I am sharing the following email from Office of Broadband Development Director Danna MacKenzie with permission. Stats and maps are so important when measuring broadband progress – but one good story can really make a difference too!


Today marked a small milestone in our broadband work. Many will remember my testimony given to the first MN broadband task force and other audiences many years ago about the vulnerability that exists in some parts of our state that lack enough connectivity to provide diverse paths in and out of an area.

On more than one occasion, including today, an unfortunate accident has led to the severing of the fiber link that provides all communication services to the Arrowhead region of the state. This includes internet service, wired home and business telephone, long distance, and up until today, even cell service. This means there is almost no way to communicate in or out of the area, including no 911, no banking services, no credit card authorizations, and no phone service to the hospital or medical records access for any of our docs.

Today, at about noon, we had a similar cut in Tofte. All of the services mentioned above were down for about 8 hours, but miraculously, cell service remained intact. So, among other things, our doctors could continue to get the information they needed, even though the EMR system was not available, we could continue to communicate with colleagues, friends, and family members as needed, and messages could be relayed to the sheriff’s office as needed. This is because the improved connectivity we have been working on for so long, is finally here and is starting to pay off. The cell traffic, for the first time, was traveling on a different line and wasn’t cut off.

We now have more than one route in and out of the county, thanks to federal stimulus funding and the chutzpah of Arrowhead Electric in conjunction with the support of the community. The availability of diverse communication pathways makes our communities stronger and less vulnerable to catastrophic outages.

Thank you to those who understand the importance of this issue and are willing to do something about it; and thank you to those who may not naturally see this as a place for government involvement, but are willing to come to the table and listen and work on solutions.

Today was a good day. Our work is paying off.




I was so pleased to meet Pang Yang from the St Paul Public Library at the 2014 Border to Border Broadband conference when we talked about libraries and technology. It was a chance for attendees (and me) to learn about all the digital programming and digital training that the St Paul Library is doing. A sneak preview! The Pioneer Press’ Julio Ojeda-Zapata broke the story this week…

St. Paul Public Library cardholders can now be active and engaged without stepping inside a library branch for years, or ever — and library officials are fine with that.

In recent years, the library has rolled out an expanding number of digital services available to its users on the Internet.

Patrons can borrow e-books through OverDrive and Cloud Library, download audio content via Freegal and OneClickDigital, read digital magazines using Zinio, take programming classes via Treehouse, learn a new language by using Transparent Language Online, practice for student and professional tests via Learning Express Library, and more — all for free and from home or work.

The St. Paul Library this week rolled out its latest digital offering: Complimentary access to Lynda.com, a self-learning site with hundreds of courses and thousands of videos that focus on software training, business-skill building among other things.

I haven’t tried all of these tools – but I can tell you that Lynda is worth a look. And it’s an example of the role a library can play in any community. We’re not just for books anymore! The library is the perfect storm for digital inclusion – there are knowledgeable librarians who are used to helping patrons, they are used to sharing subscriptions hardware (if you want to call a book oldl school hardware) and people come to the library to access information

According to a press release from Senator Franken’s office, he is talking with Lyft about their privacy policy. Lyft is a rideshare program – and apparently there have been problems with Lyft’s privacy policy – in terms of how much access they provide about their customers and how they communicate their privacy policy to customers…

Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Lyft—a company that connects riders with drivers-for-hire using a GPS-based mobile app—to explain its data privacy policies and to ensure that consumers’ sensitive geolocation information is protected.

In a letter sent today, which you can read here or below, Sen. Franken asked the CEO of Lyft to explain the company’s privacy policies, how those policies are being communicated to employees and affiliates as well as customers, and whether they are being appropriately enforced. At least one journalist has reported that her Lyft trip log was accessed on multiple occasions by Lyft executives without requesting her permission and without any apparent legitimate business purpose.

There are three things I like about this interaction. First – I like policy that protects consumers. Most of us don’t have time to check into these sorts of things. I am glad there are  policymakers who make time. Second – I’m not a Lyft user, but I do use its competitor Uber, so I feel like I have a dog in this fight. Rideshare programs have your credit card info. And depending on how often you use the service, it wouldn’t take long to learn an awful lot about a user – such a home address (or at least where you go at the assumed end of your day), places and times frequented and whether you travel alone or with others. That’s a lot of information to have!

Finally and perhaps most usefully here, in the letter Franken asks Lyft to consider a series of question related to customer privacy, communication and place for ensuring privacy. It’s a great outline for what you ought to include in a privacy policy.

  1. Your spokesperson has stated that steps have been taken to restrict access to customers’ data, including location data, to a subset of employees. To whom is access still available and what circumstances qualify as proper use of such data? Where do you provide this information to consumers?
  2. By accessing a journalist’s trip data did executives violate past policies? If they did, to what do you attribute the failure? Under your current policies, is such conduct prohibited?
  3. What training is provided to employees, as well as contractors and affiliates, to ensure that Lyft’s current policies, as well as relevant state and federal laws, are being followed? How has this training been improved in light of recent developments?
  4. What mechanisms do you have in places to monitor for improper use of customer data by employees? Are customers informed if their information has been improperly accessed?
  5. Your spokesperson has suggested that abiding by restrictions on user data is a condition of employment. Under what circumstances would an employee face disciplinary action or termination for a violation of Lyft’s privacy policies? Have any disciplinary actions been taken on this basis?
  6. Your privacy policy states that “to preserve the integrity of [Lyft’s] databases,” you retain customer’s data indefinitely. Why is it necessary to retain trip information indefinitely? In particular, when an account is terminated, why isn’t all related information deleted as soon as pending charges or other transactional disputes are resolved?
  7. Your privacy policy states that you may disclose customers’ personal information and demographic information (such as “browsing history,” “searching history,” and other “ride transaction information”) on a “non-anonymous basis” to “protect the interests” of Lyft. What does this mean?
  8. In the same paragraph, the policy states that you may disclose all of this information to your “subsidiary and parent companies and business, and other affiliated legal entities and businesses with whom [Lyft is] under common corporate control.” Why aren’t any limitations imposed on this sharing?
  9. Your privacy policy also states that customer data may be shared with advertisers on an “anonymous and aggregated basis.” Why aren’t customers asked to affirmatively consent to this use of their information? Are customers able to opt out of this information sharing?
  10. Your policy states that third parties offering or sponsoring products or services on the Lyft Platform need not comply with Lyft’s privacy policy. What are some examples of such third parties? Do you impose any minimum standards in evaluating the privacy policies of those parties?

Random side note – studies have shown that consumers look for privacy policies on websites before they buy but rarely read them. If you have an ecommerce site it makes sense to have a priacy policy in place. If you are buying online – it makes sense to start reading policies and think of Franken’s shortlist of questions as you do!

BBC MapNews from the Blandin on Broadband Blog

Border to Border Broadband: No Community Left Behind Nov 18-19

The Border to Border conference in November was a great success. Blandin Foundation announced 10 new Blandin Broadband Communities, Connect Minnesota unveiled their final scheduled round of research and communities heard from broadband practitioners and policy leaders – below are links to individual conference sessions notes (presentations and videos when available):

Blandin Foundation Names Next Round BBC Communities

Blandin Foundation announces 10 new Blandin Broadband Communities; Blandin will be working with these communities to expand broadband in their areas: http://wp.me/p3if7-2TA

  • 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

Broadband Makes the Headlines in Twin Cities

Over the Thanksgiving break both the St Paul Pioneer Press and Minneapolis Star Tribune featured articles on broadband disparities in rural areas. The Star Tribune talked about the Minnesota Broadband Fund and focus on rural areas. The Pioneer Press explained the disparities between rural and metro broadband access and use. http://wp.me/p3if7-2TX Earlier in the month, Minnesota Public Radio hosted an on air conversation on Net Neutrality. http://wp.me/p3if7-2SH

Broadband Makes Headlines in Rural Areas

The Winona Daily News http://wp.me/p3if7-2SL and MinnPost http://wp.me/p3if7-2TT both talk about the Minnesota House becoming more Republican and more rural after the last election and expect an increased focus on rural broadband. MinnPost adds that the Greater Minnesota Partnership wants Legislators to invest $200 million in the Broadband Fund in the next session.

Broadband News Around Minnesota

 Itasca County

Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success surveys area students on a range of topics, including technology. Results indicate that 22 percent were challenged by technology, 44 percent felt vulnerable, 18 percent felt they had adequate technology skills and only 16 percent felt they were thriving. http://wp.me/p3if7-2TQ

Itasca County BBC initiative celebrates broadband success by showcasing their efforts including Social Media Breakfasts, e-business training, IT networking events and community portal. http://wp.me/p3if7-2SJ

Renville & Sibley Counties

RS Fiber’s Board of Directors recently endorsed an updated business plan and financing strategy to deploy fiber in 10 cities and 17 townships in the Renville and Sibley counties. http://wp.me/p3if7-2TM

 Events & Funding Deadlines:

  • December 9: Minnesota Broadband Task Force (Minneapolis)
  • Jan 3-15: Gigabit City Summit (Kansas City) http://www.gigabitcitysummit.com/
  • Jan 21: Deadline for Ignite funds for cool applications that showcase Gigabit access or promote Joint Gigabit projects http://wp.me/p3if7-2S9

Looking for more events? Check out TechDotMN’s calendar http://tech.mn/events/. Many events are based in the Twin Cities but it is a comprehensive list. (If you have an upcoming event, consider submitting it.)

Bill_ColemanStirring the Pot

I’m a big MN Gopher football fan, suffering through some pretty bad teams over the years. But this year, the team has played better and has won some big games. Four years into his stay, Coach Kill has emphasized building a program “Brick by Brick” and it seems that they are doing just that. The bricks are skill, strength and determination. Progress comes fast or slow, or in bursts. Sometimes there are setbacks.

Community broadband initiatives are similar long-term initiatives requiring a strong foundation. The bricks are leadership, educated consumers, feasible alternatives and trusted partnerships. A community cannot just purchase these items off the shelf. Like the Gophers, progress is achieved only through hard work led by smart leaders and guided by a plan. If your community wants to start building your broadband initiative, consider seeking assistance through Blandin Foundation’s Community Broadband Resources program. Click here for more information: http://broadband.blandinfoundation.org/programs/community-broadband-resources-program

Before the election this fall I noticed articles touting broadband as a bipartisan rural issue. Since the election I’ve started seeing articles promoting broadband as a Republican rural issue. I just ran into another one. MinnPost ran an article this week listing broadband as a Greater Minnesota wish list…

Republicans gained 11 seats in the House to take control; 10 of those were from outside the metro area.

The question is: will that translate into more state funding for high-speed broadband, job training programs, workforce housing and transportation upgrades?

Gary Evans, president of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, told the Rochester Post Bulletin:

“Greater Minnesota is where the [political] shift occurred, and I also think that that shift is somewhat directly proportional to a dissatisfaction in Greater Minnesota relative to the amount of money spent outside the metro area as opposed to inside it.”

Evans’ group, made up of state-wide businesses, chambers of commerce, cities and nonprofits wants the Legislature to expand high-speed broadband access, to the tune of $200 million.

Happy Thanksgiving! Right this moment I’m thankful for my mobile hotspot, my dad who loves to drive and my sister in Chicago who is cooking everything! And I’m thankful that broadband is making the dailies. There were two articles (one in the Pioneer Press and one in the Star Tribune) that spoke about the disparity in broadband access in Minnesota.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune highlighted the Minnesota Broadband Fund and the 40 applications – noting that the applicants’ total request came to $42.2 million. They highlight the investment from private and public resources and hint at some industry issues…

To help build speedy Internet service, the state created a new, $20 million grant fund. This fall, dozens of counties, companies and cooperatives applied — seeking $44.2 million.

“As we suspected, the demand is great,” said Katie Clark Sieben, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, or DEED.

The money, approved by lawmakers this year, is meant to bring broadband to areas that have slow or no service. About 22 percent of Minnesota households still lack access to high-speed Internet, not counting mobile service, according to new numbers from Connect Minnesota, a nonprofit that works with DEED to detail broadband coverage. …

The projects “represent a wonderful range of both applicant type and proposal type,” Clark Sieben said. “And they also cover every region in the state, as well.” …

Big Internet providers, including CenturyLink, applied as well. Mediacom, a New York-based cable TV and Internet provider, put forward four proposals totaling almost $1.2 million — in Medina, Orono, Maple Plain and Hibbing. If funded, the projects would bring broadband to 600 more homes, said Tom Larsen, Mediacom Communications Corp.’s vice president of legal and public affairs.

State money would offset the great cost of building fiber networks in these areas, some of which sit far from existing networks, which might involve cutting through rock or going under a highway, he said. “These areas would have already been built if there was an economic justification to build them,” Larsen said. “With a matching grant from the state, your costs come down.”

While Mediacom fought Lake County’s use of federal funds to build its own network, the company doesn’t have an issue with public funding for areas that are unserved, Larsen added.

It’s an interesting article if you want a glimpse at the details. The comments are equally interesting – some happy to see the state support infrastructure in rural areas; some much less supportive. The comments often speak more to how someone feels about taxes than broadband – but it demonstrates that many people still see broadband as a luxury item, not a necessity. (Although I daresay the negative commentators are not electing themselves to live without it.)

The Pioneer Press article seemed to address some of the naysayers by focusing on the disparity and the economic impact of that disparity as well as taking a look at Minnesota as a whole – not just the Twin Cities or just rural areas…

Minnesotans only need to look at the first two counties on an alphabetical list to understand the Internet disparity between rural areas and those in big cities.

Recently released figures show that just 0.06 percent of the rural northern Minnesota Aitkin County households are served by high-speed Internet service, also known as broadband, that meets the state speed goal. Not too far away to the south,, 97 percent of northern Twin Cities suburban Anoka County homes are served by fast Internet.

The report by Connect Minnesota shows greater Minnesota-large city disparities as well as differences among the state’s mostly rural counties.

While such disparities may just frustrate an online gamer, they can cost rural businesses money.

The article pulled a number of statistics from the recently released Connect MN report and focused on the lost revenue for local business and the need to improve broadband for the sake of the whole state. The quote two members of the Broadband Task Force…

Minnesota ranks 23rd in overall Internet speed, although many with faster speeds are much more compact states, such as Delaware. One of Minnesota’s goals is to be in the top five of broadband speed and access.

Speeding up the Internet is only fair for Minnesotans, Chairwoman Margaret Anderson Kelliher of the Governor’s Broadband Task force said in a report to lawmakers earlier this year.

“Access to high-speed connections across Minnesota is a matter of economic justice, fairness, and opportunity for all Minnesotans,” the former state House speaker said.

Broadband advocates such as Public Policy Director Bernadine Joselyn of the Blandin Foundation, which provides rural Minnesota needs with a variety of financial assistance, say they are optimistic.

“We’re getting closer, and we’re more inspired than ever,” Joselyn said. “We see some amazing leadership coming from communities and the state, and we’ll need that as Minnesota works to achieve its broadband goals.”

Pathway_Student_Success_082112-1024x791After the Border to Border Blandin conference last week, I was lucky enough to attend a Student Success Community Conversation in Grand Rapids MN. I was helping with using social media as an added dimension at the event. But it also gave me a chance to sit in on a conversation of students and invested adults on technology and students.

To back up a little the Student Success conversation is an event hosted by Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success; their goal is to support the success of every child from cradle to career. In light of that goal the created a Pathway to success

The Itasca Area Initiative for Student Success (IAISS) has developed a Pathway that plots the course of a student’s journey from before the cradle to career, with plenty of guideposts along the way. The Pathway is not just a guide for the student, but for all members of the community with an interest in seeing that students have successful journeys. Its goals rest on research-based competencies and experiences, as reported by young people themselves, as well as key transition points where we know students must be on target developmentally to have the best shot at long-term success. And that’s what the Pathway is all about.

IAISS worked with Search Institute on a Youth Survey to dig deeper into each step of the Pathway to see how kids in Itasca are doing. The Pathway and the survey are based on the Search’s framework of 40 Developmental Assets. The Assets harken back to my earlier life as the librarian for the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse; the Pathway, the survey are all interesting if you have time – but for today I’ll jump to the Technology Pathway, survey segment and conversation.

The Pathways is – Every student will have access to technology and the skills necessary to use it and achieve goals.

The survey looked at computers in the home, Internet access, diversity of tech use and technology skills. (Page 32-34)

I took part in a conversation on the topic with four adults and two kids. One pretty techie, one not; both friends.

On a high level, the survey indicated that:

  • 22 percent of students are challenged with technology
  • 44 percent are vulnerable
  • 18 percent have adequate access/skills
  • 16 percent are thriving

Within the survey there were a few things I found noteworthy:

  • 21 percent of males were thriving; only 11 percent of females were thriving
  • A much greater percent of 12th graders felt challenged than 7th graders
  • Only 50 percent reported having broadband at home although 37 percent didn’t know
  • Only 9 percent of students check email daily; 59 percent check texts; 43 percent sure social media

The conversation was at least as enlightening. Three of the adults (myself included) were what I’d call invested regulars – we work with education, public positions or nonprofits. The other adult was a manufacturer. He was there to make sure that he needed a future workforce that could do more than text and watch YouTube videos. He wanted workers that could operate machinery – and he wanted them to leave their smartphones in their lockers. He was very focused.

The kids had a different view. As I said one was a self-proclaimed techie. He was a user and enjoyed coding (or coding-type) activities. The other said he’d rather be out doing something. He only texted the friend next to him – otherwise he preferred the phone or in-person meetings. Neither could define broadband. “A regular Internet connection?” was the guess. And talking to that young gentleman I realized he probably had DSL. And he didn’t think it was sufficient – especially at night. They agreed with the manufacturer that they felt like they needed more classes or opportunities to learn how to use technology – not texting or Facebook – but programs that helped them get work done, be more employable. We think digital natives take to technology naturally – and they do – but it makes the case that there’s always room to learn how to better use technology.

Here’s the latest news from RS Fiber…

RS Fiber Broadband Initiative Moving Forward  Bringing High Speed Internet, Television and Phone Services to Portions of Renville & Sibley Counties

WINTHROP, Minn. – The RS Fiber Cooperative fiber optic broadband initiative is moving forward.  RS Fiber’s Board of Directors recently endorsed an updated business plan and financing strategy.  RS Fiber representatives presented this information to the Renville- Sibley Joint Powers Board (JPB), which is comprised of representatives from 10 cities and 17 townships in the proposed service area.

The JPB was formed to issue general obligation tax abatement bonds that will fund a portion of the fiber optic network’s construction costs and start-up expenses.  Upon completion, RS Fiber Cooperative will operate a fiber optic network for most of Sibley County and portions of Renville, Nicollet, and McLeod County.  Over 6,200 potential customers will be able to use this high-speed fiber optic network, which will provide data speeds that can be over ten times faster than speeds offered by current service providers.

RS Fiber is a total communications solution, offering affordable and reliable high-speed broadband internet access, phone and television. RS Fiber’s network will provide download Internet speeds of 50 megabits per second or greater.  Network download and upload speeds will remain consistent throughout the day and will not change even if every customer is simultaneously using the services.  TV service will provide clear pictures unaffected by weather and will include favorite local programming like live high school sports.  Prices will be very competitive to existing service providers.

RS Fiber’s network has been designed to provide services to every home, business, farm site, and government office in the cities and townships that are part of the Joint Powers Board.  RS Fiber’s customers are also the taxpayers who provided a portion of the funding.  For this reason, RS Fiber’s customers will provide the revenues to repay principal and interest on the bonds, substantially reducing the possibility of increasing future property taxes to repay the bonds.

Network construction will begin in early 2015 and services will be available to initial customers before the end of 2015.  The RS Fiber market area includes the following cities:  Gaylord, Winthrop, Gibbon, Fairfax, Green Isle, New Auburn, Lafayette, Brownton, Buffalo Lake, and Stewart.  The market area also includes 13 townships in Sibley County and 4 townships in Renville County.  Most of these future customers have limited access to affordable and reliable high-speed internet service today.
RS Fiber Cooperative Board Chair Mark Brandt said, “This fiber initiative is a significant event for our area.  Our public safety entities, healthcare organizations and public, private, and charter schools will benefit greatly from the implementation of the fiber optic network.  Existing businesses will also benefit from high-speed, affordable, and reliable internet service.  This network will help attract new businesses to our area, creating job growth and other opportunities to build our communities.  In this area of rural Minnesota, we will have internet service at a price and speed that is comparable to services received by businesses and homeowners in the Twin Cities.”

RS Fiber is entering into a long-term management contract with Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC) in Winona, Minn.  HBC will oversee the design, development and construction of the fiber optic network, as well as day-to-day management duties.  HBC is an experienced operator of similarly designed, rural fiber optic networks in 17 communities throughout southeastern Minnesota including Red Wing, Wabasha, Lewiston, Lake City, Plainview, Dover, Eyota and Elgin.

Dan Pecarina, President/CEO of HBC said, “We are excited to work with RS Fiber Cooperative on this project, using our experience of delivering gigabit Internet, TV and telephone services over fiber-optic technology to homes, schools and businesses in southeastern Minnesota.

“HBC built its first network in Winona in 1997 and has since built all fiber optic networks in 16 additional communities over the last 10 years.  These gigabit networks have brought new businesses and residents to the rural areas we serve.  They have also provided the ability for residents to thrive both personally as well as professionally without having to leave for the big cities.

“In our experience, fiber optic networks help drive innovation in rural Minnesota by enhancing education, health care, farming, industry and more.  These are among the highest capacity broadband networks in the world and that creates an environment for advanced applications that can enhance and enrich the lives of many.”

The original RS Fiber project began in 2010 with a vision that the towns in Sibley County, the county government, and a slice of eastern Renville County, including Fairfax, would build and operate a $70 million publicly-owned fiber optic network.  After two years, the project scope was changed in 2012 with the formation of RS Fiber Cooperative.  Instead of a fiber optic network that would have been 100% funded with taxpayer bonds, a public- private partnership was formed.

Local cities and townships that are part of the Joint Powers Authority will issue $13.7 million in general obligation tax abatement bonds and will use the proceeds to make an economic development loan to RS Fiber Cooperative.  Local investors, bank loans, and a broad array of other lenders will provide the remaining funding for the project.  All funding will be repaid by subscribers who purchase internet, telephone, and video services from RS Fiber.

RS Fiber Cooperative’s members will own 100% of the fiber optic network, will obtain 75% of the financing through private sources, and will generate 100% of the revenues to repay the $13.7 million loan that will be provided by the restructured Joint Powers Board.   Initial project costs were originally estimated at $70 million, but the revised business plan, engineering design, and financial structure lowered the total project costs by over 30%.

This public-private partnership will enable RS Fiber to bring a high speed fiber optic network to Sibley County and Renville County.  The business relationship with Hiawatha Broadband provides RS Fiber with a leadership team that has successfully built and operated similar high speed fiber optic networks in rural Minnesota for over 17 years.

Individuals and businesses that are interested in becoming an RS Fiber customer should contact the company for information on service availability in their area.  Access to RS Fiber’s high speed fiber optic network should be available to most business, residential, and farm customers throughout the Joint Powers Board market area by year-end 2016.

I know there are a few educators and plenty of parents who read this blog, so I thought I’d share news on the following free webinar…

Cyberbullying, Sexting, and Social Media Use: What the Research Says
Monday, November 24, 20143:00 PM – 4:00 PM (Eastern Time)
Presented by Dr. Elizabeth Englander, Professor of Psychology at Bridgewater State University

Most educators know what cyberbullying is, and what sexting is – but how prolific are these behaviors with youth? What are effective and ineffective responses? How are cyberbullying and sexting interconnected? There are a lot of misconceptions out there around peer cruelty, bullying, and cyberbullying. In this webinar, learn about Dr. Elizabeth Englander’s extensive research in these areas, including myths and misconceptions, how educators can flag problematic behaviors, and how to frame effective responses. Elizabeth will field questions from attendees during this interactive event.

Hosted by Common Sense Education
Sponsored by Symantec

Join the Digital Citizenship community to access the webinar recording and resources.


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.

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