Rural Opportunity Maps include broadband layer

The Center on Rural Innovation has released some cool, interactive maps. They overlay a number of datasets to help create snapshots of rural communities – by county, town and census tract. One of the datasets is access to broadband, which they get from FCC – Form 477 via Broadband Now.

It’s been a while since I checked out Broadband Now. They do provide access to broadband info (by county, city, zip) including:

  • Providers in the area including speeds (and types of broadband available) and coverage by percentage
  • Mapping areas with access to 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 5+ providers
  • General info on broadband in given area
  • Publicly funded internet access

The information is useful from community to community. I think the local maps of overlapping provider coverage are particularly interesting.

There are also a number of info layers that might be of interest: investment opportunities, trends in healthcare, hospital closures, local breweries. Being honest, I didn’t find an easy way to combine layers. But I feel like if I were looking for a specific community (smaller than statewide) that I could figure out what I was doing and/or use the raw info and local knowledge to help build a pictures of the local assets and needs.

Red Wing Ignite – entrepreneurs pitch to investors

I have attended this event at Red Wing Ignite in the past and really enjoyed it! I don’t know if I can make it, but if you’re in the area, it’s super fun…

Come hear from emerging businesses as they pitch their ideas to investors!

  • Blue Water Farms
  • Poultry Patrol
  • Prempoint
  • School Shark
  • Sprowt Labs
  • SubioMed

This is a terrific opportunity for entrepreneurs to showcase their big ideas while gaining exposure among prospective investors and business leaders. For investors, it’s an great opportunity to learn about new product and technology innovations and activities within the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

When: Tuesday, January 21 from 5:00 PM-8:00 PM Where: Red Wing Ignite, 419 Bush Street, Red Wing, MN
Evening Schedule: 5:00-Social Hour 6:00-Program 7:00-Networking & Meet the Entrepreneurs

Beyond telemedicine – there’s demand and some solutions for tele-caring

I just finished reading a report on how rural areas can be slower to adopt broadband because the population can be older, have less education and lower incomes. My grandpa used to say – first you gotta wanna – as in, you can learn anything but first you gotta wanna.

That framed my read of the next report by the Rural Health Information Hub on Informal Caregiving and Technology in Rural America. In short, the report talks about how using technology can make your life easier if you are a caregiver – especially if you are an unpaid caregiver with a full time job and maybe some kids. In other words, if you’re caring for a parent or other loved one.

They point out three ways that technology can help:

  • “An ‘Intelligent Family Care Assistant’ to help with day-to-day caregiving by helping to coordinate the family’s tasks in the context of the family’s other activities.”
  • “‘Wearable technologies’ — devices worn on or placed in the body, with sensors and/or human interfaces — to help monitor a person’s health and overall condition.”
  • “Technologies that provide better connections between family caregivers and health professionals, enabling them to work more effectively as a team in providing care.”

I suspect most readers will grasp the advantages of those tools without help. And if you want another great use of technology, you can look back on my article on Virtual Realty in Cannon Falls.)

There are several hiccups in the deployment. Lack of broadband is one – but imagine using these tele-caring applications to reach a demographic that was slow to get broadband before. We’re building demand.

Lack of skill is another. I’ve done digital literacy training for decades. Learning to use a computer for the first time when you’re older is hard. It’s an entirely next experience – it would be like me trying to use a sewing machine or oven! Also you don’t hear or see as well as certain ages and learning gets slower. BUT the incentive is high to stay in your own home to make life easier for you kids or other loved ones caring for you. We’re building demand and increasing local skills.

There are some policy constraints too. The report outlines the NACRHHS Recommendations on Supportive Services and Caregiving:

  1. “The Committee recommends the Secretary create a comprehensive resource on the aging and long-term services and supports available to older adults in rural areas.”
  2. “The Committee recommends the Secretary continue to expand flexibility in Medicare telehealth billing and provide a comprehensive resource of telehealth offerings in rural areas.”
  3. “The Committee recommends the Secretary ensure the promotion and encouragement of age-friendly concepts within rural health grant programs.”
  4. “The Committee recommends the Secretary explore the entry of Medicare Advantage Dual-Eligible Special Needs Plans into rural areas, identify potential barriers, and work with states to adopt policies that encourage or expand the reach of these plans to rural beneficiaries.”

There’s work to be done but tele-caring is a reward that most families would (or will eventually) appreciate. The report does a nice job with statistics and a few stories.


Supply and demand for broadband in rural areas and what can help make the business case work: Gov Report

Congressional Research Service recently published a report (Demand for Broadband in Rural Areas: Implications for Universal Access) that looks at the challenges of expanding or upgrading broadband in rural areas. The report includes lots of good number and research but at a really high level there are some of their points:

  • Rural areas are expensive to serve (because distance and lower population density make networks expensive) and the cost to deploy may surpass expected return on investment (ROI).
  • Rural areas tend to populations that are older, less educated and earn less money – each characteristic makes them less likely to be broadband (or generally tech) users. So even when there is broadband the adoption rates are lower.
  • Even in areas where the adoption is high and deployment costs are lower (so town centers) the potential for ROI is lower than in an urban setting.

These ideas aren’t new – but they are well documented in the report. The next section of the report looks at what the Federal government is doing to offset these challenges. I’m going to try to outline the options they mention. Most are funds that go to the provider, I’ve tried to note where that’s not the case:

  • Rural Utilities Service Programs
    • the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program
    • Community Connect Grant Program
    • ReConnect Program
  • Universal Service Fund Programs
    • High Cost program (has morphed in the Connect America Fund although this report doesn’t go into that)
    • Lifeline program (funds offset cost to end users)
    • Schools and Libraries program and Rural Health Care program (schools, libraries and healthcare facilities apply directly)

There’s a quick and interesting discussion of FCC’s broadband definition. Key here is using legacy infrastructure to help define future needs. It’s practical but is it like asking your barber if you need a haircut?…

The 25/3 Mbps threshold is meaningful in both technical and policy terms, because the legacy copper-based connections utilized by some broadband providers would likely require significant upgrades in order to meet higher thresholds

The rest of the report looks at what Congress can do moving forward to make best use of resources:

  • Oversight or Legislation Addressing the Lifeline Program
  • Research on How the Costs of Broadband-Enabled Services Affect Rural Broadband Demand
  • Broadband-Focused Education and Outreach Grants
  • Incentivizing Adoption via the Terms of Federal Infrastructure Buildout Programs
  • Oversight of FCC Section 706 Process

OPPORTUNITY: Bush Foundation Ecosystem grants up to $300,000

From the Bush Foundation...

The Bush Foundation works to inspire and support creative problem solving — within and across sectors — to make our region better for everyone. We know problem solving is hard. Our Ecosystem grant program is designed to provide operating support to the programs and organizations that do the most to support the people doing this work.

Some might call these infrastructure organizations or intermediary organizations or just can’t-do-without organizations. We call them Ecosystem organizations because they create the environment for organizations and leaders to solve problems and make the region better for everyone.



Ecosystem grants provide operating support to programs and organizations that our grantees, Fellows and other organizations rely heavily on to:

  • Provide critical data and analysis.
  • Spread great ideas and build capacity.
  • Advance public awareness and policy.
  • Build and support leadership networks.

We are looking for Ecosystem grantees that support organizations and leaders working to advance the goals of our focus areas.

Organizations may apply to receive as much as $300,000 over three years in operating support. The annual grant amount is typically 25% of the organization’s expenses, up to $100,000 per year. All Ecosystem grantees will receive an additional $10,000 in capacity building funds to build or increase their skills to work across differences.

EVENT: Broadband Day on the Hill – March 12, 2020

The MN Rural Broadband Coalition reports…

The Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition is proud to announce its Day on the Hill will take place on Thursday, March 12, 2020, at the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul.
Join your fellow broadband advocates from across the state for our Day on the Hill event! The Day on the Hill provides you with a unique opportunity to travel to St. Paul for a day of broadband advocacy and networking with colleagues and legislators.
The Day on the Hill is a great chance for you to speak with legislators directly about why increased access to broadband will improve the lives of Minnesotans.
Mark Your Calendars!  A full description of the day’s events and registration details will be sent to members in the coming weeks.

Senators urge FCC to prioritize rural broadband before 5G

The Benton Institute reports…

Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), James Lankford (R-OK), Jon Tester (D-MT), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and John Kennedy (R-LA) sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai urging the FCC to focus their efforts on providing reliable broadband to rural communities before expanding 5G coverage, as indicated by the announcement of the FCC’s 5G Fund.

While we commend the Federal Communications Commission for acknowledging that critical fact, we have some serious reservations about the recently announced 5G Fund and the decision to focus these limited mobile broadband deployment dollars on the promise of a 5G future when many places in our states still lack 4G service or do not have any service at all. To stand any chance of connecting rural Americans, the FCC needs a more accurate method of data collection, a strong challenge process, and a funding process that includes terrain factors to ensure that the hardest to serve places can compete for limited funding.

5G is a topic that people outside of work ask me about frequently. In the Twin Cities, we got a crash course in 5G leading up to the Super Bowl two years ago. But as I’ve reported in the past, 5G isn’t a likely solution for rural areas with great distance and lower population density. One societal problem with investing in 5G before fixing the rural broadband issue is that we deepen the digital divide.