EVENTS: 100 rural MN gatherings, 100 rural MN communities.

From our friends at 100 Rural Women…

Join us this summer as we will be “traveling” (virtually) across the state of Minnesota by region during the summer of 2021. Overall we will hold 30 meetings across Minnesota in an effort to create connections, explore existing formal and informal networks of rural women and discuss what leadership looks like for women. Our goal is to ignite action in community, leadership, civic engagement, and rural entrepreneurship, while simultaneously identifying opportunities and connecting local women to each other.

Click here to Sign up for a gathering

I’m hoping folks will join and make sure that broadband is a hot topic!

Quarantine rules help spread telehealth options for rural moms-to-be in Bemidji

The Bemidji Pioneer reports

If there’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be how it sped up a change in prenatal care that could improve outcomes for rural mothers and babies.

Dr. Johnna Nynas, an OB/GYN physician at Sanford Health in Bemidji, discussed her hospital’s move to offering virtual visits during the past year.

“We started laying the groundwork a couple of years ago,” said Nynas. “We looked at implementing a virtual visit option that provided patients with some equipment to monitor their pregnancies at home, including a blood pressure cuff, and then a Doppler, so they can listen to their baby at home. But what really thrust us to the forefront and accelerated the timeline was the COVID pandemic.”

Technical and legal challenges involved the interface between patients at home and their medical records. But with the onset of the pandemic, Nynas said, “there were rapid changes in Congress that made it much easier for health care organizations to initiate telehealth.”

They need better broadband…

There are still barriers that need to be addressed, such as broadband and cellular access in rural areas and for lower-income families. And there are days when the technology doesn’t work as well as others, and doctors have to make do with voice-only telephone visits.

Still, Nynas said, virtual visits will likely continue even after COVID-19 fades from public awareness.

There is a need…

The disparity is real. Nynas quoted shocking statistics: 23 percent of American women live in rural areas, but only 6% of OB/GYNs practice in rural areas. “That’s the challenge that we’re up against,” she said.

The benefit of prenatal care is also real, even for women whose pregnancies are considered low-risk. “It’s better to connect with prenatal care and get that care when and however you can,” said Nynas, “because getting no prenatal care is definitely correlated with worse outcomes.”

At the same time, the costs of running a labor and delivery unit while performing fewer deliveries are widening the gap between rural patients and the care they need. “That’s where being able to offer services remotely can be a really helpful thing,” she said.

Telehealth is here to stay in rural Minnesota

WCCO TV reports

WCCO found the successes and the future of the practice for some patients in outstate Minnesota.

A former firefighter and medic, it was a bad fall after retirement that put Bart Cedergren in a wheelchair.

He lives up north with his wife. The three doctor visits a month could take much of the day, but are now done in a fraction of the time because they’re all online.

“Telemedicine I think is the wave of the future,” Cedergren said. “The only thing we go in for these days are basically lab.”

Family Nurse Practitioner Janelle Terhaar now dedicates one full office day a week in Long Prairie to her telehealth patients.

“We went from maybe having one or two a month to now we’re maybe having steady patients every day,” Terhaar said.

From parents with a sick child, behavioral health, and an older population, Terhaar says patient profiles come from all over and that even web cams don’t lie.

Rural areas need broadband to attract rural workers

New York Times reports

“How do you get young people to want to move back into these rural areas when they feel like they’re moving back into a time frame of 20 years ago?” asked Mr. Weiler, the company’s founder and chief executive.

Rural areas have complained for years that slow, unreliable or simply unavailable internet access is restricting their economic growth. But the pandemic has given new urgency to those concerns, at the same time that President Biden’s infrastructure plan — which includes $100 billion to improve broadband access — has raised hope that the problem might finally be addressed.

“It creates jobs connecting every American with high-speed internet, including 35 percent of the rural America that still doesn’t have it,” Mr. Biden said of his plan in an address to Congress last month. “This is going to help our kids and our businesses succeed in the 21st-century economy.”

Mr. Biden has received both criticism and praise for pushing to expand the scope of infrastructure to include investments in child care, health care and other priorities beyond the concrete-and-steel projects that the word normally calls to mind. But ensuring internet access is broadly popular. In a recent survey conducted for The New York Times by the online research platform SurveyMonkey, 78 percent of adults said they supported broadband investment, including 62 percent of Republicans.

Businesses, too, have consistently supported broadband investment. Major industry groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers have all released policy recommendations in the last year calling for federal spending to help close the “digital divide.”

Defining broadband is an issue…

Quantifying that divide, and its economic cost, is difficult, in part because there is no agreed-upon definition of broadband. The Federal Communications Commission in 2015 updated its standards to a minimum download speed of 25 megabits per second. The Department of Agriculture sets its standard lower, at 10 m.p.s. A bipartisan group of rural-state senators asked both agencies this year to raise their standards to 100 m.p.s. And speed-based definitions don’t take into account other issues, like reliability and latency, a measure of how long a signal takes to travel between a computer and a remote server.

The definition matters in terms of getting government support to improve access, but the definition doesn’t matter to the consumer. All that matters to the consumer is that it works…

According to the F.C.C.’s definition, most of Marion County has high-speed access to the internet. But residents report that service is slow and unreliable. And with only one provider serving much of the county, customers have little leverage to demand better service.

The area needs more workers, but new workers, especially younger workers, will not move to an areas without broadband…

Local leaders have plans to attract new businesses and a younger generation of workers — but those plans won’t work without better internet service, said Mark Raymie, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.

Women leading in Rural Broadband Connectivity: Notes and Video

This morning, 100 Rural Women hosted a conversion on rural broadband. It was a full (virtual) room of women who live on the frontlines of rural Minnesota. There was a discussion between Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Policy and Engagement at the Blandin Foundation and Tina May, Chief of Staff and Vice President at Land O’Lakes moderated by Benya Kraus from Lead for America.

We learned a lot about the new American Connection Corps. We had an honest discussion on why Minnesota doesn’t have ubiquitous broadband yet. We talked about why access to broadband is an issue that impacts women. (For example, Moms were 68.8 percent more likely to take leave from jobs during the pandemic than fathers.)
And we got a taste of Women’s March MN’s Time to Action events, where members learn about an issue and take time to act.

Land O’Lakes unveils American Connection Corps

I was just on a call with 100 Rural Women (will share on that soon) and heard from Tina May and Benya Kraus more about this awesome program from Land O’Lakes

Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced the formation of a new program for young leaders aimed at a boots-on-the-ground effort to boost local internet connectivity and the benefits it provides. The program, the American Connection Corps, will be led in conjunction with Lead for America (LFA) and funded through the support of Heartland Forward and 19 additional partner organizations. Applications open today for a two-year, full-time paid fellowship. Fifty Fellows will serve in local public-serving institutions in their hometowns and will be empowered to serve as community leaders focused specifically on connectivity.
“Millions of families are operating day-to-day with a lack of basic infrastructure — adequate broadband access — that has become a necessity in today’s world and, frankly, a fundamental right. Action cannot wait,” said Beth Ford, Land O’Lakes, Inc. president and chief executive officer. “Through our years-long work on broadband advocacy and conversations with our farmers, our customers and so many others, we’ve seen and heard firsthand how critical digital infrastructure is to the success of communities and businesses across America. From everyday life to prospering in a global economy, investing and focusing on this issue now will pay dividends.”
Through their proven Homecomers model, LFA will run the American Connection Corps as a separate track under their broad Fellows program. LFA will select, train and place leaders in two-year, full-time paid fellowships with local institutions (e.g. local governments, nonprofits, community foundations) to tackle tough challenges facing the community, strengthen their hometown’s civic infrastructure and join a new generation of transformational community leaders.
“Our work has shown that we can change the narrative that success means leaving home for good, and instead that young leaders can create meaningful impact in their hometowns,” commented Benya Kraus, co-founder of LFA.
“We are excited to put true grassroots – person-to-person outreach — in communities across the heartland to connect their residents to high-speed internet and ensure everyone can enjoy full access to essential online services,” said Angie Cooper, chief program officer for Heartland Forward, a leading partner on the American Connection Corps initiative.
Ford continued, “This program would not be happening without the support of organizations joining with us; I’m so grateful to these partners who also recognize that together, we can take bold steps now to help solve these challenges, to help create the future and to benefit us all in our ever-connected world.”
The American Connection Corps is launching with funding from 20 partner organizations, including: Heartland Forward, CoBank, Tractor Supply Company, Microsoft, Mayo Clinic, Ariel Investments, Scoular, CHS, Zoetis, Tillamook, Accenture, University of Minnesota, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Midwest Dairy, Purdue University, Partners for Education, CentraCare, Common Sense Media and University of Illinois Extension.
Individuals interested in applying for the program are encouraged to visit Lead for America’s website and select the American Connection Corps track. The deadline to apply is May 15, 2021. The inaugural class of Fellows will be announced in early June 2021.

“I will keep Starlink as long as its the only broadband option available to me”

CNBC reports

Starlink is the company’s capital-intensive project to build an interconnected internet network with thousands of satellites, known in the space industry as a constellation, designed to deliver high-speed internet to consumers anywhere on the planet.

SpaceX launched the “Better than Nothing Beta” program for the public in October, and the majority of users CNBC surveyed received invitations to join between November and February. The service is priced at $99 a month in the U.S. under the beta, with a $499 upfront cost for the equipment customers need to connect to the satellites – plus taxes, shipping, and any accessories needed to mount the antenna.

CNBC’s surveyed users on total cost, the installation process, what they thought of SpaceX’s equipment, internet speed, reliability of the service, what their service alternatives were, their experience with customer service, any concerns they had, and their overall impressions.

It sounds like people were OK with the price as it seemed to compare to what they had paid before. Feedback on installation was more diverse, based on the customer’s past experience with rooftop installations. The speeds sound like they were as promised…

SpaceX told the Federal Communications Commission in February that Starlink’s internet service is “exceeding” 100 megabits per second download speeds, 20 megabits per second upload speeds, and latency “at or below 31 milliseconds.” Latency is the amount of delay in an internet network, defining how much time it takes a signal to travel back and forth from a destination. Latency and download speeds are key measures for an internet service provider.

The company’s report to the FCC matched with what users told CNBC, who reported download speeds ranging between 60 Mbps to 150 mbps – with some even reporting peak speeds near 200. Latency also matched expectations, as most users reported latency of about 30 milliseconds – with some in the low 20 milliseconds.

It was interesting to hear what customers had before this beta test…

Users reported a wide variety of prior services that they had before Starlink, ranging from other satellite broadband companies to low-speed wired networks to cellular hotspots – and some with no prior service at all.

Starlink users most commonly switched for one of three reasons: Price, speed and data restrictions (also known as “caps”).

And what one customer said after the beta test…

I will keep Starlink as long as its the only broadband option available to me.

I think that sentiment says a lot about the service. It is a great option for people who don’t have other options but drawbacks are the cost and it’s not futureproof. Also, investing public funding into Starlink is not an investment in futureproof technology.

Rural Minnesota lags behind the rest of the state, grants help close the gap

The Alexandria Echo reports

About 92% of Minnesota homes and businesses have internet service of at least 25 megabits per second download and three megabits per second upload, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

But that percentage drops to 83% in rural Minnesota, the agency said. And time is running out to meet the state’s goal of ensuring those speeds for all Minnesotans by 2022.

And they give the local details…

In Douglas County, Alexandria, Osakis, Holmes City and much of the southwestern part of the county are considered to have good internet service, according to the state’s 2020 map of internet access. Most of the unserved areas are in the eastern third of the county, and along the Douglas-Otter Tail County line. Most of the underserved areas, meaning those that only reach the 2022 state goal, are along I-94 and in the northwestern part of the county.

To provide incentives to extend broadband to Minnesota’s hard-to-reach places, the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program has provided $126 million to fund more than 179 projects connecting more than 57,000 homes, businesses and farms, said Office of Broadband Development Executive Director Angie Dickison.

US poised to award $100B to SpaceX Starlink – will it help rural residents?

Telecompetitor reports…

The analysts estimate SpaceX’s total addressable U.S. market at full deployment at between 300,000 to 800,000 households, or less than 1% of the market.

It’s a particularly noteworthy number, considering that SpaceX is poised to receive nearly $900 million from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to cover some of the costs of bringing broadband to unserved rural areas. And considering that the total number of locations for which SpaceX was the winning RDOF bidder is 642,000.

Why do they have doubts?

MoffettNathanson’s estimate of SpaceX’s addressable market is based on several assumptions, which according to the researchers, are conservative. These include:

  • Although Starlink currently has about 1400 satellites deployed, the analysis is based on the nearly 12,000 satellites that the company expects to launch, approximately one third of which will cover the U.S.
  • Based on satellite inclines of 53 degrees, researchers estimate that only about 3% of Starlink’s satellites will be visible to U.S. customers at any given time.
  • According to SpaceX FCC filings, each satellite will have a capacity of 17-23 Gbps, but future developments could expand that. Therefore, the researchers assumed a doubling or tripling of per-satellite capacity.
  • The average broadband user consumes data at a constant rate of 2.2-2.7 Mbps during peak consumption hours, leading to researchers’ assumption that 4 Mbps of bandwidth per user would be needed to provide good quality of service today. The researchers forecast that requirement to increase to 10-18 Mbps per user in the next five years

One last factor…

SpaceX is charging customers $499 for a rooftop antenna, which according to news reports, cost the company $2,400, which suggests that the company is subsidizing each installation by nearly $2,000.

It seems like that $499 installation fee could increase at any time, which would make satellite much less affordable to deploy for the household. The authors also remind us that Starlink is in line to get $100 billion from the US government through an RDOF award.

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)

EVENT April 28: Women Leading Broadband and Connectivity in Rural

An invitation from 100 Rural Women

Join us for our next webinar:  Wed, April 28th at 8:30 am CST “Women Leading Broadband and Connectivity in Rural”  Featuring Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Policy and Engagement at the Blandin Foundation and Tina May, Chief of Staff and Vice President at Land O’Lakes.

EVENT April 15: RuralRISE Broadband Tech

Looks like an interesting conference…

RuralRISE Broadband Tech will spotlight resources, programs & solutions for affordable broadband in Rural America.

About this Event

RuralRISE Tech will be hosting a virtual Rural Broadband Summit on April 15. This virtual event will focus on:

Topics will include:

• Overview of Rural Digital Divide

• Fireside Chat: Successful State Programs and Innovative Partnerships

• Fireside Chat: Role of cooperatives in Rural Deployment: Cooperatives have been present in rural communities for years, how the movement to broadband offerings can assist in getting broadband to rural America

• Anchor Institutions (Schools, Hospitals and Libraries role in Rural Broadband

• Regional Digital Inclusion Planning.

• Community leaders working in rural communities sharing their success in advancing digital equity – via tech literacy, device access and affordable internet options.

• Actionable session focused on helping rural communities plan new fiber networks.

• 5 – Minute Quick Pitches – examples across rural America.

• Followed by a Networking/Social Hour

 

Draft Schedule available online.

MN Legislators look at extends easements to rural electric cooperatives (HF686/SF1304)

The legislature is working on a bill that would make it easier for electric cooperatives to bring broadband to their customers and maybe beyond by allowing them to use existing easements – and rather than gather opt-in permission door to door to use easements for broadband, they could use the opt-out method by announcing it to customers in their newsletters with a deadline for customers to voice concerns. Thanks to MREA (MN Rural Electric Association) for sharing a recent article from a recent report with more details…

MINNESOTA’S ELECTRIC COOPERATIVES CAN BE A GREAT PARTNER IN BRIDGING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE – BUT ONLY WITH A CHANGE IN STATE STATUTE

By Joyce Peppin, director, government affairs & general counsel

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many challenges in the past year, including forcing school districts and business owners to figure out how to conduct operations on virtual platforms. That problem is exasperated in rural areas of the state that don’t have access to high-speed internet. Surprisingly, even a full year after the onset of the pandemic, 440,000 Minnesotans still do not have access to a wired broadband connection with speeds of 25 Mbps or faster, and another 125,000 do not have any wired internet providers with services available at their place of residence, according to the organization BroadbandNow.

Electric cooperatives could be a big part of the solution to bridge the digital divide – the technological gap between those with access to up-to-date technologies and those without access. Electric co-ops are located throughout Minnesota, and unlike any other for-profit business or governmental entity, they already have the infrastructure in place. They are uniquely positioned to bring broadband to corners of the state that are currently not served or underserved, but there is a legal challenge that must be addressed first.

The problem is that for an electric co-op to deploy broadband (or partner with a telecommunications company to deploy broadband), they must first get a new signed easement agreement from every landowner that gives the co-op express permission to use the easement for broadband purposes. However, obtaining new easements is an extremely time-intensive and expensive task.

To address this legal change, MREA worked with state legislators to draft HF 686/SF 1304. This bill would allow co-ops to use their current easements for deploying broadband, so long as they give easement holders six months notice in a bill insert or via first-class mail and recognize a landowner’s right to commence legal action or seek damages for a fair market decrease in property value. If the bill passes, co-ops would have more legal certainty that they would prevail in a lawsuit against trespass claims by landowner rights’ groups and would be more likely to help bring high-speed internet to the unserved or underserved.

While not every co-op will participate in deploying broadband, the passage of this bill will provide the state with another tool in the toolbox to bridge the digital divide. Please contact your legislators and ask them to support HF 686/SF 1304!

Senator Smith to chair Rural Development and Energy Subcommittee

Senator Smith reports

Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) announced that she has been named Chair of the Rural Development and Energy Subcommittee, which is tasked with overseeing many U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development programs, including the Rural Housing Service, and programs relating to facilities, utilities, loans, and renewable energy.

That puts her at a good table to discuss broadband as the site notes…

She also believes it’s important to invest more in Greater Minnesota, and with her leadership post on the Rural Development and Energy Subcommittee, she will keep working to expand access to broadband and better infrastructure.

Blandin signs on to letter urging OMB to delay definition of “metropolitan”

Yesterday Blandin Foundation joined a growing group of rural advocates in signing a letter strongly urging the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to delay changing the federal definition of “metropolitan.” Currently, Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) are defined as having a minimum population of 50,000 people. OMB has initiated a process to increase that minimum to 100,000 people.

This change would redefine non-metro, rural areas and have significant impacts on federal funding and program targeting for rural places and people.

Together with researchers, practitioners, nonprofit leaders, and advocates for rural economic and community development, we are strongly urging OMB to delay this change until its impact is fully understood. A robust and inclusive process is needed to identify all potential consequences for rural and rural-urban communities.