Working from home saves money and time – but requires broadband on the Iron Range

The Hibbing Daily Tribune published an article from Aaron Brown about working from home. Aaron wrote about the difference working from home has made…

I’ve worked from home about two days a week most of my career. After COVID-19 hit, my employer learned that a surprising amount of work could be done remotely. Not all of it, of course, but more than we might have thought possible.

Awkwardly at first, most of my coworkers adapted to online meetings and working from home. I bought a lawn mower from a local dealer over the phone. An executive from a Fortune 500 company told me about overseeing a billion dollar loan program while keeping an eye on his ice fishing tip-up. A lot of this was just the realization of what was already possible all along.

Then we crunched the numbers. In April my family purchased no more than a half tank of gas for each of our two vehicles. Even when we added a few more trips in May we spent a tenth our normal gas budget. The savings were tangible.

It was the added time that we felt most of all: at least an extra hour each day. Whether driving into a big city or a small town on the Iron Range, all commuters understand the cost — financially, mentally, and physically — of drive time.

And he wrote about what you need to work from home…

For one thing, this means high speed internet and the service infrastructure to support creative work and associated technology. Here, this region has won small victories in recent years. Yet significant work remains unfinished.

A week before last the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools announced an effort to survey needs for high speed internet in rural parts of Itasca and Koochiching counties. They’ve already been doing this in St. Louis County. Coupled with previous efforts by the state Border to Border Broadband initiative, this is the ground level work that leads to expanded broadband access.

MN one of 39 state attorneys general urging Congress to fund broadband

The Benton Institute reports...

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser (D-CO) led a bipartisan coalition of 39 attorneys general in urging Congress to help ensure that all Americans have the home internet connectivity necessary to participate in telemedicine, teleschooling, and telework as part of any legislation that provides relief and recovery resources related to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter sent to congressional leaders, the attorneys general urge Congress to:

  • Provide state, territorial, and local governments with adequate funding expressly dedicated to ensuring that all students and patients, especially senior citizens who are at risk, have adequate internet-enabled technology to participate equally in online learning and telemedicine.
  • Increase funding to the Federal Communications Commission Universal Service Fund, which provides funding to rural and low-income areas, healthcare providers, and educators.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is on the list.

After the Fact: what are the 21 million who aren’t online doing during the pandemic

Kathryn de Wit, manager of Pew’s broadband research initiative, explains who’s not online and shares what some states and communities are doing to bridge connectivity gaps in this recent podcast.

She talks about the need for understanding broadband need and mapping, when it comes to distributing funds to make broadband happen, especially in rural areas.

We’re talking about multiple areas, multiple departments in government who handle possible solutions and affordability.

The problem of home access is highlighted now that people can’t go to libraries, schools, fast food restaurants and other public places to access broadband to get work their work and homework done.

Minnesota leaders from Austin to Mankato discuss COVID and need for better broadband

Channel 6 News reports…

District congressional candidate Dan Feehan hosted a virtual round table with state leaders to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on small communities.

Broadband was on the table…

Other issues detailed the importance of broadband in rural communities and the limited resources for students due to closures. Blue Earth County Commissioner Vance Stuehrenberg said students have had to go into town to the libraries that are closed and sit outside just to be able to complete assignments.

The discussion included leaders from all over Minnesota from Austin to Mankato and the communities in between. Though they shared different issues they all agreed that change is needed.

OPPORTUNITY: $1.5 Billion in New Grant Funding Available from Economic Development Administration for Broadband & Other Projects

CTC Technology & Energy report

The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act added $1.5 billion to an existing grant program of the US Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration’s (EDA).

This is a significant opportunity, both because of the size of the allocation and its breadth of eligibility. The grants are available to local and state governments, non-profits, and other non-commercial entities that have a compelling case for using infrastructure projects (including broadband initiatives) to ameliorate the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis.

This is also an opportunity that demands quick action. EDA will receive applications and make awards on a rolling basis, so applicants with projects in advanced planning stages (and even those with a strong concept and an ability to quickly develop a project plan) should move rapidly to submit their applications.

Broadband Projects That Will Help Address Coronavirus Challenges Are Eligible

The EDA’s significant funding allocation—announced in an addendum to EDA’s notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) on May 7th—can be used for broadband projects (in addition to other types of projects) that will strengthen economic resilience, diversify the economy and workforce, or support recovery in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. (Examples of successful past projects can be found on EDA’s website—though we anticipate the new funding to be awarded to a broader range of broadband projects.)

Pandemic exacerbates and shines a light on inequity in Minnesota

MinnPost recently ran an editorial from Jane Leonard and Dane Smith from Growth & Justice on need for equity in Minnesota – a need that didn’t start with the coronavirus pandemic but the pandemic is pushing the inequity to the headlines. Here one example from the article…

An April 11 Star Tribune front-page story (“Spotty broadband, rural toll”) revealed a family on Minnesota’s Iron Range coping with COVID-19 by driving 15 miles to a McDonald’s parking lot and connecting to high-speed Wi-Fi there so that kids could do online homework and mom could do basic household business. Given the emerging importance of telehealth, rural regional leaders in the article emphasized once again that high-speed broadband in Greater Minnesota must now be considered basic public infrastructure, a matter of regional equity, and no longer an optional luxury.

They mention other inequities but of course broadband what interests me here. The mention the inequities in the context of a solution. For several years now, Growth & Justice has been working on a statewide blueprint to reduce inequities, unite Minnesota and lift us all up…

One of the featured recommendations in the Blueprint squarely addresses the rural broadband disparity and the urban “digital divide.’’ The report explains in detail how Minnesotans without high-speed internet can’t run their businesses, do their jobs, attend school, seek medical help, or function as consumers. The Blueprint proposes an ambitious multiyear state investment over at least a decade to ensure that construction proceeds regardless of location or market strength. In the COVID aftermath, robust and affordable anywhere-for-anyone broadband will continue to be central to the recovery and continued operations of our communities, economy and society at large.

COVID can be our crucible of long-term change for the better, if we choose. And our Minnesota Equity Blueprint could be the first draft of that new socioeconomic contract for a more inclusive, equitable and secure prosperity across the North Star State.

Dakota Language gets new life with Zoom

MN Public Radio reports…

These days, Dakota — the native language of the Prairie Island Indian Community — isn’t widely spoken.

But the tribe is trying to change that and the pandemic has offered them an unusual opportunity to do so: by bringing language classes online, they’ve been able to reach more members than ever before.

In person classes have typically attracted a handful of people, said tribe communications manager Rayanna Lennes.

Using technology like Zoom to teach live classes, and archiving them online, gives far-flung tribal members an opportunity to reconnect with their language — and each other.

I love this. The loss of a language is huge loss to the culture and to see how technology is bringing it back is amazing.