How does MN broadband access by urban/rural status compare to other Midwest states?

I’m so glad you asked how Minnesota broadband access by urban/rural status compares to other Midwest states. It gives me a chance to dive into Roberto Gallardo’s recent article on broadband access in the Midwest. Also a quick caveat – broadband is defined here as 25 Mbps down and 3 up. That is the FCC definition of broadband; it’s also the 2022 speed goal for Minnesota. Minnesota has a secondary speed goal of 100/20 by 2026.

At first glance I was a little worried. We’re were number one (granted the data is from 2017) after a few years of attention on speed (statutory goals) and investment (broadband grants) …

Then I saw that Roberto was also looking at access to 25/25…

And symmetrical gig access

Especially looking at gig access, we are absolutely in leadership position. Undoubtedly the “Minnesota Model”  – speed goals, broadband grants, Office of Broadband Development located in Department of Employment and Economic Development and an active broadband community has played a part.

So I’m not so worried about not coming in first for the 25/3 access; in fact not coming in first helps us recognize the need to try harder and with broadband that means – ubiquitous coverage at high speeds.

37% of Americans now go online mostly using a smartphone

Pew Research reports…

Today, 37% of U.S. adults say they mostly use a smartphone when accessing the internet. This share has nearly doubled since 2013, when the Center last asked this question. At that point, 19% of Americans named their smartphone as their primary device for going online.

Indeed, mobile devices are not simply being used more often to go online – some Americans are forgoing traditional broadband at home altogether in favor of their smartphone. A majority of adults say they subscribe to home broadband, but about one-in-four (27%) do not. And growing shares of these non-adopters cite their mobile phone as a reason for not subscribing to these services.

I could see people do more individual tasks online but (aside from watching videos or listening to audio) I can’t see people choose a smartphone for tasks that take longer – like research or writing. That being said, few people probably spend as much time writing or doing research as I do. I wasn’t surprised to see that people with higher education and salaries seem to choose smartphones and home broadband at about the same rate. So people who can choose, choose both. (Or maybe having home access helps them make more money.)

How is broadband like a dishwasher?

Broadband and dishwasher are neck in neck in renters short list of needs.

Broadband Now recently did a survey of apartment renters and what they thought of broadband. Turns out 39 percent report that broadband is essential. Here are some of the other things they found:

  • Renters were fiber were happiest with their broadband
  • Most renters had wireless
  • Renters wanted dishwashers and laundry more than broadband, but it was close
  • People will pay more for fiber.For customers without a fiber connection today, 17 percent said $50 or more per month to rent a place with fiber. For customers with a fiber connection today, 35 percent said $50 or more per month.

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.