The Internet isn’t bogging down but people are upgrading home connections

This article from Duluth News Tribune echoes what I’ve heard from others – that Internet traffic may be up slightly but mostly it’s just a time shift for busy periods. And the greatest bottleneck may be the network in your house (I’ve also heard server of the website you want to reach)…

“For the majority of providers, 9 o’clock on Sunday night is a crazy busy time for a network,” said Brent Christensen, president and CEO of the Minnesota Telecom Alliance, which is the trade association for 43 telecom providers throughout the region. “Probably a lot of that is Netflix, but it could also be people rushing to get ready for the next week of work and kids getting homework assignments done at the last minute.”

Most telecom companies have built networks well in advance of the pandemic that have been built to handle much higher levels of traffic than are currently being seen. When people are seeing slowdowns in their home networks, it is usually a result of much higher internet use under their own roof.

“Our backbone networks were designed for heavy usage. We engineer the networks for multiples of what’s actually being used, just to handle upticks in traffic like this,” said Christensen, whose family owns Christensen Communications in Madelia, Minn. “You will see slowdowns in your home network, not necessarily on the internet, because your home wifi network is maxed out. Take all of your laptops, then add on the internet of things, like an Alexa device somewhere in your house, or a Nest thermostat, or phones connected to the wifi in your house. You could have 30 or 40 devices in your house using the wifi, when all you think about are three or four laptops. So there’s a lot of traffic going over your home network and that’s where you’re seeing a bog down.”

An interesting addition here is the recognition that households are upgrading and going online more..

Due to that increased usage within many home wifi networks, telecom companies are seeing a demand for upgrades, and some first-time buyers of home internet. In the past, cost was always considered the main reason that people did not have internet access at home. Instead, they are learning that many people primarily accessed the internet at work, and would use data on their phones at home if they needed to get online. That has changed with more people working from home, and more students doing distance learning.

A glimpse at fiber-haves and fiber-have-nots from Aaron Brown on MN’s Iron Range

The Daily Hibbing today posts a column from Aaron Brown, voice from the from lines of rural Minnesota and broadband advocate. He details the joys of having fiber during a pandemic…

As a result of having high speed internet my family opened our first week of “remote learning” last Monday with all the tools we needed. As a college instructor, I conducted a video conference for my students so I could explain how they can finish the course and graduate. My wife Christina, who also works at the college, was able to confer with colleagues and students as they navigated problems in their education.

Each of my three sons was able to use his school iPad to access not only his assignments, but the actual talking heads of all his teachers, who could answer any questions he might have. No, it was not the same as learning in a social environment. But it was a way to keep learning while protecting human life during a crisis. And we are grateful for that.

But there’s more than just education at stake. There’s our health and economic future: the two most important aspects of the coronavirus story so far.

And a glimpse at the other end of the digital divide…

But it is not so for many others, including some who live even closer to town than we do. The limits of cell phone hotspots and slower internet services became a living hell for many during this crisis. Schools talk about the achievement gap between students of means and privilege and those who have neither. That gap became a canyon this week, requiring herculean efforts by educators and parents. And still children and families are being left behind.

First day of online learning in MN presents challenges but keeps kids safe

I’ve been holding onto this article since Tuesday – a recap from MinnPost on how different schools are doing with online learning in Minnesota during coronavirus threat. I’m going to include snippets based on location:

From Bemidji

‘Just one laptop at home’: Alicia Bowstring, student at Bemidji State University, and mother of a first-grader in the Cass Lake-Bena Schools district

And a popular sentiment…

no one will be docked as they — along with K-12 students statewide — troubleshoot with new technology on day one of remote learning.

From Bloomington

“That’s where this becomes challenging,” she said, noting the at-home school day was fairly hands-on for her and her husband, who are both adjusting to working remotely from home right now. “The kids know how to use Seesaw fairly well, but there’s definitely parent engagement — to upload, help them record, take pictures.”

And right around 10 a.m., when they were uploading the three questions Elijah had written, the site crashed and he lost his work — prompting a mini life-skill lesson on perseverance.

From Roseville

She says that while some degree of learning took place Monday, her mission was purely to reconnect with her students, and to allow them space to connect with each other — a much-needed return to some semblance of normalcy for many, after a stretch of no school, followed by a spring break.

She’s also being mindful of students’ lack of access to technology at home. …

“I was sad to see only my white families came on today. My students of color were not able to,” she said of the Google Meet session she hosted online.

From Minneapolis

“There’s multiple siblings in the family — all using one parent’s cellphone,” she [the teacher] said. “So there’s a lot of interruptions and phone dying and siblings coming in to ask when she’s going to be done with the phone.”

As a new parent to a 4-month-old, she’s also learning how to juggle at-home child care as she checks in with her students. For part of Monday, that meant holding her child in one arm, while he napped, and working on her computer with her free hand.

From Brooklyn Park

“I [mom who is also a teacher] chose to keep everyone together at the dining room table, so that if there’s issues I can walk around and help answer questions,” she said, adding “the older girls can help with the boys as well.” …

For her, the biggest source of concern heading into Monday was wondering how to best support her youngest son’s speech progress without access to his speech therapist at school. In the morning, his teachers reached out with some guidance and learning tools.

From Anoka-Hennepin…

Her seventh-grader logged into his device and had completed all of his classes in less than an hour, she says. Her ninth-grade son, who’s taking lots of advanced classes, worked until about 1 p.m., with a family break for lunch and a walk outside.

While the boys largely worked independently, Haglund spent the better part of her day alongside her other ninth-grader, Elaina, who has Williams syndrome and normally receives a number of specialized supports at school — things like physical therapy and speech services.

My youngest daughter goes to a charter school is St Paul. She normally loves school. Her description of online school – it’s all of the homework, none of the fun.

Local Officials Explain Why Broadband Has Been Essential For Emergency Response Efforts

From Next Century Cities…

Today Next Century Cities sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging the agency to collaborate with mayors and other local officials on broadband deployment. As residents are forced to work, access virtual classrooms, obtain medical care, and more from their homes, local officials have been working tirelessly to ensure that every resident stays connected during the national coronavirus (COVID-19) shut-in.

Click here to review the letter. Next Century Cities asks the Commission to consider the following points. FCC and Congress are working to ensure that Americans have access to high-speed connectivity, but we can and need to do more.

  • Stimulus funds from the Senate bill should be used to expand the E-Rate program, allowing schools and libraries to purchase hotspots and loan those devices to Americans of all ages who do not have internet access at home. The FCC should also strengthen the Lifeline program, which was designed to keep people connected in the wake of an emergency.
  • Telehealth and telemedicine programs depend on reliable broadband networks. Building reliable networks that reach communities in remote places requires federal policies that support local solutions.
  • Local officials have the clearest view of what their communities need, yet they are noticeably absent from FCC advisory committees. Their insights would help accelerate broadband deployment.
  • The Commission should revise its definition of broadband by increasing minimum speeds to meet new market demands.

In Ammon, Idaho, broadband is essential infrastructure. Mayor Sean Coletti described how high-speed connectivity for residents and business has helped in its emergency response:

“The City of Ammon’s fiber optic utility made it possible for residents to stay at home while continuing to attend school, work, conduct business, and receive medical treatment. Ammon is home to hundreds of employees of the Idaho National Laboratory. The Lab serves as one of the nation’s premier nuclear research facilities and the fifth largest employer in the state. On March 17th, the Lab encouraged employees to work from home if possible and transitioned to ‘minimum-safe plus’ status on March 26th. Lab employees have found it seamless to convert to working from home with Ammon Fiber and the City is proud to play such a key role in keeping essential facilities like the INL operational.

“Ammon Fiber is affordable, safe, and reliable. In fact, Ammon has some of the lowest costs for 1 Gig fiber in the nation, and we have a plan to bring Ammon Fiber to all neighborhoods in the City. We believe our open-access fiber network to be a vital component of who we are, and what we will become. Our slogan is “Where Tomorrow Begins.” Ammon is committed to bringing the vision of tomorrow to its residents today.”

In Hanover, New Hampshire, near the state’s largest trauma medical center, many communities remain underserved or unserved. Julia Griffin, Town Manager, described their resident’s frustration:

“Here in rural New Hampshire, large portions of the state are woefully underserved or completely unserved by broadband. As soon as statewide school closure was announced by our Governor almost three weeks ago, my phone and email blew up with queries from Hanover residents wondering what the Town could do to improve or provide broadband services immediately to ensure that parents and their children could work and learn from home.

“Nothing like a pandemic crisis to highlight the extent to which rural America has been shortchanged.”

Aldona Valicenti, Chief Information Officer, Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, explained how connectivity, or lack thereof, impacts schools and businesses in Kentucky:

“The need for broadband is demonstrated every day during this COVID-19 crisis. Our Governor and Mayor are requiring working from home for those employees who can. Our universities and schools are continuing education even with empty classrooms. We can do that because we have broadband. Many unserved and underserved areas cannot take part. This is an urgent wakeup call for the entire nation.”

In Mount Vernon, Washington, municipal broadband allowed the local government to maintain functionality while implementing emergency response plans. According to Mayor Jill Boudreau:

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we rely on video conferencing, completely online building permitting, online bill pay, and electronic resources in our public library just to name a few examples. The reliability and security of an institutional network has not only kept City functions operating, but our hospital, 911 center, and County government working at full capacity.”


Hosting a Zoom event? Learn how to guard from the goonies!

It’s been amazing to see people improvise in so many ways in our new world. For example, moving meetings online with tools like Zoom. I’ve attended a bunch, I’ve hosted a few – and I’m leading a webinar on How to Use Zoom on April 8. (It’s going to be a great chance to kick the wheels, speak or share your screen if you haven’t been active on Zoom yet!)

Unfortunately some of the proverbial bad guys have also found a way to wreak havoc in online meetings. I have heard of several meetings that have been cancelled or cut short due to trolls – or what I’ve heard called Zoom Bombers – jumping in being chaotic, disruptive, inappropriate and hateful. Luckily Zoom has a few recommendation to keep the baddies at bay…

  • with the email they were invited through, they will receive this message:

This is useful if you want to control your guest list and invite only those you want at your event — other students at your school or colleagues, for example.

  • Lock the meeting:It’s always smart to lock your front door, even when you’re inside the house. When you lock a Zoom Meeting that’s already started, no new participants can join, even if they have the meeting ID and password (if you have required one). In the meeting, click Participants at the bottom of your Zoom window. In the Participants pop-up, click the button that says Lock Meeting.
  • Set up your own two-factor authentication:You don’t have to share the actual meeting link! Generate a random Meeting ID when scheduling your event and require a password to join. Then you can share that Meeting ID on Twitter but only send the password to join via DM.
  • Remove unwanted or disruptive participants:From that Participants menu, you can mouse over a participant’s name, and several options will appear, including Remove. Click that to kick someone out of the meeting.
  • Allow removed participants to rejoin:When you do remove someone, they can’t rejoin the meeting. But you can toggle your settings to allow removed participants to rejoin, in case you boot the wrong person.
  • Put ‘em on hold:You can put everyone else on hold, and the attendees’ video and audio connections will be disabled momentarily. Click on someone’s video thumbnail and select Start Attendee On Hold to activate this feature. Click Take Off Hold in the Participants list when you’re ready to have them back.
  • Disable video:Hosts can turn someone’s video off. This will allow hosts to block unwanted, distracting, or inappropriate gestures on video or for that time your friend’s inside pocket is the star of the show.
  • Mute participants:Hosts can mute/unmute individual participants or all of them at once. Hosts can block unwanted, distracting, or inappropriate noise from other participants. You can also enable Mute Upon Entry in your settings to keep the clamor at bay in large meetings.
  • Turn off file transfer:In-meeting file transfer allows people to share files through the in-meeting chat. Toggle this off to keep the chat from getting bombarded with unsolicited pics, GIFs, memes, and other content.
  • Turn off annotation:You and your attendees can doodle and mark up content together using annotations during screen share. You can disable the annotation feature in your Zoom settings to prevent people from writing all over the screens.
  • Disable private chat:Zoom has in-meeting chat for everyone or participants can message each other privately. Restrict participants’ ability to chat amongst one another while your event is going on and cut back on distractions. This is really to prevent anyone from getting unwanted messages during the meeting.

EVENT April 3: Senate COVID 19 Response Working Group 11am (virtual)

I appreciate the effort to make these accessible to folks sheltering in place…

Friday, April 3, 2020 – 11:00 AM
COVID 19 Response Working Group
Chair: Sen. Paul E. Gazelka
11 a.m.
Working Group facilitated by the MN Senate through Zoom. Limited public testimony will be taken. Email by 5 p.m. Thurs-Apr 2. Include your name and organization, if applicable. Once you are registered you will be provided with the Zoom Mtg ID and a password. Testimony will be limited to 2 minutes or discretion of the chair. Participation thru Zoom is capped at 100. Public may view livestream coverage on the MN Senate’s facebook page-
Agenda to be announced – related to Economic Relief and Recovery

Next Century Cities applauds the FCC’s efforts to increase spectrum available for WiFi

The latest from Next Century Cities…

Today the ​Federal Communications Commission (FCC) circulated draft rules permitting unlicensed devices to operate in the 6 GHz band. The proposal would allow unlicensed devices to share the band with incumbent licensed services, making 1,200 megahertz of spectrum available for unlicensed use.
Spectrum is a public resource that fuels wireless connectivity. ​The airwaves are allocated by the FCC to support mobile, satellite, broadcasting, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth networks — among other purposes. Wi-Fi networks, in particular, are essential in areas that do not have access to cable or fiber wireline.
Francella Ochillo, Executive Director, said: “The nationwide coronavirus shut-in has exposed the urgent need to connect every community, especially those in hard to reach areas. Cities, towns, and counties that are still waiting for fixed broadband connections could immediately benefit from wireless solutions that ultimately depend on access to spectrum. We applaud the FCC’s efforts to expand which populations benefit from this underutilized resource.”
Ryan Johnston, Policy Counsel, said: “Chairman Pai’s proposal would help support connectivity nationwide during this national emergency. As more people are asked to work, learn and live from home, this spectrum allocation could decrease congestion on wireless networks and complement wireline connections. It would also provide immediate options for unserved and underserved communities to get online​.​” ###
Next Century Cities ​ is a non-profit membership organization of over 200 communities, founded to support communities and their elected leaders, including mayors and other officials, as they seek to ensure that all have access to fast, affordable, and reliable internet access. Next Century Cities celebrates broadband successes in communities, demonstrates their value, and helps other cities to realize the full power of truly high-speed, affordable, and accessible broadband. For more information, visit ​