Iron Range Schools and families are focusing on broadband

WDIO highlights the actions of the schools on the Iron Range to make sure their students have the technology they need for school, whether in the classroom or at home…

“We have gotten hold of 150 hotspots that are ready to distribute and we will have those available for students who have difficulty connecting to the internet,” said Noel Schmidt, the superintendent for Rock Ridge Public Schools.

Steve Giorgi, the executive director of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) said over the spring they worked with school districts to survey students on their internet connection and said results were alarming.

“I think a lot of districts were unaware because when talking to the students, students report that they’re connected when they actually only have a cell phone,” said Giorgi. “Truly to accomplish distance learning you need a broadband internet connection.”

Giorgi also said they are in talks with schools now to offer temporary solutions for students by using wireless connections for a better service. For a long term solution, they had a meeting with a consultant Monday to look at different locations on the range for broadband expansion.

“We looked at 13 different locations on the Iron Range that are potential targets for broadband expansion. They’re underserved so they qualify for both state border to border grants and federal grants,” said Giorgi.

There’s also a lot happening house to house…

Families in the area are also doing their part to address the issue. Amna Hanson of Esko said she is about 10 houses away from being able to have broad band internet and can’t get the cable company out in her area.

“I have been in contact with the state agencies to see if I can get their assistance. Also I am waiting to see if the franchise agreement for our area requires them to service us. I am also in the process of starting a petition,” said Hanson.

Shantyll Carlson of Duluth said she had to pay a lot to offer quality internet access to her children who are in second and sixth grade.

“We just had to upgrade and pay four times more than what we were paying so that both my kids could do schoolwork at the same time without lag,” said Carlson.

Tessa Lasky who lives about 15 minutes outside of Cloquet said they currently have to use hotspot on their cell phones through AT&T.

“We have the highest hotspot package on our cell phones, which is still limited when talking about doing online schooling five days per week,” said Lasky.

MN Broadband Task Force August Meeting notes & video

The Task Force met this morning. There is a new member, Jason Hollinday from Fond du Lac. They heard from Minnesota Department of Education Overview on CARES Act Funding for Distance Learning and from a few experts from the Department. The difficulty is balancing the immediate need for infrastructure with investing in infrastructure that will be around and sufficient for the long term. Bernadine Joselyn was able to talk about the ConnectedMN program that augments the federal funding.

The talked about the need to get started writing the annual report and Task Force members expressed an interest in engaging more in broadband activities in and around the state. And each of the subcommittees reported on their mid-meeting discussions:

  • Report out by Minnesota Model Subgroup (Chair: Brian Krambeer; Members: Steve Fenske, Theresa Sunde, Paul Weirtz)
  • Report out by Barriers and Technology Subgroup (Co-Chairs: Marc Johnson, Dave Wolf; Members: Nolan Cauthen, Steve Giorgi, Jim Weikum)
  • Report out by Economic Development and Digital Inclusion Subgroup (Chair: Bernadine Joselyn; Members: Dale Cook and Micah Myers)

 

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Partnership for a Connected MN

Bernadine Joselyn led a presentation and discussion about the new public-private Partnership for a Connected MN initiative and how the effort hopes to benefit Minnesota students during the upcoming school year.

Here’s the chat log Continue reading

eNews: MN Monthly Recap: Broadband conference and opportunities (Aug 2020)

Save the month of October: Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand
The Blandin conference planning team has decided to lean in and move the annual conference online – and reformed it into a monthlong series of opportunities. Coming in October!
First announced Keynote is Roberto Gallardo from Purdue University’s Center for Rural Development. He will be talking about digital infrastructure to transformation: leveraging broadband for community economic development. Also he and his team from Purdue are offering a unique opportunity for three communities to pilot an accelerated version of their Digital Ready Community program.

OPPORTUNITY: Partnership for ConnectedMN opens applications
ConnectedMN is a public-private partnership of philanthropic and business leaders from across Minnesota. They are providing funding to help students and families get the broadband and devices they need to participate in distance education. Applications are open until Sep 1, 2020.

OPPORTUNITY: Statewide Speed Test Initiative
The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition launches of the Minnesota Speed Test Initiative to find out exactly where broadband service is available in rural Minnesota and what speeds people are receiving.

OPPORTUNITY: MN Broadband County Profile Focus Groups
As part of the Minnesota Broadband Profiles this year, counties are invited to talk about their COVID experience based on broadband situation with one question, “Is broadband helping or hurting your community’s ability to function during the pandemic?”

OPPORTUNITY! MN Border to Border Broadband Grant Applications Available
The Office of Broadband Development (OBD) is soliciting applications for Border to Border Broadband grant funding of broadband infrastructure projects. The deadline for the applications is September 30, 2020.

State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Impact of COVID-19

Local Broadband News

Aitkin County
Aitkin County is moving forward with broadband in some areas – get the low down

Crow Wing County
Crow Wing County puts $1.5M of CARES funds into broadband & CTC

Lake Shore
Lake Shore City to seek bids from providers to extend broadband (Cass County)

Little Falls
Broadband Life in Little Falls – when the maps say you’re served and you know you aren’t! (Morrison County)

Rural MN
Many advantages to living in rural MN – broadband isn’t always sone of them

Twin Cities
Regional Economic Framework Draft by Met Council includes broadband SWOT

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Notes on previous Blandin Broadband Roundtables

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

I recognized a bit of the challenge that broadband providers face this weekend as I was thinking about upgrading my classic 1987 16-foot Lund fishing boat.  Someone made me a tentative offer, somewhat out of the blue.  It is a good boat with a new transom that I installed last year.  No leaks which is a big positive!  The vintage motor runs great once you get it started.  I have now got it set up the way I want with the right accessories.  A big advantage to this boat is there are no monthly payments!

To upgrade to a boat that is newer, bigger, faster, more features involves a lot of analysis, risk taking and expense.  To get a new boat that is similar in size and features to mine would be six times my current investment.  To get a used boat costs less but creates more risk and calls to mind the saying, “better the devil you know!”  Some boat brands have a great reputation but still all kinds of negative online reviews and problems.

I have learned from ISPs that getting people to switch services, either an upgrade from their existing provider or to a new provider is a tougher sell than one would think.  There is a lot of uncertainty in terms of installation, timing, new email addresses, expense.  Is the faster Internet worth the expense?  All kinds of questions.

There are all kinds of online forums that can provide comfort to the boat buying process.  You can get great feedback on boat models, motors and price.  I think that community broadband champions can play this role to advocate, especially advocating for new broadband competitive providers.  Think about how you can support the companies who have been willing to invest in your community by supporting their marketing efforts and ensuring their success.

By the way, I am sticking with my old boat, at least for now!

Partnership for ConnectedMN – edu tech grant applications are available online

In June I shared the news on…

a public-private partnership of philanthropic and business leaders from across Minnesota that aims to meet the technology and connectivity needs of families with school-aged children. Partnership for a ConnectedMN is led by Best Buy, Comcast, Blandin Foundation, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Business Partnership, in collaboration with the State of Minnesota.

Today I’m pleased to share that those organizations have just unveiled applications for funding to help get children and families online.

Their goals are

  • Students in high-need communities have tech devices, ensuring more equitable access to educational resources – now and in the future
  • Young people in both rural and urban communities have solutions to the lack of reliable, affordable broadband access
  • Students and providers have the tools to connect and engage around school, physical and mental health and future career pathways

You can get the RFP and FAQs online – and remember deadlines…

KEY DATES
Applications will be due Tuesday, September 1, 2020 by 3 pm
Decisions will be made by Monday, September 14, 2020.
Funds will be distributed by the end of September.

If you want to learn more – you are welcome to join the Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Partnership for a Connected MN conversation tomorrow at 9am.

Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition Launches Statewide Speed Test Initiative

From the MN Broadband Coalition…

“The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition is pleased to announce the launch of the Minnesota Speed Test Initiative,” said Vince Robinson, Chair of the MN Rural Broadband Coalition. “There is no doubt that the lack of broadband in rural Minnesota hampers telework, distance learning, and telehealth.
Our goal is to find out exactly where broadband service is available in rural Minnesota and what speeds people are receiving.”
TAKE THE TEST: http://mnruralbroadbandcoalition.com/speedtest
A pilot program for speed testing is ongoing in St Louis, Koochiching, and Itasca Counties. The Range Association of Municipalities and Schools has been leading the way to create a different set of broadband maps based on approximately 7,000 broadband speed tests submitted by area residents and businesses.

These speed tests, mapped by GEO Partners, clearly show the speeds available in cities and townships across the three northern Minnesota counties.
“For years we’ve been relying on incomplete data to make big decisions on broadband infrastructure in Minnesota,” said Nathan Zacharias, Project Manager for the Minnesota Speed Test Initiative. “Most broadband maps stop at the census block, township, or county level. The Minnesota Speed Test Initiative will give us house-by-house data that just isn’t available anywhere else. We’re very excited to get this project in the field.”
The speed test can be taken with any device that has an internet or cellular connection and takes less than one minute to complete. No personal information will be collected. Testing data will be statistically valid and provide a map of what service levels are for any given area in the state. This information will be an important tool for communities that are planning a broadband expansion project through the FCC, USDA, or MN Borderto-Border Broadband Grant Program.
COVID-19 has shown us how important access to broadband is for every Minnesotan now that we’re being asked to work, learn, or receive care from home. Broadband is no different than any other basic utility that people need. It is an essential part of our daily lives.

OPPORTUNITY: Create a Digital Ready Community – pilot opportunity for 3-5 MN communities

As part of the Fall Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand conference, the Blandin Foundation is partnering with Purdue University’s Center for Rural Development‘s Roberto Gallardo and Annie Cruz-Porter to offer a unique opportunity for up to five communities to work on becoming a Digital Ready Community.

This is a chance to join an abbreviated and accelerated pilot program to create an initiative to take the reins on the digital goals and standards for your local community to help improve marketing to the folks outside the community, encourage community-wide digital inclusivity by actively inviting all corners of the community and build trust in local digital communication – by aligning local websites, Facebook groups, Twitter accounts and other existing assets. Imagine working together to build your digital reputation!

The program will include video lessons and/or coaching on:

  • Networking 101 – learning how to work
  • Digital Assets Group (DAG) – creating a local group that will lead the digital ready effort

DAG Operational Agreement – setting rules, procedures and bylaws that will guide the use of digital assets by the community in an effort to become more responsive and increase civic engagement and trust

Post conference, the communities will be encouraged to work on:

  • Community survey
  • Digital Engagement plan

What do we need from you?

  • A community leader to compile a team that is willing to work on this effort during the conference (October 2020) and beyond
  • A commitment to participate in sessions and keep up with outside work
  • A commitment to present development (ASIS) to conference attendees in final week of October
  • A commitment to check in with the Blandin/Purdue team six months after the conference to report in and offer feedback

How do you start?

The Blandin/Purdue team will host an introduction soon – watch here for that announcement. Join us and let us know you’re interested (memagnuson@blandinfoundation.org) Enrollment is open until three communities are selected.

Keynote Speaker Announcement: Roberto Gallardo joins us online for the Fall Broadband Conference

As part of the broadband fall conference planning team, I am excited to announce the first of our four Keynote speakers…

Roberto Gallardo, Director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development will present on, From digital infrastructure to transformation: leveraging broadband for community economic development (speaking Oct 7).

His presentation will discuss some digital applications and uses to help communities leverage this technology to improve their quality of lives.

Roberto holds an electronics engineering undergraduate degree, a master’s in economic development, and a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration. He has worked with rural communities over the past decade conducting local & regional community economic development, including use of technology for development.

Careful readers will remember Roberto’s presentation at the 2017 Blandin Broadband conference asking if rural Minnesota was poised for the digital age? He has a gift for bringing research to the playing field, making information practical and recommendations actionable; we are looking forward to more of the same this year.

In fact, Roberto has offered to invite up to three communities to participate in a unique opportunity to create a digital community – more info on that coming right up. (I’m so excited about the opportunity I want to call it out in a separate post, which I’ll publish momentarily.)

Aug 4: Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Partnership for a Connected MN

Join Blandin Foundation on Zoom Tuesday morning at 9:00 am for our Broadband Roundtable conversation, where Bernadine Joselyn will lead a presentation and discussion about the new public-private Partnership for a Connected MN initiative and how the effort hopes to benefit Minnesota students during the upcoming school year. Bernadine will describe the partnership’s new Request for Proposal, and describe what entities are eligible to apply for what kind of support.

You can register for this and future Roundtables here.

Lake Shore City to seek bids from providers to extend broadband (Cass County)

Pine and Lakes Echo Journal reports…

Continuing work started three years ago to provide better internet service in underserved areas, the Lake Shore City Council agreed Monday, July 27, to seek bids from providers for improved broadband in the city.

Council member John Terwilliger cast the only “no” vote. After hearing from Pequot Lakes School Board member Susan Mathison-Young during the meeting, which everyone attended online via Zoom, Terwilliger said the city should table any action for a month to wait for more information to be gathered regarding programs available to help improve broadband access.

Other council members agreed the city could seek proposals from broadband providers while exploring other programs at the same time.

City Administrator Teri Hastings said COVID-19 funds the city receives could be used toward broadband services. The first step, she said, is to get an idea of what it would take to build out areas of Lake Shore that are currently underserved. The city planned to seek bids from CTC, TDS and Charter Communications, internet providers in the Lake Shore area.

Hastings also said Sylvan Township is receiving additional money from Cass County for broadband.

“So there are some options out there to help improve broadband for the community,” Hastings said.

Mathison-Young said areas underserved by broadband is a problem throughout the state, not just in Lake Shore. She said 28% of all Minnesota students have internet issues, and businesses and groups are working with state government to bring broadband to those rural students who are underserved.

She advised the council to wait to seek bids from providers until more information is gathered about programs designed to help with this issue. Also, she said Thursday, July 30, the state will have a better idea of what schooling will look like this fall with an announcement by Gov. Tim Walz.

“If some is digital curriculum, which is a strong possibility, this has to be ready to go,” she said.

 

EVENT Aug 4: Task Force on Broadband agenda & instructions

Online and open to all, here are the details from the Office of Broadband Development

Governor’s Task Force on Broadband

August 4, 2020

10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

 

Webex/Conference Call
Dial-in:
1-619-377-3319 or 1-888-742-5095, Passcode 3249482049

Meeting link:

https://intercall.webex.com/intercall/j.php?MTID=m084c72bdb90f292b59fc021ac3ebd7de

PW: DEED

Meeting Number: 130 292 7338

10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m. Welcome, Task Force Introductions, Attendee Introductions and Approval of Minutes from June 24, 2020 Meeting

10:15 a.m. – 11:10 a.m.  Minnesota Department of Education Overview of CARES Act Funding for Distance Learning Alicia Waeffler, Equity and Opportunity Programs Supervisor

Michael Dietrich, ESEA Policy Specialist

Sara George, ESEA/ESSA Title I Part A Program Specialist

11:10 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.                Break

11:15 a.m. – 11:35 a.m.  Report out by Minnesota Model Subgroup (Chair: Brian Krambeer; Members: Steve Fenske, Theresa Sunde, Paul Weirtz)

11:35 a.m. – 11:55 a.m.  Report out by Barriers and Technology Subgroup (Co-Chairs: Marc Johnson, Dave Wolf; Members: Nolan Cauthen, Steve Giorgi, Jim Weikum)

11:55 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Report out by Economic Development and Digital Inclusion Subgroup (Chair: Bernadine Joselyn; Members: Dale Cook and Micah Myers)

12:15 p.m. – 12:25 p.m. Discussion of Report Writing Process

12:25 p.m. – 12:30 p.m. Public Comment, Other Business, September Meeting Plans, Wrap-up

Dakota County plans for CARES and Broadband (Meeting Aug 4)

If you have an interest in what’s happening in Dakota County or you just want to hear/see what another county is doing, you might consider attending the discussion (online and in person) in Dakota County

WHEREAS, Dakota County is committed to be a high-performing organization for the citizens of the County; and

WHEREAS, the Workshop will be an opportunity for the County Board to discuss Broadband; and

WHEREAS, staff recommends holding a workshop to allow staff to receive direction from the County Board on Broadband.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the Dakota County Board of Commissioners hereby schedules a County Board Workshop for Tuesday, August 4, 2020, following the General Government and Policy Committee, in the Boardroom, Administration Center, 1590 Highway 55, Hastings, MN, or via telephone or other electronic means if necessary due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to receive comments on staff direction for Broadband.

You can learn a little more about their plan (easier to read on their site)

Update On Process And Timeline For Potential COVID-19 Related Broadband Expansion Using CARES Act Funding

PURPOSE/ACTION REQUESTED
Provide an update on the process and timeline in developing COVID-19 related Broadband Expansion in Dakota County.
SUMMARY
The County is interested in learning about potential opportunities to invest CARES Act funds to better support our residents to engage in remote learning, work from home, and other activities that require a robust network of connectivity and to better meet the public service needs revealed by the pandemic. Dakota County requires broadband infrastructure built out to serve the unserved and underserved. The County is interested in exploring all technologies available to address the unserved and underserved areas of the County (Attachment A). These areas can be large or small geographically or in population.
The County will mail letters of interest (Attachment B) to all service providers (Attachment C) in the County asking them to respond with project areas that can be built out to better serve the residents of the County. Submissions must specify the unserved or underserved area(s) to be addressed, the total cost and funds requested from the County, and the timeline including the firm completion date. The Information Technology (IT) Department will review and recommend the best potential projects and setup meetings to fully develop project plans.
Proposed Time Line:
July 28, 2020 – send Letters of Interest to all service providers
August 12, 2020 – deadline for receipt of responses
Week ending August 21, 2020 reviewing responses
Request Board approval in September
Contracts for approved projects executed September
October/November buildout
Payment before December 1st
County IT will update the board with specific project locations, cost and project schedules.
RECOMMENDATION
Information only; no action requested.
EXPLANATION OF FISCAL/FTE IMPACTS
Funding for any projects, if approved, would be expected to use CARES Act funds with an amount to be
determined.

And a look at the letter that is going out…

DATE: July 28, 2020
TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Dan Cater, Chief Information Officer
SUBJECT: Broadband Connectivity within Dakota County borders
Dakota County Government has an interest in expanding high speed internet throughout Dakota County as the COVID-19 situation has illustrated the need for faster more reliable connectivity for our citizens, business, and other agencies.
The County is interested in learning about potential opportunities to invest CARES Act funds to better support our residents to engage in remote learning, work from home, and other activities that require a robust network of connectivity and to better meet the public service needs revealed by the pandemic.
Dakota County requires broadband infrastructure built out to serve the unserved and underserved. The County is interested in exploring all technologies available to address the unserved and underserved areas of the County. These areas can be large or small geographically or in population.
Attached is the most recent service inventory map produced by the State of Minnesota Deed Office of Broadband. CARES Act requires an aggressive timeline. Submissions must specify the unserved or underserved area(s) to be addressed, the total cost and funds requested from the County, and the timeline including the firm completion date. Work and payment need to be completed before
December 1st of this year. A high-level timeline is below:
– July 28th – letter soliciting proposals/plans
– August 12
th – deadline for receipt of responses
– Week ending August 21st review responses, setting up zoom meetings
– Request Board approval in September
– Contracts executed in September
– October/November buildout
– Payment before December 1st
Please let us know if you have an interest in discussing in providing a solution by contacting
Dan.Ferber@co.dakota.mn.us or Dan.Cater@co.dakota.mn.us.

Dakota County is always generous with public access to documents, which I think can be a gift to counties with fewer staff working on broadband.

Which students are left behind when learning goes online? Spoiler alert, there’s no spoiler

As every parent, teacher and student in Minnesota waits to hear later today from Governor Walz about how the State recommends schools handling pandemic learning this fall, I think it’s helpful to look at who is left behind when/if we move education online.

Online education is tough enough when all of the tech pieces are there; lack of computer and broadband makes is almost insurmountable. Only last year, report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis finds Minnesota is one of the worst states in the country for education achievement gaps. We need to find ways to make that gap more narrow and shallow. Proving access to adequate technology is a small, but necessary step because as the report below shows, technology does not currently help to close that gap. And the irony is, it could.

Here’s the status as Future Ready Schools reports…

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a near-total shutdown of the U.S. school system, forcing more than 55 million students to transition to home-based remote learning practically overnight. In most cases, that meant logging in to online classes and accessing lessons and assignments through a home internet connection.

Sadly, that was not an option for children in one out of three Black, Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native households. Nationwide, across all racial and ethnic groups, 16.9 million children remain logged out from instruction because their families lack the home internet access necessary to support online learning, a phenomenon known as the “homework gap.”

According to an analysis of data from the 2018 American Community Survey conducted for the Alliance for Excellent Education, National Urban League, UnidosUS, and the National Indian Education Association, millions of households with children under the age of 18 years lack two essential elements for online learning: (1) high-speed home internet service and (2) a computer.

Here’s what they found in Minnesota:

Percentage of Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 19%
Number of Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 264,334

Minnesota By Income

Percentage of Households with Annual Income Less Than $25,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 40%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Less Than $25,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 50,660
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Between $25,000 and $50,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 29%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Between $25,000 and $50,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 66,298
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Between $50,000 and $75,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 24%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Between $50,000 and $75,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 44,869
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Between $75,000 and $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 15%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Between $75,000 and $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 74,704
Percentage of Households with Annual Income Greater Than $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 9%
Number of Children in Households with Annual Income Greater Than $150,000 Without High-Speed Home Internet 27,803

Minnesota By Race

Percentage of White Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 17%
Number of White Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 184,337
Percentage of Asian Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 14%
Number of Asian Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 12,461
Percentage of Black Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 27%
Number of Black Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 44,036
Percentage of Latino Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 35%
Number of Latino Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 30,226
Percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 37%
Number of American Indian/Alaska Native Children Without High-Speed Home Internet 9,655

Minnesota By Location

Percentage of Nonmetro “Rural” Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 29%
Number of Children in Nonmetro “Rural” Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 79,087
Percentage of Metro Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 17%
Number of Children in Metro Households Without High-Speed Home Internet 182,209

 

Crow Wing County puts $1.5M of CARES funds into broadband & CTC

The Brainerd Dispatch reports…

The Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, July 28, approved a plan to distribute dollars from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. After $1.5 million expected to be applied toward reimbursing the county’s expenses, the program includes $3 million toward grants for businesses, $1.5 million for broadband expansion and $1 million for nonprofits grants. An additional $1 million could be shifted to any of those categories, depending on need.

Sounds like folks were OK with broadband but some discussion on the details…

CARES Act fund will also support three broadband expansion projects in the county: for Camp Vanasek in Baxter and the surrounding area, an area surrounding Borden Lake including the township halls of Bay Lake and Garrison, and a corridor along County Highway 13 in Lake Edward Township. Commissioner Rosemary Franzen, who asked for the latter project to be included, said Tuesday officials with the township were willing to commit their own CARES Act funds to the broadband expansion.

County Administrator Tim Houle said last week applying these funds toward broadband expansion would not only better equip residents for the new realities of virtual communication, it would be an investment outlasting the pandemic. With social distancing playing a major role in the response, the demand to connect virtually for distance learning or telework has increased dramatically.

The funding will go to CTC telecommunications company, which will also receive funds to cover the cost of providing Wi-Fi access points throughout the community to aid in distance learning efforts and COVID-related broadband installations completed from March to May. CTC CEO Kristi Westbrock said Monday they were in the process of surveying customers to determine how many of those new installations were directly related to needs associated with telework, distance learning or telemedicine.

The measure passed 4-1 with Commissioner Doug Houge opposed. Houge voted against the package because he said he didn’t think it was fair to offer CARES Act dollars only to CTC, when he thought other providers would be interested in pursuing broadband projects in the county.

“We’ve got, how many, four or five providers up there that I know would have projects if this is a definite allowable use of these dollars,” Houge said. “I think it’s only fair that we give them the opportunity to utilize those if they’re comfortable that it’s an allowable use. It just seems like we’re pushing this through without all of the information.”

There was some question as to whether applying CARES Act funding to broadband expansion would be an allowed use of those dollars. Westbrock previously said she’d done the legwork to help ensure it would pass an audit and committed to paying the money back if it became necessary, although there was no official word giving it the OK.

Houle said the contingency dollars could potentially be used for other companies’ broadband projects.

“There is still the potential to do some additional project work and … consistent with what the board’s action, or discussion I should say, was yesterday, I am reaching out to the other telecommunications companies,” he said. “ … What I’m suggesting is, that door’s not closed yet. It’s a pretty tight timeframe. It has to be in the ground by Dec. 1st.”

Houge said with $1.5 million set aside for CTC alone and $1 million in the contingency fund, the other companies would receive much smaller amounts if it was determined to be an allowable use. He said he agreed with all the other aspects of the CARES Act funding program, but was concerned the board was making a decision too quickly on the broadband piece.

Franzen said she thought Houle was doing a good job contacting providers and noted CTC was the only company stating it would pay back funds if the use was not allowed. Houge reiterated he thought that point should be nailed down.

“Well, I think this is a great opportunity,” Franzen said.

“I’m not saying it isn’t a great opportunity, I’m saying let’s make it fair to all the providers,” Houge replied.

“It is,” Franzen said.

“I don’t believe it is,” Houge replied.

Chairman Paul Koering suggested he’d postpone the matter until the next county board meeting. Houge said he still wanted to move forward on the other items. Franzen made a motion to approve the plan, which was seconded by Commissioner Steve Barrows.

EVENT Aug 3: Workshop Examining the Role of Libraries on Broadband Adoption and Literacy

An invitation from the FCC

Workshop Examining the Role of Libraries on Broadband Adoption and Literacy
Aug 3, 2020
10:00 am – 1:30 pm EDT
Online Only

The Digital Empowerment and Inclusion Working Group of the Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment (ACDDE) and the Media Bureau is hosting this virtual workshop to examine the role of U.S. libraries as community hubs to drive digital adoption and literacy. The workshop will be convened via WebEx in light of travel restrictions and other concerns related to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and will be available to the public via live feed from the FCC’s web page at www.fcc.gov/live.

The workshop will feature experts from libraries, academia, and civil society organizations who will discuss efforts to support underserved rural and urban communities’ acquisition of digital skills. Experts will consider what constitutes digital inclusion today and the role of libraries and public-private partnerships in supporting digital literacy. Panelists will also address the impact of COVID-19 on advancing digital inclusion, as well as the impact of various local, state, and federal interventions in recent months.