a level of cybersecurity. The new network replaced microwave links that previously served all but two of it’s 30 member districts, with fiber connections providing higher speeds, better reliability and unlimited potential. This project helped close the broadband gap, reaching 99% of the state’s school districts meeting current goals for broadband connectivity.

POLICIES//GUIDANCE FOR DISTRICTS

Minnesota coordinates with other state organizations to coordinate on campus activity to ensure that all students in Minnesota have access to scalable infrastructure, high-speed affordable bandwidth, and ubiquitous Wi-Fi for digital learning. In addition, these organizations provide value added services such as network security, digital curriculum resources, network management, distance learning support, and other enterprise level services. The Minnesota K-12 Connect Forward Initiative adopted the widely recognized goals for connectivity put forth by groups such as SETDA and the Consortium for School Networking (COSN) and has provided guidance to districts in reaching those goals. The Minnesota K-12 Connect Forward Initiative and Minnesota’s Educational Technology Networks do not have specific policies for wireless connections but continue to work with districts to leverage federal E-rate dollars to ensure that districts can implement wireless connectivity within their buildings in a cost effective manner.

The robust regional networks in the state have allowed schools to implement 1:1 programs and utilize learning management systems for instructional programs. Teachers and students have become more adept at utilizing digital learning both on and off campus. In some parts of the state, severe cold, blizzards and heavy snow impact school schedules. It is not unusual to have five to ten or more days of school canceled due to weather conditions. In 2018, the state legislature passed legislation that allows districts to implement up to five e-learning days per year when school would otherwise not be in session due to unsafe weather conditions. During e-learning days, students access instructional materials online and teachers are accessible via telephone and online means to assist students with their activities. Minnesota’s high speed regional networks allow e-learning options for students.

DISTRICT IMPLEMENTATION

MacPhail Center for Music is a community-based music education non-profit based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The center operates an online school partnership program that utilizes video conferencing over high speed broadband networks to bring renowned MacPhail specialists into classrooms throughout the state. Music specialists provide live clinics, sectionals, concert prep, professional development and individual lessons for vocal and instrumental music. Regional networks, such as the Little Crow Telemedia Network (LCTN) and East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative (ECMECC) and others have supported the participation of many schools in this program by providing equipment, training, technical and financial support. For example, students in Yellow Medicine East, MACCRAY, Braham and Hinckley-Finlayson rural districts (all districts of less than 1,000 students K-12) have received online group and private lessons from music professionals at the MacPhail Center.

OFF CAMPUS ACCESS

In Minnesota, other state agencies, libraries, community-based groups and the state broadband commission work together to coordinate efforts to support student access to off campus connectivity. The state is promoting strategies, both formally and informally, for access to affordable out-of-school broadband for students, especially in low-income and rural areas through legislated funding; promotion of discount/ free options; community partnerships; connecting anchor institutions; and Wi-Fi on buses. Off campus access strategies are driven by availability and affordability in rural areas; minimum broadband standards, such as speed, safety and security, as well as limited service options for consumers. Specifically, through efforts by the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband and the Office of Broadband development, statutory goals were put in place calling for all homes and businesses to have access to broadband service of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload by 2022 and that by 2026 all homes and businesses would have access to broadband service of at least 100 Mbps download and 20Mbps upload from at least one provider. To help incentivize the deployment of broadband in rural areas, the state funded grant programs and projects that offer new or upgraded broadband service to unserved and underserved areas of the state. Grant programs have totaled $85.6 million to date and $500,000 was awarded to provide schools with mobile hotspots available to students without adequate broadband access at home. The grant programs were administered by the Office of Broadband Development and funding for the programs has been consistently supported by the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband. Grants have also been awarded to provide schools with mobile hotspots for students without adequate broadband access at home.

FUTURE PLANS

Minnesota’s regional broadband networks will continue to seek cost-effective broadband solutions for all Minnesota school districts by leveraging state and federal funding initiatives and local partnerships with an eye toward always providing the bandwidth that districts need to fully participate in digital learning and utilize digital resources. Additionally, the regional networks will continue to expand enterprise level services designed to share resources that are expensive for smaller, often rural, districts to afford on their own. Services that will improve network and data security, provide access to online resources, bring educational opportunities directly to the schools and improve administrative procedures within districts.

Telehealth use doubles between 2016 and 2017

According to Multi-Briefs Exclusive

Telehealth use rose by more than 50% from 2016 to 2017, according to a new white paper by Fair Health. For the annually released paper, data was collected from the company’s records of 28 billion commercial insurance claims, which showed that telehealth utilization grew nearly twice as fast in urban areas vs. rural over that span.

Nationally, urgent-care centers increased their use of telehealth by at least 14%, followed by retail clinics at 7% and ambulatory surgery centers at 6%. Emergency department utilization of telehealth declined, though, by 2%. However, utilization in this setting was still the most used.

Also on the upswing was utilization by private insurance claims for telehealth services, increasing more than 1,200% from 2012 to 2017. Likewise, the use of telehealth is outpacing all other sites of care, the report says.

In 2017, most people used telehealth for injuries like bruises and open wounds, acute respiratory infections and digestive problems. Mental health, which topped the telehealth utilization list in 2016, was fifth in 2017 at 7% of claims, compared with 13% for the aforementioned uses. Per the report, pediatric visits and young adults were well-served, but the age 31 to 60 demographic continued to use it the most.

And interesting note – Minnesota was one of the top telehealth claim reporters in 2016 – but not in 2017. IN fact none of the top users in 2016 were top users in 2017. It shows the speed with which telehealth is catching on.

Blandin Foundation Rural Pulse – how do Minnesotans feel? How can broadband help?

Every three years, the Blandin Foundation does a scan of how Minnesotans are feeling about the economy, their future and more. This year they surveyed 1,560 people the results are mixed based on where you are and who you are but here are some of the highlights. I’ve chosen one positive statistic from each area they cover in the latest Rural Pulse:

  • Economy
    The percentage (17%) of rural Minnesotans that saw a decrease in household income in the past year is the lowest it has been since 2010.
  • Optimism
    Confidence in community capabilities to address local issues has improved across the rural landscape, reaching an all-time high since 2010. Eighty-two percent of residents agree those in their community work together effectively to face local challenges, up nine percentage points from 2016 findings. Younger residents (ages 18 to 24) demonstrated the most optimism with 93 percent agreeing.
  • Quality of Life
    Rural Minnesotans rank job opportunities, provision of adequate healthcare, opioids and drug abuse, and economic development as the most critical issues facing their community. Urban Minnesotans say having adequate healthcare, jobs, affordable housing, controlling crime, and opioids and drug crises are their top concerns
  • Rural Voice
    Thirty-one percent of urban Minnesotans and 38 percent of rural Minnesotans feel metropolitan needs are more important to elected officials than those of rural communities.
  • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
    Eighty two percent of rural Minnesotans are confident that members of their community are able to stand up to discrimination and hatred, should they see it occur.
  • Migration
    Down from previous years, only 14 percent of rural residents and 16 percent of urban residents do not expect to live in their current community five years from now.
  • Leadership
    Of the rural Minnesotans who have not yet served in a leadership role, half (51%) would consider doing so if asked. Younger residents (ages 18 to 24) would be the most likely to consider this opportunity should it present itself, with seven out of 10 indicating such.

There’s a lot to be positive about. I’ve selected only one negative statistic that I think exemplifies the findings:

  • Economy
    The majority of rural residents with an annual income under $100,000 report their household income remained the same within the past year –or decreased, while those with higher incomes are more likely to have experienced an increase.

There remains a disconnect between rural and urban, men and women, ages and income levels. My question of course is how can an investment in broadband help to level the playingfield of opportunity, provide easier ways for residents to engage with their community especially to meet new people and help addresses issues such as mental health and drug addition?

Broadband affordability report – rural areas are paying more

Telecompetitor reports…

Nearly half of the U.S. population (45%) lacks access to a low-price wired broadband offering, according to a new broadband affordability report from BroadbandNow, the organization that maintains a detailed database of broadband offerings throughout the U.S. The research also showed that people in rural areas pay higher prices and that, ironically, people in areas with higher average income pay less for service.

One of the big findings is that rural areas – or at least areas with lower population density – pay more for broadband, as you can see from the chart below…

Other key findings from the BroadbandNow research:

  • Across the 50 states, fiber has the lowest average price per megabit per second – 48 cents, compared with 65 cents for cable and $1.53 for DSL
  • States with median household income of at least $60,000 have 78% low-priced plan coverage, on average, compared to only 37% for states with average incomes below $60,000