Strut Your Stuff Tour in Mille Lacs County: Wi-Fi on buses, training and moving forward

On Tuesday early afternoon, Mille Lacs County celebrated their progress with broadband through the Blandin Broadband Communities program. You can see their PowerPoint, a quick video and some of the notes below. One thing that really stuck me what how a few people noted that two years ago they weren’t sure what broadband was – now they are leading the effort. The power of having smart people who recognize potential even when the details may be fuzzy – and inspiration for leaders in other communities who are smart and recognize the potential – the details can fall into place with a little help…

We’d like to see more education for businesses, make use of what’s available. Funny story from the senior center – “I’m here to fix the WiFi.” “We don’t watch much TV here.”

We’ve had great experience with training. There were classes in the library; 110 people attended. One lesson learned … the classes often filled up quickly. It might be nice to find a way to extend the marketing to get greater diversity in attendance. But the classes were very successful. One class brought high school students and business owners. They class was very successful and relationships continue between the students and the business owners.

Interactive and streaming of meetings has opened up opportunities for new meetings and less travel.

PCs for People was able to give computers to low income families. It went to a lot of single moms. Often when the computer dies, it doesn’t get replaced. Also the computers were given out near Christmas, which made for some heartwarming uses. Families get a quick lesson on the computers when they get them.

They are working on the next round of computers distribution – which will include a couple free months of broadband from Frontier (and perhaps other providers). The need is great; 75 percent of the student in Onamia qualify for free lunch. Schools report greater use of smartphone but that doesn’t help hugely with homework. Unfortunately they may only be online 2-3 weeks of the month as they reach data-caps.

Affordability is a big issue. Broadband costs in Mille Lacs start at $75/month. (Where same in Twin Cities start at $50/month.) And it’s a tough time to make financial decisions. What do we cut out to afford broadband? People are hovering around places with public access – such as libraries.

Wi-Fi in buses has been going really well. The expansion of learning – beyond the walls and beyond the 8 am to 3 pm – has been the greatest achievement. The goal is to have all of the buses wired within 5 years. They are limiting streaming and games – mostly because of the drain on the bandwidth. Educational activities is the number one activity happening on the wireless network. Problems on the buses have been reduced as well – fewer discipline problems.

Talking about a feasibility study for the county. It would be nice to get that done and think about some of these issues and solutions.

The first person who came into the computer center can to fill out a job application. That’s a great start because it really is symptomatic of local needs.

The library will continue to play a role in broadband adoption. We’ve noticed that land use planners are started to take broadband.

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