The Lincoln County Board gave a green light Tuesday to a county-wide grant application aimed at funding for broadband Internet access.
At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners approved a grant application to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development for a total of $10.5 million. All except $2 million would come from outside funding sources. The county would issue bonds for its matching share.
The grant package will expand upon a plan for a broadband proposal developed by a South Dakota based consultant for the Hendricks area telecommunications exchange. The same consultant will incorporate the rest of the county into a larger grant request.
“It made sense to work together toward one application,” said Vince Robinson, president of the Ivanhoe-based Development Services Inc. consulting service. “That will show that as a county we’re taking a unified approach. We won’t be in a situation where two different applications would compete.”
The total grant amount will be influenced by the level of statewide competition for broadband funding. It will also depend on how much the Minnesota State Legislature allocates.
Robinson said the Minnesota House and Gov. Tim Walz have both offered a funding proposal of $70 million spread out over two years. The Minnesota Senate has countered with a proposal for $30 million in the first year of the biennium, with the possibility of more funding in the second year.
If you’re reading this now, you may be free tonight – and this is a good opportunity to learn more about lifeline at a time when the digital divide may be narrowing, but also deepening.
#SaveLifeline: a digital briefing about the Lifeline program and how to save it.DescriptionLifeline is the only federal program that helps people living below the poverty line stay connected to phone and at-home internet service. This essential program allows people to access life-saving medical information, search for jobs, pursue educational opportunities and so much more.
The FCC wants to destroy Lifeline — but we’re here to fight back. Join a digital briefing hosted by Free Press and the Center for Media Justice to learn more about this program and how you can get involved in the fight to save it.
NTEN is an organization that helps nonprofits with technology plans. I just got the following email and thought readers might have an interest and/or qualify for some of these advantages…
This spring, we’re expanding our free Tech Accelerate assessment tool by offering direct, expert advice from community members, and $1,000 grants to begin your improvements. We just published full details on the resources on our blog.
So, how can you take part?
📣 Community Call on May 9
Complete your organization’s free Tech Accelerate assessment by Tuesday, May 7, and you’ll receive access to an exclusive Community Call at 2pm ET/11am PT on Thursday, May 9. In the Call, an expert panel will share advice and recommendations for how your assessment can drive your organization forward.
💵 $1,000 grant for your completed assessment
If your organization completes your free Tech Accelerate assessment by Tuesday, May 7—whether you participate in the Community Call or not—you can apply for a $1,000 grant to invest in improving your organization’s technology effectiveness. Applications for the grants will be emailed to all organizations with completed assessments.
🔎 Tech Accelerate Demo on May 2
Need a refresher on what Tech Accelerate is, and how it could benefit your organization? Sign up for a free demo at 2pm ET/11am PT, Thursday, May 2. You’ll learn more about how and why we built Tech Accelerate, and how you can use it to evaluate your organization’s current technology investments and plans.
A new report from SETDA highlights the importance of state leadership and the various ways states strive to support districts and schools. Here are some of the fun facts from the report:
FCC 2018 Broadband Deployment Report reveals that only 69% of citizens in rural areas have access to both broadband (25 Mbps/3 Mbps) and mobile services (LTE at speeds of 5 Mbps/1 Mbps) compared to 98% of citizens in urban areas.
Education Networks of America (ENA), based on its experience delivering connectivity to over 7,000 schools and libraries, continues to observe and projects into the future a bandwidth growth rate of 65% per year.
Institute of Education Sciences (IES) Student Access to Digital Learning Resources Outside the Classroom report states that the primary barrier to internet access at home is affordability, especially for children from low-income families.
The report outlines various types of networks and partnerships in different states, pointing out that no two are really alike. Here is what they say about Minnesota
STATE K-12 BROADBAND LEADERSHIP
Minnesota’s constitution calls for citizens to have access to an equitable public education system. As is the case with many states, Minnesota has concentrations of population in both urban centers and large areas of rural communities. Broadband access provides students with a wide range of educational opportunities both within and outside of their communities, regardless of whether they live in a large city or a small rural township. In addition, state leadership recognizes the significance of broadband connectivity for promoting economic development, employment, and business growth. From a state level, agencies such as the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) provide funding through grant opportunities and aid programs to help communities, schools, and public libraries achieve high speed broadband access. The Minnesota Office of Enterprise Technology (MnIT) provides a backbone network (leased, not state owned) throughout the state to deliver connectivity to cities, counties, public schools and libraries in various areas of Minnesota.
Since 1993, at the regional level, the Minnesota Education Technology Networks (METN), a cooperative of regional networks, provides regional network development, support and leadership to Minnesota school districts. METN member cooperatives provide network coordination, procurement, and other support to help school districts acquire and manage broadband networks for instruction and education management. METN has also provided limited cooperative purchasing opportunities.
Minnesota provides state funding directly to the district for external broadband connections and directly to the regional networks. Through regional partnerships, the median cost of broadband (per mbps) in Minnesota schools has dropped 84% from $15 in 2015 to $2.35 in 2018. While cost has decreased, the amount of bandwidth necessary for students to participate in digital learning has increased. In the same period of time, the median bandwidth speeds available on a per student basis has increased almost four fold from 226kbps to 890kbps. Minnesota currently provides limited state funding for connectivity on buses and previously provided one-time grants that could be used to obtain hotspot devices for students to use off campus. Minnesota does not provide funding for internal wireless connections.
STATEWIDE K-12 EDUCATION BROADBAND CONNECTIVITY
Minnesota provides education broadband connectivity through 19 regional networks. The process for joining a regional network varies slightly by region, but generally school districts join any network that can provide them with broadband services. Most school districts rely on the federal E-rate program to afford high speed broadband, so they use the corresponding competitive bid process either independently to choose a regional network or the regional network completes a competitive bid process through E-rate for the regional broadband network as a wide area network for all members. The networks are coordinated by a cooperative or nonprofit education agency that provides services to the K-12 education system. Minnesota estimates that 50% – 74% of districts participate in a regional network.
In Summer of 2018, Southwest West Central Service Cooperative (SWWC) completed a project to provide broadband services to approximately 50 sites, including schools, libraries and other government agencies. The newly awarded contract includes fiber-based Wide Area Network (WAN) connectivity among the schools and libraries and the SWWC’s data centers, as well as managed routers providing a level of cybersecurity. The new network replaced microwave links that previously served all but two of it’s 30 member districts, with fiber connections providing higher speeds, better reliability and unlimited potential. This project helped close the broadband gap, reaching 99% of the state’s school districts meeting current goals for broadband connectivity.
POLICIES//GUIDANCE FOR DISTRICTS
Minnesota coordinates with other state organizations to coordinate on campus activity to ensure that all students in Minnesota have access to scalable infrastructure, high-speed affordable bandwidth, and ubiquitous Wi-Fi for digital learning. In addition, these organizations provide value added services such as network security, digital curriculum resources, network management, distance learning support, and other enterprise level services. The Minnesota K-12 Connect Forward Initiative adopted the widely recognized goals for connectivity put forth by groups such as SETDA and the Consortium for School Networking (COSN) and has provided guidance to districts in reaching those goals. The Minnesota K-12 Connect Forward Initiative and Minnesota’s Educational Technology Networks do not have specific policies for wireless connections but continue to work with districts to leverage federal E-rate dollars to ensure that districts can implement wireless connectivity within their buildings in a cost effective manner.
The robust regional networks in the state have allowed schools to implement 1:1 programs and utilize learning management systems for instructional programs. Teachers and students have become more adept at utilizing digital learning both on and off campus. In some parts of the state, severe cold, blizzards and heavy snow impact school schedules. It is not unusual to have five to ten or more days of school canceled due to weather conditions. In 2018, the state legislature passed legislation that allows districts to implement up to five e-learning days per year when school would otherwise not be in session due to unsafe weather conditions. During e-learning days, students access instructional materials online and teachers are accessible via telephone and online means to assist students with their activities. Minnesota’s high speed regional networks allow e-learning options for students.
MacPhail Center for Music is a community-based music education non-profit based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The center operates an online school partnership program that utilizes video conferencing over high speed broadband networks to bring renowned MacPhail specialists into classrooms throughout the state. Music specialists provide live clinics, sectionals, concert prep, professional development and individual lessons for vocal and instrumental music. Regional networks, such as the Little Crow Telemedia Network (LCTN) and East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative (ECMECC) and others have supported the participation of many schools in this program by providing equipment, training, technical and financial support. For example, students in Yellow Medicine East, MACCRAY, Braham and Hinckley-Finlayson rural districts (all districts of less than 1,000 students K-12) have received online group and private lessons from music professionals at the MacPhail Center.
OFF CAMPUS ACCESS
In Minnesota, other state agencies, libraries, community-based groups and the state broadband commission work together to coordinate efforts to support student access to off campus connectivity. The state is promoting strategies, both formally and informally, for access to affordable out-of-school broadband for students, especially in low-income and rural areas through legislated funding; promotion of discount/ free options; community partnerships; connecting anchor institutions; and Wi-Fi on buses. Off campus access strategies are driven by availability and affordability in rural areas; minimum broadband standards, such as speed, safety and security, as well as limited service options for consumers. Specifically, through efforts by the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband and the Office of Broadband development, statutory goals were put in place calling for all homes and businesses to have access to broadband service of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload by 2022 and that by 2026 all homes and businesses would have access to broadband service of at least 100 Mbps download and 20Mbps upload from at least one provider. To help incentivize the deployment of broadband in rural areas, the state funded grant programs and projects that offer new or upgraded broadband service to unserved and underserved areas of the state. Grant programs have totaled $85.6 million to date and $500,000 was awarded to provide schools with mobile hotspots available to students without adequate broadband access at home. The grant programs were administered by the Office of Broadband Development and funding for the programs has been consistently supported by the Governor’s Task Force on Broadband. Grants have also been awarded to provide schools with mobile hotspots for students without adequate broadband access at home.
Minnesota’s regional broadband networks will continue to seek cost-effective broadband solutions for all Minnesota school districts by leveraging state and federal funding initiatives and local partnerships with an eye toward always providing the bandwidth that districts need to fully participate in digital learning and utilize digital resources. Additionally, the regional networks will continue to expand enterprise level services designed to share resources that are expensive for smaller, often rural, districts to afford on their own. Services that will improve network and data security, provide access to online resources, bring educational opportunities directly to the schools and improve administrative procedures within districts.
I’m slow getting these notes up but a few weeks ago I attended an interesting conference on the history of the Internet. The only problem was that what they were presenting was stuff I remembered from my days at MRNet, which means history and my life are starting to intersect but it also reminds me of what interesting days we live in.
The keynote speaker was Dr Mark McCahill, who was lead developer at the U of MN for the GOPHER protocol. GOPHER was a precursor to the World Wide Web. It wasn’t graphical but it did provide amazing access to files on computers around the world. The difficulty was retracing your steps once you found something cool – or keeping focus because you could always find lots of cool things you didn’t know you needed. Again – precursor to the WWW. In fact McCahill spoke about his conversation with Tim Berners-Lee (developer of the WW) and wondering if they should work together on a protocol – McCahill decided not to and stuck with GOPHER.
His best line (of many) – If you’re in the right place you get exposed to the future – at least a little bit.
Then there was a lot of talk about the good and bad sides of broadband and technology.
We talked about the power of the internet and social media in raising previously unheard voices. And the power of social media, especially with kids, to create a false world that no one can live up to. It’s a double edged sword. But because of the growing impact of the internet e-commerce has gone from .9 percent of retail sales in 1999 to 10 percent today. Can you imagine how that’s going to grow?
We also talked about cyber security and the ability to have the Internet change the world for better or ill. Recipe for online dystopia was defined: “We know that adversaries are in our system. We can’t do anything. The next war will be digital. We rely on root cert authority.” Recipe for better: “Quantum computers. Get rid of root of trust. Standards are no longer enough.”
The Internet is a power that can’t be stopped but the session made the case that we need people thinking (and protecting against) worst case scenario. For example, we talked about the next generation of ID theft. Never mind criminals stealing credit info or your digital footprint. Artificial intelligence is getting to a point where one could create a synthetic version of you!
Again, a super interesting conversation – felt a little bit like sci-fi but probably closer to reality than I’d like to think.
From the US Senate Press Release…
Led by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today a group of Senate Democrats introduced new legislation aimed at closing the growing digital divide in communities across the country. The Digital Equity Act of 2019 creates new federal investments targeted toward a diverse array of projects at the state and local level that promote “digital equity”— a concept defined by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance as the “condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.” The legislation was cosponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jack Reed (D-RI), and a companion bill will also be introduced in the House of Representatives.
“For so many of us, having a reliable broadband connection is a given—we use the internet to pay bills, do our taxes, book travel, do homework, and much more. We can do it on our own time, in our own homes—even from our phones. But for far too many individuals and families—including those from communities of color, people with disabilities, low-income households, and rural communities—getting online isn’t so easy to do, and I strongly believe that in 2019, we shouldn’t be a country of haves and have-nots when it comes to using the internet,” said Senator Murray. “That’s why I’m proud to join with my Democratic colleagues to introduce the Digital Equity Act, which will direct significant new federal investments to help ensure people in our communities have the tools, support, and technologies necessary to take full advantage of a broadband connection when they have access to one. Congress can and should help states, counties, tribes, and others do more to close the growing digital divide, and the Digital Equity Act is a major step in the right direction. It’s the right thing to do for families, and it’s the right thing to do for our economy to make sure everyone is reaching their full potential.”
“The internet impacts every aspect of our day-to-day lives, from conducting business to pursuing an education to connecting with friends and loved ones. Put simply: it is the most important tool for anyone trying to participate in 21st century life,” said Senator King. “And it’s not enough to simply have access to the internet; you also need to know how to use it. By making these investments in digital equity and digital inclusion, we can ensure Americans of all ages and backgrounds are fluent in the technology that will drive so much of our nation’s future.”
“The Internet is a powerful tool that has become instrumental in economic and social mobility and civic engagement. In 2009, Hawaii capitalized on funds made available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to expand broadband to schools and public computer centers, making it one of the most-connected states in the country. But physical infrastructure is only part of the equation,” said Senator Hirono. “The Digital Equity Act will provide grants for things like digital literacy and digital skills education to low-income populations and improving the online accessibility of social services for individuals with disabilities that will allow the people of Hawaii to make full use of what broadband has to offer. Only then can they fully participate in our society, democracy, and economy.”
“More and more, we rely on the internet to help us participate in our democracy and take part in the global economy. Expanding access to the digital world will help combat inequality, increase transparency in our institutions, and help citizens hold their government accountable. That’s why I’m pleased to support the Digital Equity Act,” said Senator Whitehouse.
“As we rely more on technology in our everyday lives, we have to make sure that every family has access to broadband, regardless of their zip code. This legislation will help close the digital divide and bring high-speed internet to communities across the county,” said Senator Klobuchar.
“Access to broadband internet service is literally transformative. With broadband, students can access vast educational resources, families remain connected, citizens engage their representatives, and businesses reach new customers,” said Senator Blumenthal. “For far too long, the digital divide has left behind those overlooked and underserved communities that would benefit most from broadband. Our bill would invest much-needed resources in our broadband infrastructure – spurring growth and development, and helping to level the playing field for all Americans.”
“Broadband is the infrastructure of the 21st Century—it isn’t just nice, it’s necessary if we’re going to build an economy that works for everyone,” said Senator Smith. “This bill represents a positive step forward in that direction, ensuring that traditionally overlooked communities are not left behind in our efforts to provide affordable and reliable internet service to all Minnesotans and other Americans.”
“From students completing homework to people of all ages applying online for jobs, broadband internet plays a crucial role in a community’s growth and economy. Expanding access to broadband will help create more opportunity for Marylanders, and will move our state forward on closing the digital divide. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this common-sense legislation, and I will continue working to expand economic opportunity for all,” said Senator Van Hollen.
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one in five teenagers in the U.S. say they have been unable to complete homework assignments due to lack of a reliable internet connection. The digital divide, also sometimes referred to as the “homework gap” as it applies to students, exacerbates existing wealth and income gaps in our communities; subsequently, many people—including those from communities of color, people with disabilities, low-income households, and rural communities, overwhelmingly impacted by the digital skills gap—are at risk of being left behind in an increasingly technology-driven world, absent intervention. To that end, the Digital Equity Act of 2019 strengthens federal support for efforts to help ensure students, families, and workers have the information technology capacity needed to fully participate in society by creating an annual $125 million formula grant program for all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each State, as well as an additional annual $125 million competitive grant program to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, or communities of interest. Finally, the legislation tasks the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with evaluating digital equity projects and providing policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels with detailed information about which projects are most effective.
“I believe the future belongs to the connected. No matter who you are or where you live in this country, you need access to modern communications to have a fair shot at 21st century success. But today millions of American lack the broadband access that they need to meaningfully participate in the digital age. That means too many students fall into the Homework Gap, unable to complete school assignments that require high-speed internet service. It means that too many small businesses will not have the work force with the skills necessary to compete in the global economy. It means that too many communities will go without the civic and commercial infrastructure that is needed to thrive and grow. So thank you to Senator Murray for this legislation which thoughtfully addresses digital equity and seeks to expand technology opportunity for all,” said Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
“Local and state leadership drive most efforts to bring people online with affordable Internet access and training. On the one hand, this is fabulous because trusted community relationships are essential to effective digital inclusion work. On the other hand, financial support of local digital inclusion work is sorely lacking. The Digital Equity Act recognizes the value of local trusted institutions while allocating financial support. NDIA and our 350 affiliates in 41 states fully support the Digital Equity Act and look forward to its passage,” said National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director Angela Siefer.
The Digital Equity Act of 2019 is endorsed by: Alliance for Community Media, American Library Association, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Broadband Connects America, Center for Law and Social Policy, Center for Media Justice, Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, Coalition on Adult Basic Education, Common Cause, Consortium for School Networking, Competitive Carriers Association, Free Press Action Fund, International Society for Technology in Education, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, National Coalition for Literacy, National Collaborative for Digital Equity, National Congress of American Indians, National Consumer Law Center on behalf of their low-income clients, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Hispanic Media Coalition, National League of Cities, National Parent Teacher Association, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Next Century Cities, NTEN, Public Knowledge, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, State Educational Technology Directors Association, and the Urban Libraries Council.
Read the bill text HERE.
Find more background on the Digital Equity Act HERE.
Find a section-by-section breakdown of the Digital Equity Act HERE.
The push to equity recognizes that people need the infrastructure but they also need the skills to use it.
Minnesota Public Radio reports…
Gov. Tim Walz announced Friday that he has named Valerie Means to fill a vacancy on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
Means is a mediator who previously worked as an attorney representing public utilities and telecommunications service providers. She is the first person of color to serve on the PUC in 30 years.
She will join the five-member commission charged with regulating the state’s public utilities such as electric, natural gas and landline telephone service. The PUC has made several high-profile rulings in recent years, including approval of a controversial pipeline project in northern Minnesota.