Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 20, 2014

Border to Border Broadband: No Community Left Behind Recap

The 2014 Minnesota Broadband Conference is done. Whew! It was great to see some faces I hadn’t seen in years – and a few new folks. It’s a bittersweet example of how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go. We’re still asking “What is Broadband” but we’re also talking about how to get a gig. The digital divide is still there and it’s getting exacerbated by the increasing chasm. We need to continue to work for broadband expansion – deployment and adoption. But we’re getting closer – and I left the conference inspired.

Bernadine Joselyn offers her parting remarks – I think she always does a good job framing the work for the future…

And I thought I’d try to provide ready reference access here to the various posts from the conference. I may add a few more – and I’ll try to get in and fix typos over the next week but I like to get the information out as soon as I can.

And you can get the notes, video and PowerPoints (when available) from each session:

Yesterday was a very full day. So much broadband learning, news and networking – including the announcement of 10 new BBC communities:

  • Carlton County
  • Central Woodlands (East Central RDC)
  • Chisago County
  • Martin County
  • Nobles County
  • Red Wing
  • Redwood County
  • Resilient Region Virtual Hwy Taskforce
  • RS Fiber Cooperative
  • Sherburne County

Here’s the official announcement…

Blandin Foundation Announces 10 New Blandin Broadband Communities

Two-year partnership provides planning, technical and financial support to help county meet its digital technology goal

Brainerd, Minn. (November 19, 2014) – Blandin Foundation announced 10 new Blandin Broadband Communities. The announcement was made today in Brainerd, before more than 140 participants in the Border to Border Broadband: No Community Left Behind conference, co-sponsored by Blandin and Connect Minnesota.

The Blandin Broadband Communities program is an intensive, two-year partnership between the Blandin Foundation and selected rural Minnesota communities. The program provides planning, technical and financial support to communities that demonstrate the determination to bring the benefits of a broadband-enabled economy to their communities.

Blandin Broadband Communities announced today include Carlton County, Central Woodlands (east central Minnesota), Resilient Region 5 (north central Minnesota), Sherburne County, Chisago County, Redwood County, Renville/Sibley Counties, Red Wing, Nobles County, and Martin County.

“At Blandin Foundation we recognize that broadband access – and the skills to use it — are essential to expanding opportunity for all.   Thanks to community leaders in Carlton County and in the other communities with whom we partner, Minnesota is making important strides toward ensuring that rural places and the economically and socially disadvantaged are not left behind,” said Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Public Policy and Engagement.

Communities were selected based on demonstrated commitment to work together across sectors to set and meet information technology goals and bridge digital divides.

“It takes strong local leadership and commitment from whole communities to tackle the tough issues related to Internet access and use,” said Dr. Kathy Annette, Blandin Foundation CEO. “We’re honored to stand with Carlton County as they design and claim a vibrant, connected future.”

Next steps in the Blandin Broadband Community partnership include assessing the community’s current broadband access and adoption and, in early 2015, a series of public planning meetings.

And a little detail on each community…


Carlton County plans to stimulate community conversation that looks beyond infrastructure to innovative ideas about how to reduce the county’s digital divide. A key focus of their efforts will be to identify opportunities that will benefit the unserved and underserved areas in the county.

Carlton County Commissioner Marv Bodie expressed his excitement on the invitation to participate, “The Blandin Broadband Communities Program is the vehicle that will help Carlton County explore its future.   We will bring together individuals who normally do not have the opportunity to interact but who will now provide new energy and creativity on this common issue. We recognize that by working together greater benefits will be generated for all of Carlton County.”

Leading their work is the Carlton County Economic Development Authority. Together, with government, education, nonprofit and business partners throughout the county, the EDA will rally local leaders to develop a sustainable model for broadband access and use in Carlton County.

Central Woodlands:

The Central Woodlands plans to strengthen existing broadband-related work happening in Kanabec and Mille Lacs counties, both past Blandin Broadband communities, and advance the work to un- and under- served areas of the region. This includes a special focus on older adults, whose population will grow to almost 50,000 by 2020.

“The Central Woodlands area remains very rural in economy and lifestyle. We expect to bring more broadband options to the region; with the intention of attracting consumers, employees and entrepreneurs to access and engage in highly skilled, connected endeavors,” says Penny Simonsen, ECRDC Community Development Director.

Leading the Blandin Broadband Community work is the East Central Regional Development Commission. Together, with educational, nonprofit and business partners throughout the county, ECRDC will rally local leaders to develop a sustainable model for broadband access and use in the Central Woodlands.

Chisago County:

The BBC program will benefit across the entire county for the residents, communities, and businesses. Chisago County anticipates the program benefiting job seekers and students as well as marketing the community and providing businesses with technology assistance for a competitive business climate.

Chisago County Board of Commissioner Chair Rick Greene stated that the County is so pleased to be selected to be a Blandin Broadband Community. Broadband is a very important topic for Chisago County. It is essential for economic development and for the future workforce.

Leading the Blandin Broadband Community work is the Chisago County Housing Redevelopment Authority/Economic Development Authority. Together, with education, nonprofit and business partners throughout the county, the HRA-EDA will rally local leaders to develop a sustainable model for broadband access and use in Chisago County.

Martin County:

Martin County hopes to increase access to computers and enhance skills and connectivity for all community members. There is a need for a better broadband opportunity and experience for our residents and businesses county wide. This will provide an opportunity that will benefit the residents and business in Martin County.

“On behalf of the Martin County EDA-IGNITE, we are excited that Martin County has been selected to become a Blandin Broadband Community. Broadband is an integral part of our infrastructure for our residents and businesses. We embrace the opportunity to work with the Blandin Foundation to enhance broadband in Martin County,” said Scott Higgins, Martin County Coordinator.

Leading their work is the Martin County Economic Development Agency. Together, with educational, nonprofit and business partners throughout the county, the EDA will rally local leaders to develop a sustainable model for broadband access and use in Martin County.

Red Wing:

Red Wing, was included in the charter family of US Ignite communities as the result of the gigabit-enabled network provided by Hiawatha Broadband Communications. US Ignite is an organization started at the White House to foster the creation of next-generation Internet applications that provide transformative public benefit.   Red Wing has made the most of this momentum by developing programs that focus on innovation.

Leading the Blandin Broadband Community work is Red Wing Ignite, a nonprofit organization that brings innovation to reality. They create an innovative environment for businesses to thrive. Together, with community and business leaders, Red Wing Ignite will continue to develop ways to adopt broadband and change the way the communities live, learn and work.

Neela Mollgaard, the Executive Director of Red Wing Ignite said, “The support of the Blandin Foundation is affirmation of the critical role Red Wing Ignite is playing to ensure that rural America benefits and leads in innovation. We are grateful to be joining the efforts of the Blandin Foundation.”

Redwood County:

“We are thrilled to be selected as a new Blandin Broadband Community. This is the perfect opportunity and boost that we need to advance the usage of broadband applications across our county and into our communities,” said Julie Rath, economic development specialist at the Redwood Area Development Corporation. “Our students, businesses, citizens, and visitors will all benefit from the funding provided to better access to applications, training and tele-medicine. We look forward to discovering what our future holds by increasing broadband access and usage!”

Leading the Blandin Broadband Community work is Redwood Area Development Corporation (RADC). Together, with educational, nonprofit and business partners throughout the county, RADC will rally local leaders to develop a sustainable model for broadband access and use.

Renville Sibley Counties:

“We’re very excited about the opportunity to be a Blandin Broadband Community,” said Mark Erickson, Director of Environment and Community Development for Renville County. “In the coming weeks we will be working with a variety of stakeholders to determine how to make best use of the opportunity.”

Leading their work is the RS Fiber Cooperative, EXPLAINNNNNNN. Together, with educational, nonprofit and business partners throughout the county, the RS Fiber Cooperative will rally local leaders to develop a sustainable model for broadband access and use in Renville and Sibley Counties.

Region Five:

Region Five has been doing this for a number of years through their Resilient Region Plan, a development strategy that resulted from input by more than 600 Central Minnesotans. One of the Plan’s goals centers on using broadband technologies to improve bottom lines as well as quality of life.

“We are excited to be chosen to participate as a Blandin Broadband Community. Our “community” is the entire five-county region of Cass, Crow Wing, Todd, Morrison, and Wadena,” said Cheryal Hills, executive director of Region Five Development Corporation. “We have already been successful on a number of fronts because of the dedication of our Connectivity Champions:

Pam Mahling (Information Research Specialist, West Central Telephone Association)
Kevin Larson (CEO) and Kristi Westbrock (COO), Consolidated Telephone Company
Janelle Riley (CEO, Syvantis Technologies)
Stacey Stockdill (CEO, EnSearch, Inc.)
Sally Fineday (Wireless Telecommunications Business Manager, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe)
Paul Drange (Director of Regional Programs, National Joint Powers Board)
Janet Johnson (Instructor, Minnesota State Community & Technical College
Rick Utech (Executive Director, Todd County Economic Development Corporation)
Michael Amick (Dean of Computer Technology and Online Learning, Central Lakes College)

We are looking forward to moving our work to the speed of light with the tools and resources now available to us because of Blandin Foundation!”

Leading their work is the Resilient Region Virtual Highway Connectivity Committee, one of several committees working on advancing the Resilient Region Plan. Together, with education, nonprofit and business partners throughout the county, this committee will rally local leaders to develop a sustainable model for broadband access and use in the Resilient Region.

Nobles County:

Leading the Blandin Broadband Community work is the Nobles Economic Opportunity Network (NEON). Together, with educational, nonprofit and business partners throughout the county, NEON will rally local leaders to develop a sustainable model for broadband access and use in Nobles County.

“We are excited to bring together ideas and options to open up faster, stable broadband to encourage economic growth over the whole county and give rural residents better connectivity,” said Cheryl Janssen, NEON committee member.

Sherburne County:

“As we filled out the Blandin Broadband Community program application it became apparent to all involved how important Broadband infrastructure is to the entire Sherburne County region. We received support from many sectors including cities, townships, school districts, private businesses and Chambers of Commerce throughout the County. We are thrilled to be partnering with the Blandin Foundation to help us connect Sherburne County,” said Dan Weber Sherburne County Economic Development Specialist.

Leading their work is the Sherburne County Broadband Coalition, a group whose goal is to enhance the quality of life for citizens through efficient use of technology. Together, with education, nonprofit and business partners throughout the county, the Broadband Coalition will rally local leaders to develop a sustainable model for broadband access and use in Sherburne County.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 19, 2014

Grasp Your Goal Before Your Feet Hit the Ground! From Jim Bensen

Tough to summarize Mr Bensen’s presentation. So I’m going to offer the description:

Dr. M. James Bensen, President Emeritus, Bemidji State University

Blandin Trustee Emeritus and Futurist Dr. M. James Bensen will inspire us with his vision of what a gigabit network – like the one Paul Bunyan Communications recently announced will

soon be rolled out across northern Minnesota – can mean for rural Minnesota’s prosperity and quality of life. What could a connected future look like for rural Minnesota communities?

A quick video:

And his PPT:

It was good to hear about State Policy. The Office of the Broadband Development was a huge accomplishment by the MN Broadband Task Force and MN Legislature. And now it serves as infrastructure to get stuff done. Some of that stuff – certainly the focus on 2014 – is funding. The OBD received 40 applications from across the state looking for broadband funding.

Moving forward the ODB will do that and more. The goal now is to find ways to leverage policy, federal funding and public-private partnerships to support broadband expansion – deployment and adoption. The Republican force in Legislature will make things different – but there’s a big focus on rural and that means rural broadband.

The Task Force will continue to make recommendations (you can get a sneak peek) and the legislature will continue to find ways to help broadband prosper.

Speakers included:

  • o Representative Ron Kresha
  • o Danna MacKenzie, Office of Broadband Development
  • o Senator Matt Schmit
  • o Paul Weirtz, AT&T
  • o Moderated by Bill Hoffman, Connect Minnesota


Why is rural broadband going into three committees?

  • It won’t get split so much as touch upon several topics such as it will touch on Commerce, Greater MN and Energy Infrastructure.

Continuing funding for broadband is a huge priority. What about using GO Bonds? That would encourage public-private partnership.

  • The State Bonding does not see fiber as long term utility. But we need to change that. It’s not eligible now but we think that will change.
  • You realize the need for State GO Bonds when you visit the State. We compete with a lot of other great projects – sewer, roads.
  • Maybe local bonding is another route. I think this will come up in Session this year.

What’s happening with FirstNet?

  • The Office of Broadband Development is working with the State and we’re focused on considering for leveraging connectivity in remote areas. The State would need to subscribe to FirstNet – rather that requiring a big investment in the build out.

Lots of counties have spent money on lawyers to try to overcome barriers in current broadband policy.

How can we change the silo funding for broadband?

  • Government is a bunch of fiefdoms. The resources are hard and people don’t want to share.
  • We created a matching grant program to prove the interest, need and good ideas. We want to improve that approach to leverage more funding.
  • We should find ways to invest. Local entities can be more creative than the State.
  • The Broadband Task Force is going to talk about silo approach to funding soon. We are looking at ways to make changes and share more.
Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 19, 2014

Making Public-Private Partnerships Work! #MNBroadband Conference

I can only be in one room at a time so for many of the breakout sessions, I’m just going to be able to post the info that was shared with me.

Public-private partnerships are the middle ground between community network and private-sector only advocates. Within these bounds, there is a large grey area of uncertainty. What is legal? What is smart? What are the options for finance, ownership and operations? Join the director of the DEED Office of Broadband Development and several private-public partners as they discuss the challenges of creating these partnerships.

Moderated by Danna MacKenzie, Executive Director, Office of Broadband Development

  • o Jenny Boulton, Kennedy & Graven
  • o Shannon Sweeney, David Drown Associates
  • o Milda K. Hedblom, Dain Consulting; Telecomm Forum, U of M School of Public Affairs; Augsburg College

I can only be in one room at a time so for many of the breakout sessions, I’m just going to be able to post the info that was shared with me.

Education initiatives deployed or planned at the state level have great potential to drive the value derived from broadband connections and to leave unconnected citizens a bit further behind.  What are these applications and how will they change the way education is delivered and accessed?  How is the lack of connectivity at state broadband goal levels hindering the deployment of these education innovations? Moderated by Bill Coleman, Community Technology Advisors

  • o Marc Johnson, East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative (ECMECC)
  • o Michael Olesen, Rural Information Technology Alliance (RITA), MNSCU
  • o Bob Rubinyi, Office of eLearning, Center for Educational Innovation, U of MN

Get Marc’s slides online


How is industry accepting “certificate of completion” versus an official degree?

  • In Brainerd the certification is important and will get you an interview. In Hutchinson and Willmar, not as much. In the TCs, the certificate is nice to have but not as important as the degree.

What is completion rate for online classes?

  • MOOCs is slow – but that’s almost all voluntary. Online education rate is close to regular rate of completion.
  • It’s not necessarily the technology – but the student. If a student is in a school setting that helps. But a student with other distractions might be more difficult. Graduation rates (K12) for 100 percent online classes is not as high as the rest of the population.

Big news from Connect MN…

St. Paul, MN – New Connect Minnesota research released today during the Border-to-Border Broadband Conference in Brainerd sponsored by Connect Minnesota and the Blandin Foundation shows that statewide, 78.16% of Minnesota households have access to fixed broadband at a minimum of 10 Mbps download/6 Mbps upload. This represents an increase of nearly 4 percentage points since the last data were released in May. Since 2011, broadband availability at the 10/6 speed goal has increased by nearly 22 percentage points when measuring fixed access; and nearly 33 percentage points when mobile is included.

By comparison, the data indicate that in rural areas only 63.40% have access to fixed broadband service at that speed (74.33% when mobile wireless service is included). This represents an increase of approximately 6 percentage points since the May analysis.

Overall, in this tenth and final data submission by Connect Minnesota as part of the federal State Broadband Initiative program, the data show availability increases since last May in nearly all speed tiers.

“Broadband availability at all speeds continues to increase across Minnesota,” said William Hoffman, Connect Minnesota’s state program manager. “Providers, state and local officials, and stakeholders are working to expand broadband access, adoption, and use, and we will continue to see broadband’s economic and social benefits across the state. Still, there are regions in our state without access to broadband service at relevant speeds and efforts to expand availability, such as the state’s infrastructure grant fund, are important to close the digital divide across the state.”

Among the findings of the new broadband availability research:

78.16% of Minnesota households can access fixed broadband at speeds of at least 10 Mbps download/6 Mbps upload – the minimum speed threshold for Minnesota’s goal of ubiquitous broadband availability; when mobile broadband is included, 88.90% of households have access at the state’s speed goal* (excludes satellite).

Broadband at higher download speeds is now available to more households; 50 Mbps download/1.5 Mbps upload is available to nearly 85% and 100 Mbps download/1.5 Mbps upload is available to nearly 83% of Minnesota households (excludes mobile and satellite services).

Broadband availability at the threshold to be considered “served” for purposes of the state’s infrastructure grant program (minimum of 10 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload through wireline only) is 86.53%; meaning nearly 14% of the state is considered unserved or underserved for grant eligibility purposes. Of that 14%, 6% is considered unserved by not having wireline broadband at a minimum of 3 Mbps download and 768 Kbps upload.

The public can explore the new data charts, including county-by-county tables/analysis with county connectivity information, on Connect Minnesota’s website. Connect Minnesota’s website is home to an innovative broadband mapping tool called My ConnectView offering unmatched views of Minnesota’s technology landscape. Residents and businesses are encouraged to use the interactive map to find area providers and help validate the data. To report that broadband is not available in a given area, consumers can fill out a broadband inquiry.

Connect Minnesota’s research was conducted as part of the State Broadband Initiative grant program for Minnesota, funded by the NTIA. The data were gathered in accordance with the requirements of the NTIA. The process begins by contacting all known providers in the state and providing information about the broadband mapping project. Information on broadband service areas is collected from each provider through voluntary participation and is subject to confidentiality protections. Connected Nation, Connect Minnesota’s parent organization, strives to maintain a flexible mapping process by collecting data from providers in a variety of formats based on providers’ technical capabilities and resources and doing independent, on-the-ground validation practices.

I can only be in one room at a time so for many of the breakout sessions, I’m just going to be able to post the info that was shared with me.

How can communities use existing assets to spur technology use? Moderated by Karl Samp, Community Technology Advisors

  • o Neela Mollgaard, Red Wing Ignite
  • o Ann Treacy, Treacy Information Services
  • o Pang Yang, Saint Paul Public Library

I can only be in one room at a time so for many of the breakout sessions, I’m just going to be able to post the info that was shared with me. (I will add links to earlier BoB posts for more info on these programs.)

Hear from Blandin Broadband Community leaders about how their best projects generated community excitement and positive outcomes around access to and use of broadband. Moderated by Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation

And you can see Marc’s presentation here.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 19, 2014

Broadband-based Economic Development: #MNBroadband Conference

I can only be in one room at a time so for many of the breakout sessions, I’m just going to be able to post the info that was shared with me.

Economic development is often cited as a key justification for broadband investment. Learn about strategies that can leverage broadband connectivity. Moderated by Bill Coleman, Community Technology Advisors

  • o Samantha DiMaggio, City of Shakopee
  • o Tom Garrison, City of Eagan
  • o Dave Hengel, Greater Bemidji
  • o Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications

Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 19, 2014

Youth Speak for Themselves at MN Broadband Conference

We heard from students from Fond du Lac Ojibwe School, Lac qui Parle Valley High School, and Two Harbors High School about how young people can be engaged in community broadband initiatives, both adding and receiving value. Moderated by Bernadine Joselyn, Blandin Foundation

Lac qui Parle Valley High School spoke first and joined us via livestream. (See that segment online.) They do regular livestreamed events, including a news program, broadcasting athletic and other school events and public service announcements. (You can learn more about their programs from an earlier BoB post.)

Two Harbors High School spoke about the seniors teaching seniors program where high school seniors work with older folks to get them making more use of technology. It’s been a win-win program where everyone is learning and friendships are forming. (You can learn more about their programs from an earlier BoB post.)

Fond du Lac Ojibwe School spoke about their App Camp, where students learned how to create mobile apps in a 2-week summer program. To get into the program, students wrote essays on what broadband meant to their community. (You can see some of the apps they created in an earlier BoB post.)

We got into talking about kid as digital natives. In the video below Charles Hilliard (from Fond du Lac). I think he nails it when he talks about how kids can use technology – but there’s more to technology than just using it. Kids need to learn how to fix and develop technology too:


What training did you do with kids before they worked with seniors?

We had a team member who helped kids learn to work with seniors – awareness training like wearing the wrong glasses and still trying to read the computer. But as far as the digital sills go – not much training was required. The seniors (elders) weren’t looking for high tech topics.

If you’re working with seniors – sessions right after school is best. Elders aren’t looking for after dinner activities.

Here are slides from Lake County:

We started the day with a look at federal policy. I am going to post my scattered notes in deference to getting information out there – please feel free to send questions to us during the conference at #mnbroadband. You can track the conversation here:

Moderated by Bill Hoffman, Connect Minnesota

Diane Wells, Office of Broadband Development

Connect America Fund started 3 years ago. It transformed the high cost program into CAF – a recognition that broadband has gone from luxury to necessity. 83% of Americans without broadband were in Price Cap territories (big providers). So they tried to find a way to incent those providers to upgrade service. In Phase I they offered a set price per home to provide service. In Phase II they went more granular. The Price Cap Carriers can agree to funding and serve all areas – OR those areas will be put up for a competitive bid.

The FCC has also been working on Rural Experiment Funding. They are starting to think about faster broadband speeds. They will be giving money based on price models. You can learn more here: We’re hoping to have more info on the applications by the end of 2014.

Lindsay Shanahan, Connected Nation

We have Connect American Fund, E-Rate, Rural Experiments and ConnectED. We’re also hearing about mergers, Net Neutrality and FirstNet.

On E-Rate:

On Monday the FCC proposed a permanent $1.5 billion (62%) increase in funding for E-Rate. They will vote on it on Dec 11. Funding could go to a range of things such as wireless networks in the school.

Tom Jensen – USDA Rural Development

USDA is a federal bank that will loan money to providers. We focus on Rate of Return providers (the smaller guys – mostly family-owned or coops). To get a loan they require business plans that look back 5 years and look 5 years forward. Re-classifying broadband would help with the loan process.

Questions from the audience:

Q: Lifeline – does that include a data plan? They are trying to transition to broadband for low income. E-Rate is looking too.

Q: Price Cap is getting first chance to serve BUT we haven’t had good experience with them. It seems like a non-answer. So why give them another chance?

The FCC is going with incumbent and in its acceptance they have to commit to providing service but timeframe and speeds are still in question.

Q: Any chance for forgiving USDA loans?

Not much chance – out default rate is very low. We want to keep your tax money safe. Through ARRA we worked with grants – but those are no more.

We do have Distance Learning Telemedicine grants through USDA.

Q: Sometimes E-Rate is a frustration because it’s unreliable. It’s hard to budget with that unreliability. We have heard this before. Be sure to file a complaint.

Q: Why is funding still in silos and not for a broad community effort? No real answer.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 19, 2014

Welcome to the 2014 Broadband Conference from Bernadine Joselyn

Bernadine did a nice job motivating attendees at the Border to Border Broadband conference. Reminding us that we all do better when we all do better and community leadership organizing hope. It set a tone to inspire folks to think forward…


Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 19, 2014

Check out livestream of Border to Border Broadband conference

So you can’t make it to Brainerd for Border to Border Broadband: No Community Left Behind… You don’t have to miss out. Livestream it!

We are excited to announce that the conference will be livestreamed, courtesy of Connect Minnesota. In addition to being livestreamed, the event will also be recorded and posted online for future viewing.

Livestream at: 
You can also follow the conversation via Social Media, #mnbroadband. Check out the conference Social Media Wall at

Visit the conference webpage for more information, including the conference program and link to the Social Media Wall.

Posted by: Ann Treacy | November 19, 2014

Border to Border Broadband Film Fest

At the conference we just enjoyed a broadband film fest. Some are local videos, some are just favorites. The collection was curated by Becky LaPlant…

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