Broadband is an issue in rural Minnesota – but it’s a different issue in different parts of rural Minnesota

MinnPost recently published an article recognizing that “rural Minnesota” is not a homogeneous territory…

In reality, Greater Minnesota contains regions that are distinct from one another because of the land they sit on, because of the people who settled them and the people who live in them now; how rural they are; what businesses they’re home to, and many other factors.

A new report from Minnesota Compass looks at some of those differences across six different parts of the state: the Central, Northland, Northwest, Southern, Southwest and West Central regions.

I see it traveling around the state. Last week I spent two days in Madison Minnesota – this week I’ll spend two days near Chisholm. Let’s just say at no point will I be confused about where I am. The article mentions the need for broadband in rural Minnesota and the added natural complication of deploying it in Northeast MN – built on rock and filled with forests…

Expanding broadband in rural parts of the state to improve internet connections and, hopefully, lure business, is a top issue for all non-metro regions of Minnesota, but it’s especially tricky in the state’s northeast reaches, and expensive to boot, Phillips said.

“In a prairie town, you might go on top of the grain elevator or the water tower … and you can serve the whole county from a couple towers,” Phillips said. Because of topography and trees, which block the signal — “pine trees hate broadband,” he added — it’s not so simple in St. Louis County.

What the Northeast does have is leadership and providers that are interested in upgrading connectivity. So that will help them.

It’s worth noting that two of the nine comments related to the article mention the need to improve broadband in rural areas.

New Coalition Aims to Eliminate the Digital Divide in Rural America

This sounds like a natural next step for the proposal/plan Microsoft unveiled last summer to bring broadband to rural areas. There were some concerns about the plan back then. The list of partners they include today is varied – from the Schools, Health and Library Broadband Coalition to the American Pain Relief Institute, which gets at the wide seeping improvements broadband can mean for rural areas.

Here’s the press release

NEW COALITION AIMS TO ELIMINATE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE IN RURAL AMERICA

Innovators & rural advocates join forces to deploy TV white spaces technology for high-speed broadband coverage

Washington, D.C. – Rallying around a plan to eliminate the digital divide by 2022, a diverse group of community leaders, rural advocates and top innovators today announced the national launch of Connect Americans Now (www.connectamericansnow.com). The new alliance will work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other policymakers to ensure that there is sufficient unlicensed low band spectrum in every market in the country to enable broadband connectivity.

“All Americans – regardless of where they live – deserve access to high-speed internet,” said Richard T. Cullen, Executive Director of Connect Americans Now (CAN). “Without a broadband connection, millions of students struggle to keep up with their assignments, Americans in rural areas are unable to fully utilize telemedicine, farmers are denied the promise of precision agriculture and businesses are unable to tap into the world of online commerce. Congress and the FCC must stand with rural America by allowing internet service providers to deliver broadband via white spaces spectrum.”

CAN’s founding partners include Microsoft, ACT: The App Association, the National Rural Education Association, the Schools, Health and Library Broadband Coalition, the Wisconsin Economic Development Association, Alaska Communications, Axiom, the Mid-Atlantic Broadcasting Communities Corporation, the American Pain Relief Institute, HTS Ag, and others. As a part of the initial launch, CAN is forming partnerships across rural America to educate stakeholders about the opportunities available via long-range, wireless broadband over TV white spaces. They also are spearheading an advocacy campaign in Washington, D.C., where FCC regulators have the authority to make sufficient unlicensed spectrum available in each market for high-speed internet.

“There are amazing educational resources online, but students without broadband can easily fall behind their peers,” said National Rural Education Association Executive Director Allen Pratt. “In rural communities, the digital divide is standing between millions of kids and the ability to research an author, watch a documentary, or just turn in assignments. We want all students to learn the computer skills that will help them succeed in the 21st century. We urge regulators to open a dialogue with our team at Connect Americans Now and unlock the incredible possibilities offered by this low band white spaces spectrum.”

“A reliable and cost-effective broadband connection will change the lives of millions of Americans who live each day without this basic necessity,” said Tad Deriso, President & CEO of Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp. “Through our pilot project with Microsoft, we have witnessed the transformative effect that providing broadband via TV white spaces brings to rural families who otherwise could not obtain internet service, and hope that the FCC will embrace the potential of Connect Americans Now’s plan to close the digital divide.”

“Times have changed, and reliable broadband access is no longer just a luxury,” said Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) Executive Director John Windhausen. “Libraries, clinics and other anchor institutions lie at the heart of rural communities across the heartland, but they can’t provide the services people need without modern connectivity. SHLB is very pleased to join with Connect Americans Now to press for solutions that can work quickly to help close the digital divide and ensure that quality of life isn’t determined by zip code.”

The plan endorsed by CAN will rapidly accelerate the deployment – and reduce the cost – of high-speed internet service for 23.4 million rural Americans who live each day without broadband access. It does so by taking advantage of unused but powerful bandwidth below the 700 MHz frequency range, also known as TV white spaces, made available on an unlicensed basis. Wireless signals in this range can travel over hills and through buildings and trees and therefore are great for last mile broadband access in rural areas.

From education to telemedicine and precision agriculture to business development, closing the digital divide could transform the lives and livelihoods of rural Americans from all walks of life.

Implications of the Digital Divide

  • 5 million students lack access to high speed internet, but 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires a broadband connection. This means that millions of students – most often in rural areas – struggle to keep up with their assignments and fail to learn the computer skills they need to succeed and enter college or the workforce.
  • Telemedicine could collectively save lives and millions of dollars annually for underserved patients and rural hospitals that pay up to three times more for broadband than their urban counterparts. Broadband allows patients, regardless of where they live, to access specialists and benefit from advanced monitoring services that would normally require hours of travel for patients or their providers.
  • Broadband access brings the promise of precision agriculture, including remote monitoring equipment that helps farmers save money by optimizing irrigation, conserving resources and increasing yields. It also allows farmers to search for new customers, find buyers willing to pay higher prices and identify the most affordable sources of seeds, fertilizers and farm equipment.
  • Broadband access will drive economic growth and job opportunities by enabling rural small businesses to expand their customer base from local to global and attract new industries to rural communities.
  • High-speed internet supports workforce development by allowing rural job seekers to access services online, develop new skills through cloud-based training and secure additional employment opportunities like remote teleworking. It will also allow rural communities to keep and attract new workers who require a broadband connection to carry out their daily responsibilities.

About Connect Americans Now

Connect Americans Now is a group of concerned citizens, local organizations, rural advocates and leading innovators committed to eliminating the digital divide that is holding back rural America. Our goal is to bring rural Americans who currently lack connectivity safe and affordable broadband access by 2022 so they can take advantage of the economic and educational opportunities that exist in other communities.

Lack of broadband could mean underrepresentation of rural in 2020 census

The Daily Yonder reports…

Rural communities with high levels of poverty and lack of access to internet could be undercounted in the 2020 U. S. Census, according to a report.

Where will this be worst?

O’Hare’s warning is based on likely limits to budgets for Census operations and a change in methodology. The Census will rely more on the internet for data collection. Since rural residents trail in internet connectivity, with 21% of rural homes lacking service compared with 13% of urban residents, response rates from rural areas could be under-represented.

The rural regions with the most at risk, and the least likely to have internet service, are African-Americans communities in the South, Hispanics in the Southwest, and Native Americans living near tribal lands and reservations. Low participation rates are also expected in “deep Appalachia” and among migrant farmworker families. O’Hare said that approximately 40% of impoverished rural people in these regions have no internet access.

Why does it matter?

“Undercounted communities do not receive their fair share of public funds for things like schools, hospitals, day care centers, and roads. Rural communities that are already struggling economically can ill afford to lose federal money because they are not fully counted in the Census,” O’Hare stated.

NU-Telecom purchases RRCNet – the high school run network

The New Ulm Jounral reports…

NU-Telecom and Red Rock Central Schools announce that NU-Telecom has purchased RRCNet and will assume operations Feb. 1, 2018.

I wrote about Red Rock a few years ago (2011)…

The high school maintains local Internet access with servers at the high school, wireless access points on grain elevators and silos and students to provide tech support. The provide service to 500 businesses and homes in the area.

Here are the details of the recent purchase…

“NU-Telecom is excited to be part of Lamberton and the surrounding communities, and intends to make investments to upgrade equipment and services to continue meeting customer needs,” said President and CEO Bill Otis. “The company is looking forward to partnering with Red Rock Central Schools in its work-based learning program and developing students’ interest in technology.”

Superintendent Bruce Olson agreed.

“The school district is excited to continue to offer this work experience for our students with this new beginning. Many area computer and network technicians began their careers as Red Rock Central students working with the RRCNet’s work-based learning program.”

Literature review on the impact of broadband

When you need numbers to make your case I know where you can go! To the new report from Purdue University (by Roberto Gallardo, Brian Whitacre and Alison Grant) – Research & Policy Insights: Broadband’s Impact A Brief Literature Review. It looks at research related to broadband specifically on the following topics:

  • Economic Development
  • Migration & Civic Engagement
  • Education
  • Telework
  • Telehealth
  • Smart Cities, Big Data, & Artificial Intelligence
  • Agriculture

Again, it’s a great reference tool to help give you quality answers to help make the case for better broadband. It’s also inspiring to read. I wanted to share just a portion they wrote about rural broadband…

Focusing on rural areas is important since they are lagging behind urban areas when it comes to broadband deployment and use (Perrin, 2017; Good, 2017). Furthermore, rural places need digital connectivity in order to compensate for their remoteness (Salemink, Strijker, & Bosworth, 2015). Studies that have given specific attention to rural areas have noted a positive relationship between rural broadband access and adoption and greater economic growth (Stenberg, et al., 2009), attraction of new firms (Kim & Orazem, 2017), higher household incomes (Whitacre, Gallardo, & Stover, 2014), small business growth (Shideler & Badasyan, 2012), increase in annual sales and value added (Canzian, Poy, & Schuller, 2015), and growth in annual payroll and number of business establishments (Kandilov & Renkow, 2010). In addition, a recent article explored the effects of USDA broadband loan programs on agriculture and found a positive impact on farm sales, expenditures, and profits among rural counties adjacent to metropolitan counties (Kandilov, Kandilov, Liu, & Renkow, 2017).

Additional studies have estimated the economic impact of rural broadband or lack thereof. The Hudson Institute estimated that broadband companies contributed $2.4 billion in 2015, supporting over 65,000 jobs and $100 billion in e-commerce (Kuttner, 2016). Another report conducted by Ohio State University attempted to estimate the economic benefits associated with increasing broadband access and adoption in Ohio. Using two research articles that estimated broadband consumer surplus ($1,850 per household per year was used in practice), they concluded that reaching full broadband coverage and adoption among currently unserved Ohio households would result in $2 billion in economic benefits over the next 15 years (Rembert, Feng, & Partridge , 2017). Following a similar methodology, another study found that assuming full access of 25/3 Megabytes per second (Mbps) fixed broadband in the United States and a 20 percent adoption would result in $43.8 billion in economic benefits over 15 years (Gallardo & Rembert, 2017).

Important to note is that distinguishing between broadband access/availability and adoption is critical. Even if broadband is available, subscribing or using it (adoption) is not a given. In fact, Internet know-how or utilization is not randomly distributed among the population. For example, a study among young (college-age) Internet users found that parental education, gender, and race/ethnicity impacted the level of web-use skills (Hargittai, 2010). Furthermore, the relationship between entrepreneurs and creative class workers found that broadband adoption actually had a negative relationship with creative class type of workers in rural communities, while higher broadband availability is associated with a higher level of entrepreneurs (Conley & Whitacre, 2016). Another study found that increases in broadband adoption were more significantly related to changes in median household income and percentage of nonfarm proprietors than broadband availability (Whitacre, Gallardo, & Strover, 2014). Thus, it is important to distinguish between the impact of broadband access/availability and adoption/utilization since the digital divide consists of both (Gallardo, 2016).

CenturyLink expands internet access to parts of Kanabec County

According to the Kanabec Times

Rural residents that have struggled to find ways to access the internet from their homes may be in luck as Century Link is expanding services to include an additional 1,400 homes in the Braham area, and 3,000 homes in the Mora area.

While this will boost internet access and speeds in under-served areas, Doyle Jelsing of the Kanabec Broadband Initiative said it still isn’t ideal.

“This is a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go,” he said. Jelsing explained that even though Century Link advertises speeds of at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload, actual speeds tend to vary. For Jelsing, he had hoped upload speeds would be considered equally as important as download speeds. While download speeds help consumers who are interested in streaming video, upload speeds are essential for supporting local businesses that need to send data —not just receive it.

While 10 Mbps bandwidth will be a huge improvement for those with no wired internet options, it’s still below the FCC’s definition of broadband which is 25Mbps download / 3Mbps upload.

“We welcome the improvement,” Jelsing said. “However, time will work against us as the need for broadband increases.”

Broadband helps remove obstructions to health care in Minnesota

The Post Bulletin recent ran an article on What obstructs health care in Minnesota? They listed problems such as:

  • Record sharing
  • Insurance rates
  • Workforce

They also listed broadband as a possible solution…

Rural providers especially have a difficult time retaining employees, the table agreed.

Possible solutions included lowering standards that prevent people with any criminal records from being hired in any capacity, and instituting a broadband network that could connect rural buildings with higher-tech providers downtown.

I might say more. Broadband is obviously going to help with record sharing. It helps with workforce too. Yes, it can help you connect with other facilities but for rural areas attracting health care workers, but broadband can be a powerful tool to entice trailing spouses and significant others. With broadband those folks ca work anywhere.