Blandin Broadband Community Tour: RS Fiber build innovation through schools, training and center

Today we met with folks in Renville and Sibley Counties to talk about the broadband projects that were funded through the Blandin Broadband Community programs. We met in the home of the new innovation center – aka future home of the drone obstacle course.

I took pretty good news that I’ll post below and a few videos. The highest level lesson we learned was that being part of the BBC programs served the community well because it gave community leaders (schools, economic development, business, towns and more) a reason to meet on a regular basis. The challenge is to create a new reason to continue meeting as they learned that no one can live successfully in isolation anymore!

Economic Development

Talked to 150 businesses in Sibley to learn what they want. Most citizens are not tech savvy. Offered a computer basics class. Handed out 50 computers through PC for People.

Started with “what computer should I buy” and there was waiting room. We’ll be doing it again in different communities around the county.  All of our classes fill. We have a wide range of basic programs. We are trying to get more computer skills for citizens and employees. The only continued cost of the class is the payment for the teacher. We are talking about making that part of the Economic Development budget.

We had a class on building a website, starting a Facebook page and getting the Google map right. The goal is to show up when young people look at our towns on their smartphones. The next step is to have the trainer go out to sites to get their online marketing plan. It’s free for Sibley County businesses. We’re also working on a Quickbooks class.

Education Use

We were trying to get computers in with the early childhood homes.  We were targeting people with limited financial resources and one hiccup was giving people a computer when they couldn’t afford the broadband subscription. We have used portable hotspots from the schools. And that’s worked – even though there were no filters. We had to choose users carefully. But those hotspots quit working.

We had a community theater production. At night leaving Winthrop I noticed one guy hanging around the school getting online through the open network – umbrella and all at times.

Wifi on buses – once we got over the firewall issues we had to set up a filter. Getting that took half the year but once set up it worked well. First we focused on activity buses – our kids spend a lot of time on the buses and this helped them make good use of the time.

We then targeted high incidence buses. We put a few cheap iPads on the bus and let them go on them and the incidents reduced incredibly. They no longer need a helper on the bus. There are some filters on the hotspots – based on pre-approved sites.

GPS – “Here comes the bus” was not as successful as we wanted. The idea was that parents would download an app that would track if/when the bus went off the normal path – to and from home as well as activities. In practice, but it turned out that we needed to buy a range of this companies solutions before the app would work – including a $40,000+ tool. They offered to create an app but it never worked at time.

Moving more toward STEAM efforts for the future. The elementary school is doing creative work with things like Maker Space carts. We now have art in the elementary again and figuring out ways to tie in with the Maker Space.

City of Henderson – Community mobile app

After a year of planning we released an app called Discover Henderson. It’s been downloaded 300 times. We include tourism events and local businesses. We are also working on the city local wifi, which is delayed. Many local cities have apps that has been built with the program. One fun application, they have notes many places where Purple Rain was filmed in town.

Now we need the communities to work on them, update them and promote them. We also had a plan for community wifi to help promote the apps. We are still working on that in some towns. It was a good way to make use of RS Fiber local fiber.

Next year they will bring fiber to the fair.

Winthrop – Community app

Promoted their app before the fun fair. Hotspot will be up next year. We try to get to alumni on the app so keep them in the know. We have someone who is responsible for Facebook posts and the website.

Innovation Center (see video above)

The plan is to create spots – like the innovation center or maker space in towns in the area. They have an extension agent to work on the program for 3 years.

We are working on the actual building. Lisa is getting to know the community and local schools to get partnerships going with the 4H frameworks. Working with a 4H drone curriculum. Plan to do a drone obstacle course.

SOAR – 3-4 kids to a research projects (with a mentor) based on a problem in agriculture. For example a vaccine warmer because cattle vaccines in the winter are hard to do. They have contests that include scholarship prizes. We want to help the teams get going here at the innovation center. Several of the teams this year have patents and job offers. (They are in high school!)

In the innovation center we can do livesteaming with speakers all over the world. 4H starts in September so we’re just getting going with programs.

We are working broadband technology – which includes the technology and  journalism.

What did this opportunity do? It gave us a reason to all get to the table. Now we need to find a new reason. BUT we certainly learned that no one can live successfully in isolation anymore!

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