Senator Klobuchar visits Blandin

Jim Hoolihan and Senator Klobuchar talk broadband at the Blandin Foundation

It’s been a whirlwind around Blandin since the announcement of the ARRA grant last week. While some of the staff has been out meeting partners who will work on the ARRA-funded Minnesota Internet Rural Communities (MIRC) initiative (more on that soon), others were able to greet Senator Amy Klobuchar and talk about the project with her in greater detail.

Yesterday, Senator Klobuchar visited the staff at Blandin. President Jim Hoolihan spoke about the project,  “The grant is not going to be used for laying cable or fiber but the grant is going to be used to work with partners for increasing demand for broadband. Blandin is very excited to receive the grant.” While Senator Klobuchar recognized the need for such a project, “We went from third in the developed world, to fifteenth in just the last decade when it came to internet subscribership and internet speed. That just can’t keep going that way.”

We were pleased to have a number of local media at the event and happy to see articles in Northland’s Newscenter and Fox 21 News.

Minnesota Telecommunications Bill

Chris Mitchell from the Institute from Local Self Reliance, has been following the Municipal Telecommunications Services bill. The quick review is that the bill’s original changes would make it easier for local governments to provide telecommunications services to the local community. As it stands, the bill requires interested local governments to allow residents to vote of whether or not the local government should provide telecommunications services – but it requires a super majority of 65 percent. So this year there was a proposal to eliminate the super majority and allow the idea to pass with a simple majority. However in session that proposal was change to include some other contingencies being placed on the vote.

Chris promotes making it easier for local governments to provide telecommunications services; today the Minneapolis Star Tribune features another opinion. Tom Steward, investigative director for the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota promotes keeping barriers in place to reduce risk for tax payers…

The fact is that the telecommunications business is a risky venture for private providers and even more so for a local government — a far cry from providing water or sewer services, where there is no other option for consumers.

MIRC Partner Intro: MNREM

Blandin Foundation doesn’t have much experience as a grant applicant; we are more often on the other side of the grant making equation. But today we are savoring the news of our successful BTOP grant and the opportunity to bring a network of resources and support to rural Minnesota through an initiative we have dubbed “MIRC” – Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities.

With this glad news in hand, Friday afternoon Blandin Foundation project staff Ann Treacy, Bill Coleman and I met with Teresa Kittridge, Executive Director of Minnesota Renewable Energy Marketplace. MNREM is one of MIRC’s 19 project partners. MNREM’s focus on the retention, creation, and attraction of an educated and skilled workforce to its 36 county region of South Central, Southwest and West Central Minnesota is well aligned with MIRC’s goal of helping create technologically and economically vital rural communities through sustainable broadband adoption.

Like many entrepreneurial organizations today, MNREM is a “virtual” operation. Teresa explained that while MNREM’s official address is in Marshall, she lives in “suburban Waconia” and spends much of her time on the road. “I basically office out of my car,” she said with a smile.

Before today’s visit, my communication with Teresa had been strictly virtual as well; we had never met face-to-face. So it was really a treat to have the time for a leisurely real-time conversation over coffee about our aspirations for this shared work.

Teresa has a background in both the public and private sectors, including as an officer of the Minnesota House of Representatives, president of two publishing companies, and chair of her local school board. She has rural roots and loves the rural region she serves. I liked her right away.

Teresa explained that with the help of a soon-to-expire US Department of Labor grant, MNREM is supporting projects in a wide range of renewable energy fields including wind, biomass, biofuels, ethanol, solar, advanced manufacturing, energy-efficient mechanical systems, bioscience and mechatronics. “What’s mechatronics?” I wondered, and later visited their website to find out. At I also learned that Minnesota’s renewable energy sector today includes over 22,500 firms employing over 310,000 people in MNREM’s region alone.

Funding through MIRC will help strengthen MNREM’s capacity to transform its primarily agriculture-dependent region to a knowledge and innovation-based economy that capitalizes on the potential of renewable energy for a sustainable and prosperous future. Under Teresa’s leadership, MNREM’s role in our MIRC coalition will include outreach, assessment, technical assistance and training for renewable energy businesses.

Next week Bill and Ann and University of Crookston’s Jack Geller (who will help with MIRC evaluation and monitoring) and I will be meeting with other new MIRC partners to continue our getting-to-know-you better tour. The first major step in our project launch will be an initial partners’ meeting in Grand Rapids on May 11-12.

Libraries offer technology opportunities

Thanks to Mary Ann Van Cura for sending me the US IMPACT Public Library Study, which studies the use and results of this use in libraries throughout the nation. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a former librarian. So I’m predisposed to think they’re great – but now I have a study to back me up. Or as the study reports…

In a world increasingly defined by technology, the public library is one of the widest bridges to the Internet and computers, not only for those who cannot afford their own connection, but for those who find the library is an easier, faster, friendlier, or more effective way to use these tools. In 1996 only 28 percent of libraries had public Internet access, now, thanks in large part to public policy, almost all libraries offer Internet access to patrons.

Who’s online at the library?

It also reports that 45 percent of the 169 million visitors to public libraries connected to the Internet using a library computer or wireless network during their visit and 44 percent of people in households living below the federal poverty line ($22,000 a year for a family of four) used public library computers and Internet access. Nearly everyone goes online at the library. Some folks have an Internet connection, even broadband, at home – but maybe it’s not fast enough, or there aren’t enough computers at home or the patron wants help from the librarian. Some folks don’t have access at home. Youth (ages 14-24) make up the greatest user base – but adults (ages 45-54) and seniors (65 and older) are catching up.

What are they doing?

The study also looks at what patrons are doing online. Here is the rank of library Internet use by subject (tracking how many patrons participate in the following):

Social connection – 60%
Education – 42%
Employment – 40%
Health & Wellness – 37%
Government & Legal – 34%
Community Engagement – 33%
Managing Finances – 25%
Entrepreneurship – 7%

One thing the report notes is that the role of librarian has expended as people do more and more online and therefore more and more in the library. Librarians teach you how to use the tools, how to assess information (information literacy) but they also help you find a job, get medical information and do homework. It’s been a while but I’ve spent enough time on a reference desk to know that you provide these services and more. So if you’re a community leader it makes sense both to make sure your local librarians and well informed (so if you have program targeting patrons, tell your local librarian) and to make sure that you’re talking to your librarians about patron trends. The report recommendations reflect this dual role of librarians.


  • State and local government should include libraries in comprehensive broadband deployment and adoption strategies.
  • Business and government agencies should engage libraries in economic and workforce development strategies.
    State and local education reform initiatives should partner with and invest in public libraries to broaden educational opportunities for K-12 students and adults.
  • Public and private health officials and organizations should support the public library as a partner in disseminating health and wellness information and as a resource for future health communications research.
  • Federal, state, and local government agencies should support libraries as points of access for eGovernment services.
  • Support technology services that build communities.

Minnesota Google hopefuls

According to Google, they received more than 1,100 community responses and more than 194,000 responses from individuals interested in Google Fiber for Communities. (The deadline was yesterday.) They have created a map that shows where the communities are located and pinpoints areas that had more than 1,000 individual responses. It looks as if Duluth/Twin Ports was one of a dozen or so communities to reach that level of community response.

So who applied from Minnesota? I don’t have a definitive list, but with some help from Ann Higgins, I have compiled a list: (I’ve tried to include links to the applicants themselves where I could find a web site. If someone has a link or community to add please send it my way.)

Additions sent to me (thanks for sending!)

It seems as if almost everyone has been getting into the game. Governor Pawlenty announced that yesterday (the deadline for the Google application) was Google Twin Ports Day. There are a few folks who wonder why cities are wasting their time (at tax payers’ expense). It’s been fun to watch from the sidelines. But the big question is – now what?

According to Google

Over the coming months, we’ll be reviewing the responses to determine where to build. As we narrow down our choices, we’ll be conducting site visits, meeting with local officials and consulting with third-party organizations. Based on a rigorous review of the data, we will announce our target community or communities by the end of the year.

Of course, we’re not going to be able to build in every interested community — our plan is to reach a total of at least 50,000 and potentially up to 500,000 people with this experiment. Wherever we decide to build, we hope to learn lessons that will help improve Internet access everywhere. After all, you shouldn’t have to jump into frozen lakes and shark tanks to get ultra high-speed broadband

They note that we’re the huge response has already demonstrated that “people across the country are hungry for better and faster Internet access”.

Qwest ARRA application

Qwest has submitted an ARRA broadband stimulus application for Round Two funding. The goal is to extend broadband at speeds of 12 to 40 Mbps to rural communities throughout its local service region. They are requesting a grant of $350 million for a project with a total cost of $467 million.

According to Qwest, here is how Qwest’s application would benefit Minnesota:

Total Network Investment: $54.5M
Number of New Sites: 228
Number of Newly Served/Upgraded Living Units: 47,793

The Proposed Deployment Would Reach:
• Business: 4,505
• Community Support Organizations: 257
• Government Facilities: 108
• Institutions of Higher Education: 12
• Libraries: 1
• Medical and Healthcare Providers: 103
• Public Safety Entities: 22
• Schools (K-12): 42

Economic Impact:
• Create/Retain 2,725 jobs
• Increased State Income Tax Revenue: $8.6M1

Areas Included in the Proposed Deployment:
Adolph, Anoka, Avon, Barnum, Battle Lake, Bovey, Braham, Brainerd, Buffalo, Cambridge, Carlton, Cloquet, Cohasset, Cold Spring, Dalbo, Detroit Lakes, Dover, Duluth, Elk River, Esko, Eveleth, Eyota, Faribault, Fergus Falls, Gilbert, Grand Marais, Grand Rapids, Grasston, Harris, Hastings, Henning, Hermantown, Iron, Kilkenny, Kimball, Lake Elmo, Litchfield, Little Falls, Lutsen, Mahtowa,, Merrifield, Moorhead, Moose Lake, Mora, Morristown, Nashwauk, Nisswa, North, Branch, Northfield, Ogilvie, Oronoco, Park Rapids, Pengilly, Pillager, Pine City, Princeton, Proctor, Rice, Richwood, Rochert, Rochester, Rush City, Saginaw, Saint Augusta, Saint Cloud, Saint Joseph, Sartell, Sauk Centre, Sauk Rapids, Stanchfield, Stillwater, Sturgeon Lake, Swanville, Twig, Welch, West Lakeland, Wrenshall and Zimmerman.

1 This assumes each job has an annual salary of $45,000. Taxes are at the “married, filing jointly” rate.

Another Minnesota ARRA award

Well it’s been a big day for Blandin, as Bernadine Joselyn announced today, Blandin was award ARRA broadband stimulus funds. It’s exciting and we’ll be sure to post update on the MIRC project on the blog. I wanted to give a quick mention to the other grant announced today that will help boost broadband in Minnesota…

Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Texas – Mission Economic Development Agency: $3.7 million public computer center grant with an additional $2.5 million applicant-provided match to create 12 new public computer centers and expand five existing ones in Phoenix, Ariz.; Canoga Park, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, Calif.; Del Norte, Colo.; Blackfoot, Idaho; Wheaton, Md.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Kansas City, Mo.; Anthony, NM; Philadelphia, Pa.; and San Antonio and Laredo, Texas. Each center expects to operate on the project’s centrally managed network and provide computer training and adult education to a low broadband adoption, high unemployment target population through a standardized English-Spanish training curriculum.

So we’ve got a nice addition for rural and urban Minnesota.