The White House grades Minnesota a C for infrastructure

The White House reports

the White House released state-by-state fact sheets that highlight the urgent need in every state across the country for the investments proposed by President Biden in the American Jobs Plan. The fact sheets highlight the number of bridges and miles of road in each state in poor condition, the percentage of households without access to broadband, the billions of dollars required for water infrastructure, among other infrastructure needs.

The Minnesota report on broadband (as well as other aspects of infrastructure)…

BROADBAND: 11.6% of Minnesotans live in areas where, by one definition, there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. And 62.7% of Minnesotans live in areas where there is only one such internet provider. Even where infrastructure is available, broadband may be too expensive to be within reach. 12.1% of Minnesota households do not have an internet subscription. The American Jobs Plan will invest $100 billion to bring universal, reliable, high-speed, and affordable coverage to every family in America.

Who is using which social media? Facebook and YouTube are winners but there are some others

Pew Research reports…

Despite a string of controversies and the public’s relatively negative sentiments about aspects of social media, roughly seven-in-ten Americans say they ever use any kind of social media site – a share that has remained relatively stable over the past five years, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults.

The chart shows that YouTube and Facebook continue to be the forerunners but…

Even as other platforms do not nearly match the overall reach of YouTube or Facebook, there are certain sites or apps, most notably Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, that have an especially strong following among young adults. In fact, a majority of 18- to 29-year-olds say they use Instagram (71%) or Snapchat (65%), while roughly half say the same for TikTok.

These findings come from a nationally representative survey of 1,502 U.S. adults conducted via telephone Jan. 25-Feb.8, 2021.

The demographics is interesting, especially if you are looking to reach a specific demographic. The chart shows demographics of users …

Interactive Technology Gap Map: 9.65 percent of MN households have no computer

Digitunity is a national organization working to close technology gaps. They are recently published a very cool interactive maps that tracks computer ownership down to county level and cross referenced with a number of census topics: education attainment, race, age and gender…

I tracked some of this information in the County Profiles last year – but this is a handy way to access the information.

Rural fiber penetration now stands at 23%

Telecompetitor reports

Rural fiber penetration now stands at 23%, according to a study conducted by Pivot Group (parent company of Telecompetitor) and sponsored by Innovative Systems.

In comparison to national numbers, market research firm RVA, LLC reported just over 20 million homes were connected to fiber in 2019, or 44% of homes passed.

Rural Broadband Access Technology Penetration (Source: 6th Annual Rural Video & Broadband Study)

OpenVault finds big increase in upload broadband traffic in 2020

OpenVault optimizes networks. The just releases their Q4 2020 broadband network report. A lot of what they deal with is a deep dive for non-broadband providers and much of what they look at is volume, not speed but there are some interesting points. At a high level here are some of the high level observations:

  • The pandemic driven year of 2020 saw dramatic increases in both bandwidth usage and new subscriber growth. The combination has driven as much as 51% of additional on-net traffic on networks observed by OpenVault.
  • The continued growth in upstream bandwidth, up 63% year-over-year at the end of 2020, is particularly noteworthy for network operators who are challenged with managing upstream bandwidth on their network.
  • For the first time, over half (50.6%) of all subscribers are now provisioned for the 100 – 200 Mbps speed tier. Lower speed tiers of less than 100 Mbps are now seeing penetration of only 21.5%.
  • Growth in median usage, up 54% year-over-year at the end of 2020, demonstrates that bandwidth usage growth defined by the pandemic is distributed evenly across most users and not driven by outliers or extreme users.

The growth in upload speed is especially interesting to me. Open Vault talks about the strain that increased upload has had on the network

Survey shows communities want local influence on broadband funding and solutions

The Benton Institute surveyed a number of state and local leaders about broadband. They found a number of points of agreement:

  • Universal broadband is the 21st century equivalent of electrification, foundational to equity and economic prosperity in urban and rural communities alike. As the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress consider the most ambitious infrastructure funding bills since the New Deal, states and localities have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to close the digital divide.
  • To close the digital divide, the federal approach to distributing funds needs to change. Respondents have the highest confidence in the abilities of local internet service providers (ISPs) and local economic development agencies to use federal funds for closing the digital divide.
  • States and local governments want to determine their broadband futures, which will require changes in federal funding distribution and program standards. Respondents call for funding dispersal at the state and local level, with the flexibility to deploy that funding to directly support their own priorities.
  • Empowering local communities to close the digital divide requires meaningful policy changes that complement new approaches to federal funding distribution.
  • Localities cannot afford to wait.

A common thread is the emphasis on local control of funds and broadband plans.

Should broadband be a utility? Survey says…

Self Financial surveyed over 1000 people about broadband access and the internet. Here’s what they found…

Key Stats:

  • 2 in 3 (68%) would support the internet as a utility

  • An overwhelming majority (95%) believe internet access should be accessible to all Americans, but 13% believe this access should be limited by broadband speed

  • The majority (87%) agree that the internet should be free for educational purposes

  • Over half (52%) believe internet providers offer poor value for money

  • Most (64%) believe that internet provider competition is beneficial for consumers

  • 3 in 4 (77%) believe the internet is essential to achieving the American dream in 2021

  • Over half (52%) avoided seeking medical help during the pandemic due to lack of telehealth options

Study of Libraries in pandemic indicate need to focus on home internet access

New America released a report on libraries and COVID. I’m sure no readers will be surprised, but it turns out that the pandemic highlighted disparities between folks who could get online at home and those who couldn’t…

The pandemic has laid bare the extent of social and educational disparities by racial group, income, and education level. It has particularly affected those without high-speed home internet access, a group in which people of color, low-income Americans, and rural communities are over-represented. These disparities are the legacies of systems that were not built with everyone’s welfare in mind—such as library systems that were originally segregated and educational systems and technology networks designed by and for those able to afford and connect to the internet. The disparities are affecting the way people become aware of, connect to, and use their public libraries, and they need to be addressed head-on by libraries, education leaders, and policymakers both during and after the pandemic.

Our findings highlight the need for more inclusivity, more focus on providing internet access, and more awareness-raising initiatives with local organizations and schools. The stories in this report—of libraries developing mobile Wi-Fi options, creating digital navigator programs to support digital literacy, launching more online programs, and making use of outdoor spaces—show the possibilities of transformation and partnership. The report concludes with eight recommendations for investment in library transformations, expansion of policies such as E-Rate and the Emergency Broadband Benefit to provide better internet access at home, and more collaboration with local schools and organizations. With these changes, libraries can leverage the lessons of the pandemic to help launch more equitable ecosystems of learning across communities, providing access to knowledge, resources, and training, online and off.

The prevalence of broadband in the recommendations highlights the importance of broadband…

For policymakers:

  • Invest in efforts by libraries and schools to bring internet access, online resources, and other tools to underserved households and communities.
    • Expand the E-Rate Program so that libraries and schools can get discounts on the technology services that patrons and students need to get online from home.
    • Support schools, libraries, and community-based organizations in distributing devices such as tablets, laptops, and hotspots.
  • Improve broadband access to low-income households.
    • Make the new $50-per-month Emergency Broadband Benefit permanent and integrate it into the Lifeline program.
    • Require internet service providers to be more transparent about internet costs and hidden fees.
    • Enable municipalities to provide internet service.
  • Encourage collaboration by developing grant programs and other incentives for community-based organizations, libraries, and schools to work together in raising awareness and jointly delivering library services.
  • Provide funding for the expansion of tech-support programs such as Digital Navigators and other programs that enable on-demand, one-on-one troubleshooting, mentorship, and guidance.
  • Provide funding for needs assessments and other research to take stock of how public libraries are used within communities that are marginalized or underserved.

For libraries:

  • Increase outreach and communications efforts to make more residents aware of offerings both online and off.
    • Target outreach so that low-income households; Black, Hispanic, and Asian households; and patrons whose first language is not English are welcomed and connected to the library.
    • Experiment with mobile offerings that bring the library to underserved communities.
    • Establish Digital Navigator programs and similar mentoring initiatives that help patrons build technological fluency, digital literacy, and media literacy skills.

For educators and leaders of community-based organizations:

  • Develop deeper partnerships with libraries to build awareness of resources for clients and students.

  • Include library leaders in strategic planning for programs and services.

Broadband, Local Economies and the Age of COVID: A Report

Craig Settles has released a new report (Broadband, Local Economies and the Age of COVID) based on a survey of 200 economic developers…

In this year’s survey, 200 recipients weighed in on the state of broadband, starting with an assessment of ISP competition as well as broadband alternative to the giant ISPs for communities. This report concludes with some insights and advice for how we can continue to leverage community broadband.

This year, economic development professionals participated from across the U.S. to provide insights and observations.

  • Has COVID-19 set back broadband advance as well as hopes of closing the digital divide?
  • Respondents have a markedly increased interest in telehealth as a local economic tool this year than they had 18 months ago.
  • Some survey participants have witnessed the influence broadband had on low-income and unemployed workers becoming entrepreneurs before and after COVID-19 struck.
  • Respondent weighed in on the impacts of COVID-19 on the determinants of economic development.
  • Federal and state broadband policies and funding rules work to the detriment of local communities.
  • Ultimately, what are the roles of broadband and digital technologies when COVID-19 is done with us?

Here are some of the observations, they made…

  • “There’s a reason ‘broadband is a super-determinant of public health,” says Dr. Bento Lobo, an economist who has researched extensively broadband’s, telehealth’s, and public health’s economic impact. “By having a 10 GB fiber network in his home office, Dr. Jim Busch and the other radiologists together at Diagnostic Radiology Consultants (DRC) save $18.2 million a year in time,” says Dr. Lobo. ”The typical radiologist saves a thousand hours a year.”
  • Pay attention to where cities and towns deploy limited-reach public networks because these locations drive broadband deployment throughout communities. While we see COVID-19 turning healthcare and education delivery on its head, these networks can be foundations on which the two industries establish new delivery points. Limited-reach networks can transform anchor institutions such as libraries and schools into new telehealth delivery points. Telehealth and education nonprofits can consider “adopting” public housing facilities and deliver network services to the underserved. Community centers and abandoned office buildings can have these networks create worker spaces, temporary hospitals and after-school study halls.
  • The promised economic impact of telehealth will not be fully achieved until communities address digital literacy among both doctors and patients. In my first telehealth visit my iPhone showed a “mic” icon, which is how the doc and I know we have an audio connection. But the connection didn’t work, neither of us had time, so we talked on the phone, defeating the purpose of the app.

Communicating for America finds 21 percent of US adults don’t have broadband

Businesswire reports

Communicating for America (CA), a rural and Main Street advocacy organization, has released a new consumer survey to better understand how COVID-19 has affected individual communication and gauge attitudes on health coverage in the midst of a pandemic.

Here’s what they found related to broadband…

When it comes to high-speed broadband service, the survey found overall 21% of 18-65 year old Americans do not have access or are not sure if they have access. Of those who do not have access to high-speed internet, 73% report having their lives meaningfully impacted by internet connectivity in the last 12 months (compared to 54% who do have high-speed internet).

Many respondents to the survey shared ways they have been meaningfully impacted by internet connectivity issues in the past 12 months. Twenty-eight percent said communication with others is a problem, whether they had high-speed internet or not. In addition, 26% said they have connectivity issues when it came to school/education. In addition, the respondents said that internet connectivity meaningfully impacted them in the following ways:

  • 25% work.
  • 18% medical care.
  • 16% when retail shopping.
  • 15% when grocery shopping.

The disparity was especially reflected by race, education and income levels. Whites and Blacks were equally likely to have been impacted by internet connectivity within the past 12 months (51% each), but 59% of Hispanics and 67% of other non-White identifying races reported meaningful connectivity impact in the last 12-months. The survey found that 69% of those with a high school education or lower had high-speed internet, compared to 90% of those with a four-year college degree. Similarly, 70% of those making under $40,000 a year had access to high-speed broadband compared to 91% making $80,000 or more in household income.

More than 12 million US households cancel home broadband service

Park Associates reports

New research from Parks Associates reports more than 12 million US households have cancelled their home broadband service and use only mobile broadband for their internet needs. Adoption and Perception of Broadband finds there are more than 15 million households in the US that have only a mobile broadband service, which includes more than three million households that have never had a home internet subscription.

“High cost is the most prominent issue driving households to cut the cord and go mobile only, although service-related issues, from slow speeds to poor customer experience, also contribute,” said Kristen Hanich, Senior Analyst, Parks Associates. “Service providers can deploy a number of strategies, including increasing speed and delivering a device that improves Wi-Fi coverage, in order to protect their customer base.”

The report was released Q1 2021, which means they are looking at Survey results during the pandemic. It is shocking to me that so many people would cancel home service at a time when so much of life (school, work, healthcare, entertainment) has moved online.

MN Dep of Human Services reports on increased telehealth in 2020 and lessons learned

The Minnesota Department of Human Services report (Telemedicine Utilization Report: Telehealth and Telemedicine during the COVID-19 Pandemic) looks at increased use of and decreased regulation on telehealth during the pandemic. Their high level assessment…

Recommendations for further consideration by DHS include:

  • integrating telemedicine as a permanent modality in delivery of services, developing specific guidance on licensing standards around telemedicine;
  • investing resources in understanding comparatively low level of utilization of telemedicine by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities;
  • advocating and prioritizing funding for telehealth infrastructure development; and
  • supporting legislation to allow Medical Assistance (MA) and MinnesotaCare enrollees to have more than three telemedicine visits in a week.

The report is direct, easy to read and includes information that supports the recommendations. I’m going to try to pull out the salient points by segment, which means I’m removing some context to provide a quicker look at the data but again, you can go to the full report for more detail.

From the Contextual analysis: a brief review of contemporary literature

  • Telehealth and telemedicine have shown to increase access to patients, communities, and vulnerable populations, including adolescents, adults, seniors, veterans, rural patients, persons diagnosed with a disability and/or a mental health condition, and persons with transportation barriers and mobility issues.
  • The provision of health care services via telehealth and telemedicine has been shown to decrease the wait times for emergency departments, an appointment with a general practitioner, and referrals to several medical specialties, such as behavioral health and Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT).
  • Telehealth and telemedicine can be utilized to provide prevention and early intervention services and to support follow-up care for chronic conditions.

From the Initial stakeholder feedback summary

  • Telehealth made it easier to access services, and easier to involve other family members in healthcare services.
  • Telehealth freed-up time to serve more clients/patients in need of services since healthcare staff could provide services from one location, eliminating drive-time between provider sites.
  • Patient/client attendance was improved by fewer “no-shows” and late arrivals.
  • Some patients who would otherwise not access care due to their illness, travel distance, lack of transportation, lack of child/senior care, or level of motivation, can more easily access services in the comfort of their home.
  • The input from metro county ethnic minority groups and rural tribal recipients were positive for telehealth service provision, noting that telehealth improves equity in access to healthcare.
  • Responses from ethnic minority groups and rural tribal recipient groups mentioned a preference that telehealth be provided by telephone and not via the internet.

From the Claims data analysis

  • Of the individuals who utilized telemedicine for all health care services, 20% used telemedicine-only, 15% started services after the PHE and have continued follow-up via telemedicine, approximately 50% of individuals stopped services (submitted no claims after the PHE).
  • Results indicate that of the 87.3% of individuals who received health care services, approximately 25% of the recipients engaged in telemedicine care. Moreover, 14.3% of patients receiving Medicaid who needed care and did not utilize in-person visits were able to utilize telemedicine-only services after the PHE. Further investigation on these particular utilization groups is warranted and could illuminate how to better engage individuals with telemedicine health care services.
  • Results suggest changes in telemedicine utilization which impact age groups differently. Specifically, individuals within age groups 0-5 years old and 66+ years old had more telemedicine claims compared to individuals 6-65 years old. This is inconsistent with the CMS Medicaid and CHIP snapshot data, which found that working age adults were more likely to utilize telemedicine services.
  • To measure provider and service patterns at a more gradient level, next steps will utilize longitudinal method with monthly and/or weekly time points starting in January 2020 to more accurately identify telemedicine trends in provider and services.
  • Age and additional demographics warrant further investigation based on volume based on services received.
  • Further examination on service patterns based on services being utilized by individual differences including racial and ethnic groups and geographic location.

From Focus groups (Provider recommendations)

  • Clear guidelines from DHS on billing and payment, patient notes and any other aspects of care or charting which may be audited or should be standardized across practitioners.
  • State assistance (grants, legislation, etc.) to ensure access to high speed Internet statewide, both for providers and facilities and for patients, especially in rural areas.
  • Providers particularly want to ensure that telephone continues to be viewed as a viable form of treatment and billable on par with video treatment options.
    • This is especially important as Internet availability and reliability continue to be a barrier for many patients in accessing remote medicine via video services.
  • Move to a single or greatly reduced number of HIPAA compliant, easy to use, affordable platforms as the vast number of different programs used currently can create difficulties in coordination of care among facilities, providers and other agencies as well as difficulties for patients who see multiple providers utilizing different systems.
  • One idea is to create a public- private partnership between DHS and a telemedicine platform company which would allow for a low-cost, HIPAA compliant system used by most Minnesota providers. o Pursue interstate licensure for telemedicine so providers close to state borders can serve more patients.
    • Promote collaboration with insurance companies and the state insurance commissioner to ensure equity in billing of telemedicine for patients across Minnesota-based insurance companies.
  • Interpreters are an important part of providing mental health and substance use care, and these providers urged that they be included in supporting a successful telemedicine model in Minnesota.
    • These providers stressed that interpreters who are providing ancillary support to providers should be included in any grant funding for devices, Internet provision or other technological assistance as they are currently left to cover these costs themselves.
    • Likewise, if there is to be any standardization of care guidelines or regulations created by DHS, they should take into account the need for interpreters and having a three-way video call, phone call or other means of utilizing interpreter services.

Lessons learned

  • Integrate telemedicine as a permanent modality in delivery of services
  • Provide training, assistance and clarification in provider manual regarding use of telemedicine
  • Offer specific guidance for Office of Inspector General on review of licensing standards around telemedicine
  • Invest resources in exploring reasons behind comparatively low level of utilization of telemedicine by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities
  • Use of telephone-only as a telemedicine modality for clinical services needs to be examined further and independently of other telemedicine modalities. o Possibly keep this as an option for future public health emergencies.

Broadband, phone and affordability – monthly costs can be 10 percent of budget

A recent article in CNBC highlights the benefits of a livable wage highlights the need for broadband and the need for affordable broadband…

“People are not surviving on the minimum wage,” said Amy Glasmeier, a professor of economic geography and regional planning at MIT, who created a database of regional living wages in 2004 and updates it annually.

Affording everyday items can be a challenge. For example, having a cell phone and broadband internet access — tightly linked to one’s ability to get and hold a job in the digital age — costs about $120 a month, Glasmeier said. That’s almost 10% of a low-wage earner’s budget.

The following chart shows the current minimum wage versus livable wage by state. A single adult making Minnesota minimum wage would spend almost exactly 10 percent of her check on broadband/phone at $120/month.

4 of 10 Americans have experienced online harassment

Pew Research Center reports…

A Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults in September finds that 41% of Americans have personally experienced some form of online harassment in at least one of the six key ways that were measured. And while the overall prevalence of this type of abuse is the same as it was in 2017, there is evidence that online harassment has intensified since then.

Here is how they define online harassment…

This report measures online harassment using six distinct behaviors:

  • Offensive name-calling
  • Purposeful embarrassment
  • Stalking
  • Physical threats
  • Harassment over a sustained period of time
  • Sexual harassment

Respondents who indicate they have personally experienced any of these behaviors online are considered targets of online harassment in this report. Further, this report distinguishes between “more severe” and “less severe” forms of online harassment. Those who have only experienced name-calling or efforts to embarrass them are categorized in the “less severe” group, while those who have experienced any stalking, physical threats, sustained harassment or sexual harassment are categorized in the “more severe” group.

Younger people have more experience with harassment. Men report more harassment; women report a greater impact of harassment. Pew did offer up some views in helping curb the program…

About half of Americans say permanently suspending users if they bully or harass others (51%) or requiring users of these platforms to disclose their real identities (48%) would be very effective in helping to reduce harassment or bullying on social media.

Around four-in-ten say criminal charges for users who bully or harass (43%) or social media companies proactively deleting bullying or harassing posts (40%) would be very effective.

I look forward to their next survey and wonder how they will tackle harassment that starts online and move offline – especially when it’s a group targeted and not an individual.

Minnesota Digital Equity Community Needs Assessment Report (including COVID impact)

Literacy Minnesota recent release a statewide report on digital equity needs (by county). The report looks at three questions:

  • What counties have high digital access, economic, education and English language learning needs?
  • How have organizations adapted to the pandemic and addressed digital access needs in their communities, who do they serve, and which counties are served?
  • How would a statewide Digital Navigator Program complement available resources and sustainably solve persistent problems?

County Ranking on Highest Needs

The report ranks county based on high priority needs (defined by unemployment, ow wages, low English attainment, access to broadband a computer and more). They present the information in a way that is difficult to share electronically, but I’ve copied the ranking. Here are the counties in greatest need of help. (I’ll paste the full list at the and of this post.)  They have color coded the layers of ranking; I’ve tried to replicate that with bold/not bold. Each change represents a new tier of ranking.

  1. Nobles
  2. Watonwan
  3. Lake of the Woods
  4. Aitkin
  5. Beltrami
  6. Wadena
  7. Mahnomen
  8. Pine
  9. Kandiyohi
  10. Mower
  11. Mille Lacs
  12. Ramsey

Organizational changed due to COVID

Literacy Minnesota surveyed organizations…

The majority of organizations that responded to Literacy Minnesota’s Digital Equity Community Needs Assessment survey shifted to remote programming and services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 80% of responses to Literacy Minnesota’s Digital Equity Community Needs Assessment Survey reported that their organization had shifted to distanced or virtual platforms, while about 20% of organizations shut down services. About 40% of organizations made new partnerships and 50% of organizations added services. Among services added, more than 60% distributed devices, 56% helped people access the internet and 47% offered digital literacy services. The Survey was sent to about 700 ABE organizations, broadband providers, CareerForce centers, community organizations, government officials, libraries, nonprofits and schools on November 1, 2020. By November 22, 294 organizations had responded to the Survey — a response rate greater than 42%.

Digital Navigator Recommendations

Literacy Minnesota recommends a learner-centered approach to digital navigation and digital literacy learning, like the learner-centered approach that it applies in ABE, its AmeriCorps VISTA national service program and its trainings and webinars. The agency recommends that organizations holding public trust host digital navigators. Community-based organizations and libraries represent excellent potential host sites for a statewide Digital Navigation Program in Minnesota. The agency also recommends that the Digital Navigator Program utilize the Northstar Digital Literacy program of Literacy Minnesota, which represents the leading technology in digital literacy learning and is available at multiple locations in each of Minnesota’s 87 counties through ABE, libraries, and workforce centers. Literacy Minnesota’s nearly 50 years of ABE experience as well as its emerging digital equity efforts and expertise, like the Ramsey County TechPak Program, a CARES Act project with Hennepin County, and its Open Door Learning Center equity efforts, inform these recommendations.

For folks who are interested in talking more about Digital Navigators, the Blandin Foundation is hosting a “lunch bunch” conversation on Feb 24 from noon to 1pm (CST).

 Below is the full ranking of county by need. Continue reading