Region 5 Broadband Event Notes and Audio

The Region 5 Broadband Event turned into a great conversation with lots of questions and ideas from attendees and speakers. Interesting to hear the perspective of policymakers and how they focus on to best work with providers.

listen to the session – or half the session due to a tiny glitch:



  • Cheryal Hills, Executive Director, Region Five Development Commission
  • Current Broadband Climate (Data from Dept of Broadband)
  • Diane Wells, MN Dept of Education and Economic Development
  • Bill Coleman, Broadband Coalition

Panel of Storytellers

  • Josh Netland, Emily Telephnoe Co-op
  • Mark Diehl, Little Falls School District
  • Jim Roeder, Lakewood Health

Facilitated by Don Hickman, Initiative Foundation

  • Update from Elected Official (Kresha/Poston)
  • Introduced by Paul Drange, Sourcewell

Small group discussions

  • Are there individual, group or legislator action steps to be taken that
    help communities meet goals/needs over the next 3-5 years?
  • How can local units of government support broadband efforts?
  • What are YOU willing to do? What steps can YOU take?

Recap from small groups and Elected Official (Kresha/Poston) Facilitated by Dawn Espe, R5DC
Next Steps- State Broadband Conference by Bill Coleman, Broadband Coalition

Notes from the Zoom Chat Continue reading

EVENT July 14: Lunch Bunch: Infrastructure chat

Each month the Blandin Foundation hosts two conversation or lunch bunch sessions. The first Lunch Bunch in July happens tomorrow at noon (July 14). It will be an open topic. SO bring in any questions, stories or ideas that you want to explore!

Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch on Wednesday, July 14 at noon.  Register now!

CenturyLink asks PUC to relax landline repair rules

Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports…

Telecommunications company CenturyLink has asked Minnesota utility regulators to ease a decades-old rule that requires it to give priority for repairs to landline customers, saying the requirement is obsolete in an era dominated by broadband communications.

CenturyLink, a unit of Lumen Technologies, is the largest provider of copper landline phone service in Minnesota and one of the few companies still serving that segment. It petitioned the state’s independent Public Utilities Commission this week to bring its rules up to date, saying customer choices and demands have changed dramatically since the rules were drafted, before the first handheld cellphone appeared on the U.S. market in the 1980s.

Some details on the rule…

The rules set a goal that landline outages should be restored within 24 hours of being reported. CenturyLink says that forces it to spend a disproportionate amount of technician time on landline repairs compared with broadband repairs. And the rules don’t apply to CenturyLink competitors that just provide wireless, internet-based and other broadband communications, which the PUC generally doesn’t regulate.

They have tried to ease these rules in the past…

The PUC considered a similar CenturyLink request in 2014 but held off amid concerns from AARP and the state Department of Commerce about service quality and affordability. CenturyLink says in its new petition that the move by consumers away from copper landlines has only accelerated since then. The company says the most recent federal data show that only 4.4% of Minnesota households now rely solely on landlines for voice service.

If passed, it would help all landline providers…

The rule change CenturyLink seeks would also apply to Frontier Communications and other smaller landline providers in Minnesota, he said.

The request brings up a few topics – first, broadband providers are regulated differently and that’s always been a challenge to the providers and then passed onto the customers. But then they have also received public funding differently. It would be interesting to see an matrix comparing regulation and government inventing in telephone, cable, wireless and other broadband providers.

Also it would be interesting to get some scenarios of who still has a landline. When I’ve asked the most popular answer is – my parents (or grandparents). And that is why the AARP was involved with the decision in 2014. Forbes has an interesting article in January 2020 from a landline user. Some of his reasons were voice clarity, comfort, cost and safety. Safety is the research I remember being used most in 2014, here’s what Forbes said…

A landline phone might be the only phone that is accessible and functional when an emergency strikes. And if you are awoken by an intruder, you probably don’t want to yell “Could you bring me my mobile phone — it’s charging on the kitchen counter?”

Also cell coverage is an issue. In my old house in St Paul, there were certain rooms where my cell phone didn’t work – which may have been partially attributable to thick walls but it didn’t always work in the front yard either. And walking through the same neighborhood as often as I do, I can tell you there are dead zones. Again that’s in St Paul. Driving in rural area I’ve driven through miles of dead zones. Either would feel scary if you were making a life saving call – and that is what the landline phone is designed to do.

EVENT May 20: Signal Centers Accessibility Awareness Summit

Looks like an interesting conference…

Signal Centers Accessibility Awareness Summit on Global Accessibility Awareness Day — next Thursday, May 20th.

Thanks to our sponsors, the event is completely free to attendees: Register here. (Do it!)

Running from 10am to 2.30pm ET, we’re incredibly excited about this year’s packed schedule of speakers and panels, including:

  • Chris Downey, AIA – Keynote at 10am ET: Christopher Downey is an architect, planner and consultant who lost all sight in 2008. Today, he is dedicated to creating more helpful and enriching environments for the blind and visually impaired. His work ranges from a new Department of Veterans Affairs blind rehabilitation center, renovations of housing for the blind in New York City, and to the new Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco. He also teaches accessibility and universal design at UC Berkeley and serves on the Board of Directors for the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco. (TEDx and 60 Minutes)
  • Mia Ives-Rublee – 1pm ET: Mia Ives-Rublee has dedicated her life’s work to civil rights activism. She obtained her Master’s in Social Work at UNC Chapel Hill and began working with individuals with disabilities to help them find work and independence in their communities. Mia is best known for founding the Women’s March Disability Caucus and organizing the original Women’s March on Washington in 2017. As a public speaker, Mia advocates on the national stage for the rights of disabled people, immigrants, and other marginalized communities.
  • Valerie Fletcher – Closing remarks at 1.40pm ET: Valerie Fletcher has been Executive Director since 1998 of the Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD), founded as Adaptive Environments. Fletcher writes, lectures and works internationally. Fletcher has been a Special Advisor to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and she is the North American representative on the Board of the International Association for Universal Design (IAUD) in Japan. Fletcher has a master’s degree in ethics and public policy from Harvard University.

Comparing Duluth’s market-based broadband solution to Superior’s Municipal open access model

Duluth News Tribune reports…

Superior is considering a $31 million investment in a fiber optic network, while Duluth is prepared to put $1 million on the table as the city weighs its options.

Duluth News Tribune goes on to compare the two cities based on broadband access; it’s a story of market-based solutions and city sponsored open access model.

The story in Duluth…

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson has offered a harsh assessment of the city’s dominant broadband service provider: Spectrum Internet. …

But Larson remains unimpressed and has proposed the city spend $1 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds “to incentivize new service providers to enter the market” and compete with Spectrum. …

Schuchman concurred [with uneven access in Duluth], saying: “I do think one of the challenges we have is that there are areas of the city that do not have broadband, and so, while the city in general does, and we are considered ‘served’ at that point, we also have some gaps. So, it’s really important to the city and the community to close those gaps and make sure that we have equitable distribution of that access and that it is consistent and high-quality.”

Tyler Cooper, editor-in-chief of BroadbandNow, said the situation in the Twin Ports is “unfortunately, a story shared among cities and towns across the U.S.”

“Often, a given provider will own the phone lines, while another will own the cable lines. This creates a de facto duopoly which is one of the central barriers to broadband expansion across the country,” he said

The story in Superior…

Meanwhile, across the river in Superior, aggressive efforts to boost Spectrum’s competition in the Twin Ports are taking even clearer shape. At a Thursday night listening session, representatives of EntryPoint Networks laid out plans to potentially build out an open-access fiber optic network in Superior at an estimated cost of about $31 million. …

“It’s a robust digital road, and it’s open to, in this case, any ISP (internet service provider) that will follow the rules,” Christensen said.

For its part, the city would require users of this fiber network to pay a toll or fee that would be used to help pay off the cost of building and maintaining the system.

Christensen said the fiber network would offer customers speeds of 1 gigabit per second for both downloads and uploads, likely at a monthly cost of about $50, give or take 10%. He said the network would need a minimum of about 3,000 subscribers to be sustainable and is likely to easily exceed that threshold.

The rest of the article outlines the differences, benefits and drawbacks of each approach.

Photo from Duluth News Tribune: A chart taken from a Connect Superior Webinar video on YouTube.

No broadband at Vikings Practice Facility! Or is the map wrong? Expensive mistakes

We need to demand better broadband maps before we invest more government money based on existing broadband maps.

The FCC uses maps to determine who has broadband (served) and who does not (unserved). These maps are created from data supplied by the broadband providers themselves (477 Form). These maps were used to determine which locations were eligible for RDOF (Rural Digital Opportunity Funds) .

Through RDOF LTD Broadband was deemed eligible to receive $1.32 billion in the US, including $312 million in Minnesota to build FTTH to unserved locations. There is some controversy about that decision – but this post isn’t about LTD, it’s about the maps.

Looking at maps where LTD is eligible to received funding, there are some surprises. For example the Vikings Practice Facility shows up as eligible, as does Henry Sibley High School, lots of locations along the highway and spots in commercial portions of suburban Twin Cities – just feet away from areas that were served. And then there are areas where locations seem to be on or under the highway.

The best way to share the info is to share the maps and include context:

  • Census block
  • Number of locations
  • Implied annual support amount for concluding bid for the census block shown in the map. (The money hasn’t been awarded yet – just the opportunity to get the award.)

Census block: 270370607171
105 locations – including Vikings Practice Facility
potential annual award: $11,322.50

Census block: 270370606032
1 location– Henry Sibley High School
potential annual award: $774.90

Census block: 270370604021
4 locations
potential annual award: $1,398.60

Census block: 270370603011
65 locations
potential annual award: $4,270.70
Notes: locations include businesses such as Sportman’s Guide an off and online camping store, parts of BridgePoint Park, a planned industrial park, So St Paul Steel – these places are couched between businesses served by Xfinity.

Census block: 0370601043
18 locations
potential annual award: $445.90
Notes: locations include two banks. Xfinity appears to serve businesses across the street in all directions; CenturyLink serves businesses in three directions

Census block: 270370605081
28 locations – along the highway
potential annual award: $5,360.60

We need to demand better broadband maps before we invest more government money based on existing broadband maps. You can start by contacting the FCC or your policymakers – some have already made strides to get FCC to improve the maps.

EVENT April 13: MN House to discuss broadband: Ways and Means Committee

From an email from the Committee Admin…

AGENDA – Ways and Means Committee – Tuesday, April 13, 9:00am – Remote Hearing by Zoom

NOTE: The committee will recess at 10:25am and reconvene at the Call of the Chair


HF1670 (Ecklund) – Labor and Industry omnibus (PENDING REFERRAL)

HF1342 (Noor) – Workforce and Business Development omnibus (PENDING REFERRAL)

  • NOTE: The language of HF1670 (Ecklund) will be added to HF1342 during the hearing

HF14 (Ecklund) Broadband grant program deposit transfer

HF1524 (Sundin) Agriculture omnibus (PENDING REFERRAL)

  • NOTE: The language of HF14 (Ecklund) will be added to HF1524 during the hearing

HF1684 (Hornstein) – Transportation omnibus (PENDING REFERRAL)

HF1076 (Hansen, R.) Environment and Natural Resources omnibus (PENDING REFERRAL)



Meeting documents will be posted on the House Ways and Means Committee website at

Public Viewing Information:

This remote hearing will be live-streamed via the House webcast schedule page:

Understanding SF1536: changing definitions of broadband served by adding wireless

I eat, sleep, (sadly) dream broadband and yet I have my moments of wonder what I don’t get. The technology is detailed and every changing, the policy can get dated and it’s important because as we’ve see at the State and Federal level – millions of dollars are spent based on the definitions. And as is the nature with politics, many people in the room have different agendas. Yesterday I had to step back after watching the MN Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy Committee discussion SF1536: Broadband grants use for fixed wireless broadband and mapping requirements clarification.

So what is SF1536 doing? It is changing the broadband definition of underserved and unserved to include “fixed wireless” service. Today, the State uses only wireline broadband to track whether a house is served or unserved. Listening to the testimony today, the reason that fixed wireless wasn’t included is that is can be over-reported, giving us the false sense of success. Also, when the bill was original drafted fixed wireless wasn’t as good as it is now.

What doesn’t SF1536 do? It doesn’t open a door to fixed wireless projects getting funded through the Border to Border grant process because that door is already open. Grants have been awarded to fixed wireless providers. Technology is unimportant BUT the connection must scale to 100 Mbps down and up. That doesn’t mean it has to provide that tomorrow – but that it’s working toward that.

My takeaway: this meeting was similar to a recent US Senate Committee meeting where policymakers seemed more eager to declare successful broadband expansion than facilitate successful broadband expansion. As I said then, constituents don’t care if they are served/unserved/underserved; they care if broadband is a help or a hindrance in their lives. Changing the definition doesn’t help get people better service – it just reduces the number of local people and businesses eligible for government support. The declaration of success will be short lived in constituents continue to complain when policymakers get home.

What else does SF1536 do? The bill also explicitly says that broadband mapping “reflect all broadband delivery technologies.” The State already has access to data and maps based on wired and fixed wireless status. (There is an interactive map where you can search for wireline and/or fixed wireless status.) The county maps are wireline only but since they can gather the data for the interactive map, I assume they could create a map of fixed wireless access.

But they aren’t just asking for fixed wireless here, they are asking for “all broadband”, which makes me think they are asking for satellite and cellular. No asked about that in the meeting– but otherwise the change seems unnecessary. This makes me think that tracking fixed wireless is a slippery slope. Does your mom know the difference between wireless, fixed wireless, cellular or satellite? Do you?

Satellite should reach everyone and that will color the map – but will the new low Earth orbit options meet the speed goals? With cellular do you want to count 5G, 4G, 3G? It is clouding an already difficult topic. Also I don’t see any more funding for the mapping and they didn’t discuss the fact that the Office of Broadband Development only has a budget for mapping when they are administering grants. So if the Governor’s budget of one-year funding for broadband comes to fruition, they will be asked to do more with less at a time when they are also likely to be asked to look into federal funding.

My takeaway: this in an unintentional can of worms. I suspect that the Office of Broadband could create maps that show fixed wireless access with the information they have now. (It might take resources to compile.)

Senator Duckworth ends the meeting by stating that consumers don’t care how they get served so long as it happens soon and it’s cheap. That’s true so long as the value is good. I think it consumers can get access at speeds of 100 Mbps down and 20 up that they are probably satisfied; less happy if the speeds are 25/3. I don’t know that this bill is helping them get there. I think are missing the forest for the trees. The real measure of whether a household “has broadband” – as we’ve learned acutely during the pandemic – is can parents work, kids go to school, get to the doctor when you need a watch enough Netflix to stay in quarantine.

eNews: MN Monthly Recap: Broadband Grants & Legislation (Feb 2021)

MN DEED announces 2020 broadband grant recipients – RDOF impacts awards
The Office of Broadband announces the recipients of latest round of broadband grants. Awards of $20 million in state funding led to $45 million total investment for projects. They received 64 applications and funded 39 projects. The announcement is controversial because 10 applications were taken out of the mix because those projects are located in areas that are now potentially eligible for federal funding (RDOF).

2020 Minnesota Broadband Task Force report is out!
Here are the recommendations:

  • Continue to fund the Broadband Grant Program at a biennial amount of $120 million from the base budget each year.
  • Give the Office of Broadband Development an appropriation of $700,000 per biennium from the base budget.
  • Create an Office of Broadband operating annual fund of $1.5 million to promote broadband adoption and use and redress digital inequity.
  • Convene a working group comprised of all state agencies relating to broadband construction permitting to streamline the process, both in time to issue the permits as well as the permit application process.
  • Investigate greater oversight of railroad facilities by the Office of Pipeline Safety.

Also the Task Force met to talk about their plans for 2021.

Gov budgets $50M for broadband House & Senate look at $120M
Governor Walz released his budget for the next biennium. It includes $50 million for the MN broadband grants – for the first year of the biennium (2022). The MN House introduced a bill for $120 million over the biennium; as did the Senate.

Frontier and CenturyLink “may not” meet CAF II deployment deadlines
The CAF II program awarded funding to the nation’s larger carriers to bring broadband to unserved and underserved rural areas. Frontier accepted $283 million in funding annually and CenturyLink accepted $514 million annually. Both have reported that they “may not” have made deployment deadlines for 2020.

State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Impact of COVID-19

Vendor News

Local Broadband News 

Burnsville not interested in sharing public fiber with private parties

Duluth News Tribune applauds big State broadband investment

Congrats to Duluth – a newly named top ten remote-ready city

Iron Range
New projects on the Iron Range help increase broadband use

Kandiyohi County
Kandiyohi County (MN) is looking for more fiber in 2021

Le Sueur County
The Institute for Local Self Reliance highlights the work of Le Sueur County

Northern Minnesota
Senator Klobuchar talks to Northern MN – broadband comes up

Pine and Carlton Counties
Pine and Carlton County residents run into troubles trying to stay connected

Red Wing
Internet outage in Red Wing brings us a new form of “snow day”

St Cloud
Arvig extends FTTH to 10,000 households in St Cloud, Rochester and Twin Cities

Southern Minnesota
Broadband outages in Southern Minnesota yesterday (Jan 6, 2021) make the case for redundancy

Southwest Minnesota
Sen Klobuchar talks with Southwest MN leaders about COVID leaders, such as better broadband

Swift County
Swift County Monitor looks at broadband recommendations for Biden Administration

Feasibility study near Tower MN show some areas broadband ready – but will federal RDOF funding for LTD change the equation?

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Broadband funding is already included and will be expanded in future pandemic and economic stimulus packages. I expect that there will be significant funding linked to both telehealth and distance learning programs.  Minnesotans should be getting ready now to win these funds for infrastructure and adoption projects, but I don’t see anyone leading an effort!

For middle mile infrastructure, the Northeast Service Cooperative serves as a model.  Schools are linked via a multi-Gigabit network as are local units of government and health care providers.  As an open access fiber network, NESC eases competitive entry for small and large broadband providers to deliver Gigabit services anywhere in the region.  Thanks to the vision of NESC’s leadership, the project was funded through Obama stimulus programs. The benefits of the network are adding up with untapped exponential potential in future years.  Minnesota needs more of this.

The need for and benefits of last mile high-speed connections are now obvious. What was innovative ten months ago is now commonplace, but only for the well-connected.  The 25/3 federal standard and 2022 Minnesota goal have been overtaken by the need for multiple video conference feeds.  Internet-based health, education, work and social interaction will continue in a post-COVID 19 world.  Minnesota broadband providers should be working with social service agencies and health care providers to substitute patient transport costs for fiber networks and broadband subscriptions.   Just one quick Google search found evidence that documented a savings of $3823 from one avoided ambulance transfer (Natafgi, Shane, etal. 2018).

We now have multiple regions with nearly 100% FTTH networks from providers like Paul Bunyan, CTC, WCTA, Acira and other cooperatives.  There are growing pockets of FTTH from HBC, Arvig, BEVComm, Metronet and other providers. Are schools and health care providers making full use of these network assets, thus making themselves more attractive to new residents and businesses? Cross-sector, public-private regional teams need to create projects that could be funded by the whole alphabet soup of federal agencies for health care, education, workforce development, economic development, and public safety.

The time to do that is now!  Anyone going to lead on this?

EVENTS Jan 13 & 21 : Blandin Broadband “Lunch Bunch” online discussion sessions

An invitation from the Blandin Broadband Team…

The Blandin Community Broadband Program announces a new virtual series for 2021 – the Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch. Sessions will take place the second and third Wednesdays of the month from noon-1:00 pm.

Sessions will alternate between Broadband Infrastructure (2nd Weds) and Digital Use and Equity (3rd Weds). The idea is to get colleagues in a shared space, introduce a topic, and talk. We learned during the 2020 virtual broadband conference that people really enjoy the opportunity to talk to one another, and we often found that the wisdom is often in the room – even in a Zoom room. Topics will be announced monthly and may include some experts to get the ball rolling.

Here’s what we have for January:

January 13 – Broadband Infrastructure: Everything You Want to Discuss about RDOF

The FCC’s Rural Development Opportunity Fund is a game changer for rural broadband development. Are the pending results of the reverse auction a win, loss or is the game still in play. Come bring your questions, share what you know  and tell the group how the RDOF auction is changing your local broadband strategies.

(Register here – for the first, all, or several of the upcoming Infrastructure sessions.)

January 21 – Digital Use and Equity: Share a success story

Note – this session was originally scheduled for January 20, which is also Inauguration Day. We decided to reschedule to Thursday.

The inaugural Lunch Bunch on Digital Use and Equity is an opportunity to talk turkey with colleagues and cohorts around Minnesota and beyond! Normally there will be a specific (but loose) topic but to get the ball rolling – but for January, planners invite folks from the front lines to share their best stories of success. Please come and brag!

It will give us some good ideas to replicate. It will give us stories to share with legislators. Most of all, it will help set the stage of success for 2021!

(Register here – for the first, all, or several of the upcoming Digital Use & Equity sessions.)

We’re planning on holding Lunch Bunch sessions through June – at least! The monthly topics will be shared on the Blandin on Broadband blog, and in our monthly Broadband e-Newsletter. Links are also available on the Webinars page on our website.

Questions? Contact Mary Magnuson at

MN Broadband Task Force: Draft annual report and meeting archive

This morning the MN Broadband Task Force met to comb through a late draft of the annual report. It’s not the final draft, it may not be the penultimate but it’s getting close.

You can read the draft report and watch the discussion below. The video focused mostly on the text so it would probably be easier to listen and use the PDF version to follow along.

Some high level comments on discussion:

  • There was discussion on the fourth recommendation related to permits and the OBD (Office of Broadband Development) working with partners. There was confusion more than disagreement. In the end I think the decision was to recommend a workgroup for public rights of way and look at greater oversight of railroad easements.
  • There was also a lot of discussion on RDOF and CAF II and the opportunity they have to help or hinder the state in reaching state speed goals. Concerns are that the CAF funding is sunsetting and the speed goals required with CAF funding do not meet even the MN 2022 speed goals of 25/3. Concern with RDOF is the surprising result in Minnesota where one provider received a large percentage of the funding to provide services that they are not known for providing, which results in both concern whether that provider will meet scrutiny of the RDOF long-form application to actually get the funding and concern that if they do they will be able to deliver fiber as promised. Some folks felt that as it was federal funding,  it fell out of the scope of the state task force while others were concerned on the impact the federal funding would have on state funding moving forward.
  • There was also discussion on CARES funding with similar cases. Some thought it seemed beyond scope especially since State level CARES funding had not been dedicated to broadband. (Funding trickled down to counties and some did use it for broadband.) Others thought it might be helpful for legislators to see what other states did to improve broadband with CARES funding in case the opportunity arises again.

Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Broadband Projects throughout Minnesota

Every year, the Blandin Foundation does an assessment of how the Blandin Broadband Communities projects are going. The assessment is part update and part cumulation. You can read the whole report online. There update from the following communities:

  • Cannon Falls
  • Koochiching Technology Initiative
  • Rock County
  • Swift County
  • East Range Joint Powers
  • Iron Range Tourism Bureau
  • Laurentian Chamber of Commerce
  • Tower Economic Development Authority
  • Aitkin County
  • Chisholm
  • Ely
  • Grizzlies (Bois Forte, Cook, Orr)
  • Hibbing
  • Mt. Iron-Buhl

I will post those updates separately so we can all find them next year when we want them. And here’s the overall commentary on the impact of 2020 and all it has brought with it…

2020 COVID-19 Response: Under normal circumstances, community teams are encouraged to invite the public and the media to the third and final Strut Your Stuff Tour to join in celebrating success. BBC Steering Committees use the occasion to revisit the community goals that informed their activities, report on progress achieved toward those goals, and recommit to continued efforts. However, in 2020 the third visit was being planned for early spring, so the decision was made to shift to virtual meetings via Zoom. Furthermore, most communities were very busy with COVID planning and emergency relief activities related to Minnesota’s Stay-a-tHome order. As a result, these were smaller, virtual gatherings where the focus was on both progress-to-date and COVID adjustments.

One nearly across-the-board adjustment was that communities were invited to extend their grant periods through December 31, 2020. Most had been scheduled to be concluded by midyear. The reason this was necessary was because a lot of the work was paused while team members were occupied with emergency response, and in-person gatherings and trainings were put on indefinite hold. An extension allowed the BBCs to pause and reassess current projects and allocate or reallocate funding to implement technology-related COVID response projects.

Other common challenges for BBCs included:

  • Mobile devices, hotspots, and even some laptops became difficult to find due to high demand as schools shifted to online learning.

  • The gap between students with internet access at home and those without became even more significant, and districts scrambled to find solutions for students. The 35 solutions were often mobile Wi-Fi hotspots or reduced cost internet subscriptions through local providers.

  • Trainings and workshops originally designed as in-person had to shift to videoconference. This was a particular challenge when the expected audience had very limited exposure to technology, such as senior citizens.

  • Delays related to equipment availability and concerns related to social distancing with installation.

However, the challenges of 2020 highlighted the importance of universal broadband. It became clear to so many additional people that high-speed internet access and the skills to use it is critically important infrastructure. Working and schooling from home is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity, and internet access makes it possible to do so successfully. Meanwhile inequitable access to the internet leads to inequal educational and work opportunities. The digital divide intensified but received more attention from new advocates.

Businesses began to adapt to more online and less in-person traffic. Many BBCs have funded digital marketing and technology trainings for small local businesses and nonprofits over the past few years, and those businesses were in better shape to adapt and respond to the pandemic.

Need broadband and cultural comfort about tele-mental health especially for kids

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that need for tele-mental health is clearly there…

Despite the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, some mental health clinics aren’t seeing the increase in patients that they expected.

“We know people are experiencing higher than normal levels of stress, yet we haven’t seen an increase in our community members seeking help,” said Julie Hanenburg, executive director of Lighthouse Child & Family Services in Milaca.

Yet, mental health emergency room visits are up from last year, according to Sue Abderholden, executive director at NAMI Minnesota.


People are doing what they can but it’s not always reaching people…

Due to a relaxation of state and federal rules, more therapy is moving to telehealth visits using computers, tablets or smartphones.

The electronic visits don’t work for everyone and because of limited internet availability some do not have access.

“With some kids it didn’t work with telehealth, mainly the younger children,” Abderholden said. “Watching a Disney movie on the screen is different than doing play therapy.”

Other children were concerned about privacy and were worried that parents or siblings could hear their sessions. One telephone company provided free earphones or earbuds to help, she said.

Acceptance was also an issue. Some families declined to use telehealth at the start of the pandemic, hoping that in-person therapy would soon resume.

“In the last several weeks we’ve noticed that people were more accepting of telehealth,” Hanenburg said.

State officials announced Friday that the Ikea US Community Foundation will donate $1.2 million that will be used to broaden access to children’s mental health services.

The money will provide resources to the School-Linked Mental Health Program that pairs 58 mental health providers with 1,100 Minnesota schools.

We need to work on broadband to all – not a new goal. But also in increasing comfort with telehealth.

MN Broadband Task Force: working on report – questions about speeds, funds, unserved vs underserved and a request from MN Mayors

I tried to take more complete notes today in part because the recording can be difficult to watch. I have to rig up a system that would make MacGyver proud to get these sessions streamed and archived and I know they are less than perfect.

At a very high level – each of the three subcommittees presented their recommendations. There was a lot of overlap with recommendations, yet not complete agreement.

There is agreement that there should be funding for the grants and the Office of Broadband Development. There seemed to be agreement that funding should be ongoing. There weren’t any confirmed dollar amounts attached to those investments – although $75M per biennium was mentioned. From each member of the Task Force to the Governor, there seemed to be agreement tat COVID as exacerbated the demand for greater and more ubiquitous broadband.

There was disagreement on:

  • Focus on unserved versus underserved
  • Speed goals/benchmarks – from 25/3 to 100/20 to 100/100
  • Concerns about role of OBD (and others) in terms of communications, coordination and regulation

There were discussion of politic decisions such as deciding to focus on funding over change or asking for more than you think you’ll get.

9:45 a.m. Welcome, Introductions, Meeting Overview
10:00 a.m. Gov. Tim Walz conversation with the Task Force

Governor Walz spoke to the Task Force. Here are some of his observations

  • the need for broadband upload and download at industry standards has increased during COVID
  • broadband is an investment
  • there are local government commissioners that cannot participate is zoom calls
  • Because MN did not finish the border to border broadband goal before COVID, people were put at a disadvantage
  • COVID forced us to move quickly
  • Broadband funding will need to be ongoing. It’s not a problem that gets solved.

Q: Is broadband part of the proposed state budget?
A: The budget is not yet created but it seems likely and there will likely to have even stronger support

Q: How/why are schools being  held responsible for providing broadband access to un/underserved families?
A: We view broadband as regular expenses – we can’t create unequal distribution

Q: How can we
A: Cooperative have been most successful in serving rural areas. It is an economy of scale. When it’s a business decision (for national, business providers) only the math doesn’t work. When stakeholder reward is part of the equation, that changes the math.

Q: What about CARES funding?
A: CARES funding was filtered to counties and towns. More federal funding is likely.

10:30 a.m. Economic Development and Digital Inclusion Subgroup – report content and recommendations

  1. Continue Minnesota’s Border to Border state broadband grant program and fund it from the base budget.
  2. Create an Office of Broadband operating fund to promote broadband adoption and use and redress digital inequity.
  3. Task the Office of Broadband Development with building computer donation partnerships between state agencies and community-based organizations getting computers into the hands of those who need them.
  4. Fully fund the Telecommunications Access Equity Aid (TEA) program by raising the funding cap to at least $9 million in order to allow school districts to equitably procure the Internet and network bandwidth needed to fully support digital learning.

[had those at the ready since I’m helping with that portion of the report]


  • The MN Model group is coming up with a number for funding the fund; $70M per biennium was mentioned.
  • Need to talk to  Office of BB Development about a number for funding adoption coordination.
  • Concerns that #3 might compete with ConnectedMN and/or PCs for People. Or is this more of a prioritization of tasks for OBD than funding question
  • With #4 cost per student for technology is not consistent throughout MN, which create a situation ripe for inequity.

11:15 a.m. Barriers and Technology Subgroup – report content and recommendations

  1. MN should invest is getting the 157,000 unserved households access to broadband at speeds of at least 100/20.
  2. Funding for the OBD should come from base budget and include a focus on mapping
  3. The Task Force and OBD should work with the state and providers to create greater communication channels to streamline broadband deployment.


  • Do we really want to focus on unserved versus underserved? (with #1)
  • There are concerns about getting into the regulations with #3. Providers prefer that broadband not be regulated by the state. BUT it looks like they are talking more about creating a clearing house for info more than regulators.

12:30 p.m. Public Comment – Duluth Mayor Emily Larson discussing the Minnesota Mayors Together letter (See the letter)

The Mayors Together group are prioritizing broadband. It’s a nonpartisan group and a nonpartisan issue. IN Duluth they have a population of 85,000 and 1200 students without access. Here are their recommendations:

  1. The first of these is speed. The 2026 goal of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload, while it may have seemed aggressive when it was adopted, now looks somewhat modest. Why not recommend what the Border-to-Border grant has enabled in some areas of the state: 100 and 100?
  2. Second, we would urge the task force to tell legislators that this is an ongoing challenge, that having good access and speed is vital to all Minnesotans. As such, this investment should be a regular and recurring feature of the state’s operating budget. So, we would ask you to say that the Legislature consider the $35-50 million as an annual expenditure – for many years.

12:45 p.m. Minnesota Model Subgroup – report content and recommendations


  1. $75 million per biennium
  2. No change to grants
  3. 25/3 is irrelevant
  4. No mapping changes (since change needs to happen after next year)
  5. Fund the OBD
  6. Fund the fund


  • Where did the $75 Million come from? The 2018 TF report had a calculation that came to $70; the 2013 TF report suggested $100M. Might need to work on an estimated cost per passing to figure it out.
  • The 25/3 access isn’t irrelevant because of the demographics.
    Except 3 Mbps up during a pandemic doesn’t work for most families
    We have given legislators roadmaps with the 25/3 and 100/20 benchmarks. Is that fair to change now?
    We don’t’ need to change that just add a new benchmark moving forward?
    The pandemic will be over by mid-2021
  • Should we wait on policy changes until next year and focus only on funding this year?
  • We have another speed test that is not supporting what the OBD maps are finding so it seems like what we’re showing the legislators may not gel with the truth anyways.
  • Changing the speed goals will change reality; you can still show they outdated maps.
  • Can we change the speed goals to 100/100.
    On the ground what is the difference when designing/developing 100/100 versus 100/20?
    100/100 is fiber / 100/20 is tech neutral
    CenturyLink can provide 100/20 with copper at short distances but we cannot provide 100/100

Broadband 2020: Closing Reception

Thanks to everyone who attended the closing reception. We had folks from Florida, Iowa and the four corners of Minnesota. It was a great chance to catch up with people and hear what they thought about the conference. Some were wise to the world of Zoom and for a few this was the first whole hog jump into a month-long Zoom event.

There were a few shout-outs given to attendees, including David Asp, Perry Mulcrone and Jim Yount. There was appreciation for the time to meet people and talk, to hear national speakers and vendors and for the seamless technology and immediate archive.

We have one day left. We are all looking forward to …

How I Think About the Importance of Communities in the 21st Century by Thomas L. Friedman, Author, Reporter, Columnist, New York Times
Introduction by Former Senator Al Franken. Moderated by Mark Ritchie, President, Global Minnesota