Pine and Carlton County residents run into troubles trying to stay connected

Moose Lake Star Gazette reports

Ryan Stewart’s, Moose Lake High School Principal, image froze on the screens of the Moose Lake School Board. He was making a presentation of a new grading option designed to help students recover their Grade Point Averages after struggling in Distance Learning. His daughter was home from college and also online.

To fix his internet connection problems Stewart needed to pause his presentation and ask his daughter to disconnect from the internet. Internet connection problems are a common one to have in areas around our community, but they make working and learning from home even more difficult.

Willow River Schools have provided mobile internet hotspots to students who are struggling to connect. At their most recent school board meeting school administrators were happy to report that with the recent purchase and set up of 25 additional hotspots all families who requested help connecting were able to receive a device.

The article goes on to provide several helpful tips to improve access by monitoring use and rebooting, helpful but the answer should be at a higher level. And they get to that too with an update of where state and federal funding from broadband stand today…

Rural areas have struggled to gain access to reliable internet connections for years. Legislative projects at both the state and federal level have been working to create a reliable source of internet connection for all. Broadband is simply a way of identifying internet connection to a router or wired connection. Connection to broadband creates the wireless connections within a home or area.

Sen Klobuchar talks with Southwest MN leaders about COVID leaders, such as better broadband

The (Worthington) Globe reports

As U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar looks toward providing continued COVID-19 relief to Americans through proposed legislation, she sought feedback Friday from four Minnesota mayors — including three from southwest Minnesota.

Worthington’s Mike Kuhle, Luverne’s Pat Baustian and Pipestone’s Myron Koets all participated in a call with the senator, during which she asked them to outline their communities’ economic and public health needs. Also in attendance was Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes.

Broadband was on the shortlist…

In addition to aid for small businesses and greater vaccine access, other community needs include help acquiring technology for education and broadband expansion, Kuhle told the senator.

Baustian added that Rock County was the first Minnesota county to secure border-to-border broadband, and that move has proven to be an asset during pandemic distance learning.

Klobuchar noted that any infrastructure bill that doesn’t include broadband is unlikely to pass.

Federal stimulus will help pay internet bills and boost broadband access across Minnesota

I have written about this funding earlier; the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Carla Green spends about six hours a day on her computer, studying for her GED, selling custom scents and doing other work.

Green, 26, has been struggling to pay $60 a month for wired internet service in her International Falls apartment — something she needs to make a better life, she says.

So she reached out to a local community action program for help and is waiting to get a provided hotspot, which she hopes will be fast and reliable enough for her school work.

Recognizing the millions of households in Green’s situation, Congress designated emergency help for families to acquire and keep internet service in the latest federal COVID-19 relief package.

The $900 billion stimulus includes $7 billion for broadband and network infrastructure initiatives, including $3.2 billion for emergency help with monthly bills for service. Rural areas, tribal governments and other underserved populations will benefit as well.

Here are some of the details on the programs that directly support current customers…

In the stimulus package, about $3.2 billion is slated to help financially struggling households with up to $50 a month for internet service (or $75 per month for those on tribal lands) with payments going directly to the service providers. Those eligible could include households with children on free and reduced school lunches, Pell Grant recipients or the recently unemployed, according to an analysis by the alliance.

The Federal Communications Commission, which is tasked with figuring out how to administer the program, is taking public comment through Feb. 16.

Details on deployment investment…

In addition, $300 million will go to expand broadband in rural areas. In Minnesota, about 17% of rural homes do not have wire line internet service with download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second, and are considered “unserved.”

About $65 million will go to improve the accuracy of broadband availability maps — one of several measures U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has advocated as co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus.

And the impact of COVID on the digital divide and vice versa…

As more business has gone online during the pandemic, it has widened the divide between those who have internet and those who don’t, he said, prompting those without internet to pay bills and make purchases in person.

“How can you limit your exposure to the coronavirus when you have to go everywhere for everything?” Meyer said.

Perhaps most importantly, the pandemic made internet access even more of a necessity for school and work, too, when millions of students and employees were sent home for distance learning and working.

Minnesota Farm Bureau recognizes COVID’s role in making broadband essential in Minnesota

KTOE reports

Minnesota Farm Bureau president Kevin Paap says one of the things he’s learned during the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of reliable broadband, especially in rural areas of the state:

“It was important before but when you’ve got one, two parents working from home. You’ve got multiple children many times learning from home, we really understood the importance of high speed having that width in broadband.”

More than 150,000 Minnesota households don’t have access to high-speed broadband internet, a longstanding disparity.

FCC Seeks Public Input On New $3.2 Billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

The FCC is looking for input…

Initiative to Connect Low-Income Households Funded Through Recent
Congressional Appropriation Responds to FCC’s Call to Keep Americans Connected
WASHINGTON, January 4, 2021—The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau today issued a request for comment on how best to administer a new $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program created by Congress to help low-income
consumers access the Internet. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 directed the Commission to create the program, which would reimburse participating companies for providing discounted broadband service and connected devices to eligible households during
the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re excited to get to work on this new program, which responds to my call last June for Congress to fund a program to advance the Keep Americans Connected initiative that we launched when the pandemic started,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will go a long way to ensuring that low-income American families and veterans are connected during the pandemic, and that students can engage in remote learning with support from the program’s funding for connected devices. Our staff is moving quickly to stand up this program so we can quickly direct funding to consumers who need the help, while also guarding against waste, fraud, and abuse. We look forward to getting public
input on how best to structure this effort.”
The Consolidated Appropriations Act sets forth several requirements for the program: To participate in the program, a provider must elect to participate and either be designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier or be approved by the Commission. Participating providers will make available to eligible households a monthly discount off the standard rate for an Internet service offering and associated equipment, up to $50 per month. On Tribal
lands, the monthly discount may be up to $75 per month.
Participating providers will receive reimbursement from the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program for the discounts provided. Participating providers that also supply an eligible household with a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet (connected device) for use during the
emergency period may receive a single reimbursement of up to $100 for the connected device, if the charge to the eligible household for that device is more than $10 but less than $50. An eligible household may receive only one supported device. Providers must submit certain
certifications to the Commission to receive reimbursement from the program, and the Commission is required to adopt audit requirements to ensure provider compliance and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse. In structuring the program, the Commission seeks input on a range of
issues including:
 Which providers can participate in the program and what do such providers need to do
to elect to participate?
 How should the Commission set up an expedited process for approving broadband
providers for areas where they are not eligible telecommunications carriers?
 How should the Commission and providers track participating households and verify
that they are eligible?
 What services and connected devices are eligible for reimbursement from the program?
 How should the Commission structure the reimbursement process?
 What rules are needed to ensure appropriate service on Tribal lands?
 How should the Commission and participating providers promote awareness of the
program?
 What requirements are needed for robust auditing and enforcement of federal rules?
 What reporting requirements are needed both during the program and at its conclusion?

And if you need some ideas, you can check out yesterday’s post on the NDIA’s take on the act. I expect they will come out with some recommendations soon. If you’re very interested in the discussion, you can check in with NDIA on how to be a part of them.

Technology is a helper in getting access to mental health support during the holidays

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on the impact the pandemic is having on our mental health and offers some tips to help improve your mental health. Two of the three suggested actions include technology – the other two are recognize when you are feeling down and get some exercise. Here are the tech steps…

  • Telehealth appointments are available: Talk therapy can be well-suited to video or audio-only sessions, and a smartphone may allow more privacy than a home computer. An initial appointment will likely be a screening, potentially followed by a recommendation to start a course of therapy.
    “Telehealth is available. Would I say it’s pervasive? I think it’s working to become pervasive,” said Daniel H. Gillison Jr., CEO of NAMI.
  •  Connect with others: “Connection is a kind of antidepressant,” Duckworth said. Phone calls and video chats are good, but it doesn’t have to be with family — book clubs, Alcoholics Anonymous and grief support groups are all active online now. Don’t be afraid to break the ice for someone else who might benefit from more connection.
  • Use a helpline: Phone-based helplines include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Minnesota Warmline (651-288-0400) and the state Crisis Text Line (Text MN to 741741). The Minnesota Farmer and Rural Helpline is available at 1-833-600-2670 or by texting FARMSTRESS to 898211.

PBS Voices looks at Life without the Internet – especially during a pandemic

The beauty of sharing this in the platform. So I’ll keep my notes brief. It’s just something to share on your family Zoom call over the holiday to help them understand that some folks can’t even Zoom this year because they lack adequate broadband…

Pew looks at opinions of Americans on COVID and Technology

Pew has been surveying people about their use and opinion of technology during the pandemic…

Over the course of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, Pew Research Center has studied Americans’ attitudes about the role and effectiveness of various technologies and their views about digital privacy and data collection as it relates to the pandemic. Here is what we found.

The tables really say it all – so that’s what I’m going to include below. The table includes the dates that people were surveyed. Most seem to be April, but not all. I can’t wait to see how/if opinions change over time.

General…

Affordability…

    Technology as tool against COVID… 

Autonomous Cars deliver KFC to customers in China with 5G help

Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) reports…

In China, the popular fried chicken franchise KFC launched an innovative new way to deliver orders door-to-door using autonomous vehicles linked to 5G networks. This system is completely contactless, eliminating potential exposure customers may have with workers or delivery drivers amid the pandemic. The ‘food trucks’ deliver food and offer walk up services, where customers could use a QR code to complete the transaction and grab their food, similar to that of a vending machine.

It’s worth a visit to the original article to see the vehicle. It’s like a convenience store hot food setup with wheels. A year ago this would have seem sort of silly. Now is seems genius. I wonder what we’ll think a year from now. It does keep people safe from disease but it also takes away a job that at least in the US was the kind of job where you could make fast money without extra education if you were willing to work long shifts, be quick and friendly.

OPPORTUNITY: Take a Local Priorities for a National Broadband Stimulus Survey (by Jan 8, 2021)

Get some good ideas and/or share some good ideas with people who are going to magnify the sharing to help us all! (Deadline January 8, 2021.)

HR&A Advisors and CTC Technology & Energy – together as the Broadband Equity Partnership – are conducting a survey for government and non-profit broadband leaders to shape priorities for broadband investment and equity in the Biden-Harris administration. They will be working with the Benton Institute to publish the results of this survey and plan to communicate to the new administration and communities about these issues. Findings will be analyzed in aggregate, with all individual responses kept confidential.

The Broadband Equity Partnership is seeking responses from State and local government leaders – including CTOs, CIOs, Economic Development heads, and other decision-makers – and non-profit leaders working with the public sector. They would be most grateful if you would share the link widely with your networks. The survey takes about 10 minutes to complete and will be open through midnight on January 8, 2021.

https://www.research.net/r/LQ87DPJ

If you have any questions, the survey administrators can be reached at survey@broadbandequity.org.  With your support, we are very excited about the survey’s potential impact in translating Federal policy to locally-based solutions.  Happy holidays!

Congress agrees on pandemic stimulus deal – including $7 billion for broadband

The New York Times reports…

Congressional leaders on Sunday reached a hard-fought agreement on a $900 billion stimulus package that would send immediate aid to Americans and businesses to help them cope with the economic devastation of the pandemic and fund the distribution of vaccines.

The deal would deliver the first significant infusion of federal dollars into the economy since April, as negotiators broke through months of partisan gridlock that had scuttled earlier talks, leaving millions of Americans and businesses without federal help as the pandemic raged. While the plan is roughly half the size of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law enacted in March, it is one of the largest relief packages in modern history.

It includes $7 billion for broadband access…

The agreement is also expected to provide billions of dollars for testing, tracing and vaccine distribution, as well as $82 billion for colleges and schools, $13 billion in increased nutrition assistance, $7 billion for broadband access and $25 billion in rental assistance. The agreement is also expected to extend an eviction moratorium set to expire at the end of the year.

Potential Federal Emergency Assistance for Education Institutions and Connectivity

Benton reports…

A bipartisan group of senators and representatives unveiled highlights of the $748 billion Bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act of 2020. Provisions for broadband include:

  • $6.25 billion for State Broadband Deployment and Broadband Connectivity grants to bridge the digital divide and ensure affordable access to broadband during the COVID 19 pandemic

  • $3 billion for an Emergency Educational Connectivity Fund to provide E-Rate support to educational and distance learning providers to provide hotspots, devices, and other connected devices, and advance digital equity/inclusion.

  • $200 million to Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to purchase and distribute Internet-connected devices to libraries in low-income and rural areas

  • $475 million to FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program to support efforts of healthcare providers to address coronavirus, including a 20% set aside for small, rural health providers

  • $100 million to Department of Veterans Affairs for Telehealth and Connected Care Program to purchase, maintain, and refresh devices and services to veterans for provision of access to telehealth services

OPPORTUNITY: ConnectedMN opens it’s second round of tech funding today!

ConnectedMN opens it’s second round of tech funding today! Here’s the latest from ConnectedMN

We’re accepting applications for grants to bring tech devices, internet access, and digital learning support to students across the state, especially communities most in need, including students who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color, students from low-income families, and students residing in rural Minnesota.

The deadline is January 26. Decisions will be made Feb 16. Get more details on who, why and how from their website.

Here’s a little background on ConnectedMN from their email alert…

Since early May 2020, the Partnership for ConnectedMN has worked as a public-private partnership to bring tech devices, internet access and programmatic support to students across the state. Over the last 7 months, we have raised and distributed $2.15 million in grants to organizations serving the connectivity and computing needs of an estimated 68,000 students and their families in urban and rural communities. With these resources, grantees are providing access to devices, internet connectivity, supportive mentors, coaching and tech support. We have also listened to community needs and connected organizations and providers in pursuit of devices and connectivity.

NTCA report surveys rural broadband providers: aiming for fiber

NTCA reports on their members’ current and future broadband

To gauge the deployment rates of advanced services by its member companies, for nearly two decades NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association (NTCA) has conducted its Broadband/Internet Availability Survey. NTCA is a national association representing nearly 850 rural rate-of-return regulated telecommunications providers in 45 states.
All NTCA members are small network operators that are “rural telephone companies” as defined in the Communications Act of 1934, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. All of NTCA’s
members are full service local exchange carriers and broadband service providers. Respondents to this
year’s survey report an average of 3,978 residential and 456 business fixed broadband connections in service.

It’s a look at how the non-national, local folks are doing. I look at these numbers and think about the Minnesota broadband goals of 25/3 by 2022 and 100/20 by 2026. I also think about the comparative goals – the ones that say Minnesota is aiming to be a broadband leader and I wonder if those speeds goals will still get us there.

And interesting to see the adoption spikes in the last year – likely due to increased need with the pandemic restrictions.

 

COVID is good excuse for farmers to go online to access mental health assistance – but not always the best reason

Ag Week reports on tele-mental health for farmers…

Along with farmer-specific helplines, farmers across the country can now seek help for mental stress through virtual counseling and online training, according to interviews with health professionals.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many people to receive help virtually. According to a June report from the American Psychological Association, about 75% of clinicians were only treating patients remotely.

But the telehealth options for farmers have little to do with the pandemic. Instead, experts said, teletherapy can make mental health services more accessible and more confidential for farmers.

They don’t have to travel potentially long distances to receive help. Nor do they have to risk being seen at therapy, because there is a stigma of mental health issues in the farming community.

Minnesota has set up a hotline…

Several Midwestern states — including Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa — also have a hotline or helpline specifically for farmers.

Services are available by phone and broadband…

Monica McConkey, a counselor in Minnesota, is also doing many of her sessions virtually, but she said most of her clients prefer speaking on the phone rather than via Zoom or Facetime.

McConkey agreed that virtual counseling is easier for those who typically have to travel long distances to access care, especially in the fall when people are harvesting. She also said some people feel more protected on a virtual platform compared to in-person counseling.

“If emotional things do come up, they’re not sitting face-to-face with people,” McConkey said. “We know a lot of our farmers, even just showing the emotion of crying is really hard for them when there are other people present.”

When internet connections become spotty, a familiar experience in rural areas, people can call on the phone, McConkey said.