Blandin Broadband Community Tour: Nobles County where digital inclusion builds bridges to New Americans

This afternoon we met with the folks in Nobles County to hear about their Blandin Broadband Community programs. They are focused on a range of projects but I think they have done an especially good job with successful programming for New Americans. Technology has been a connection back to their home countries and technology has also been an excuse to connect with their new neighbors and help build ESL skills.

The community noted that Blandin was instrumental in helping so much of this happen. They are becoming a connected community. Focusing on broadband gave them a place to start – soon after they got going with NEON (Nobles Economic Opportunities Network. Having a place to start really helped get them off the blocks and led to brainstorming and new ideas.

I am happy to share video from the presentations…

And the PPT

And my notes…

Nobles County started with a focus on economic development (Nobles Economic Opportunity Network) and realized that what they all needed was broadband. Within the BBC framework they decide to really focus on digital inclusion and market and advocacy.

PCs for People

PCs for People  – gave out computers through Ellsworth and Adrian school districts. Civil Air Patrol received 4 “extra” computers. It allows for the cadets who live off the campus to do the work they need to do to progress.

We are collecting computers for PCs for People. We had more than 100 last time they visited. It might be worth the community trying to take on the refurbishing themselves. (PCs for People is very efficient but also very far away. Maybe the community could use the mobile refurbishing unit from PCs for People.)

With the Adrian distribution – the computer recipients had access to discounted broadband service from MVTV Wireless.

Digital Literacy

Digital Literacy for Young People – They created a 2-credit college level course taught through MinnWest. The target audience is really high school upperclassmen and they will get college credit for it. NOTE: we need for elected officials to understand broadband better than they do. Can Blandin do a seminar on the ROI for state funding in Broadband?

Digital Inclusion through Community Ed – Computer classes help new Americans get connected to the community, improve English and boost digital skills. Many attendees have kids and it helps get the whole family better connected to the community. 60 percent of the attendees were of limited income. Discounted classes helped people attend.

Market Smarter Event – A whole day on social media with keynote speakers, breakout sessions. We had 159 attendees. We had 30 communities involved.

Northstar Digital Literacy with Worthington ABE – An opportunity to get digital literacy certificates. 50 certs were awarded.

Digital Literacy for Diverse Curriculum in Native Languages – did classes in Spanish, Tigrinya, Amharic and Karen. Good participation. Families enjoyed the classes and they want more. We had 47 participants. “I am saving so much money on calling my family now that I can use the computer.” The classes will continue.

HotSpots – Lack of reliable access was noted as a problem early on. NEON partnered with MVTV Wireless; they were already in the areas. They added 8 hotspots – to offer free wireless access. They need to create an account but once they do they can sign on. The goal: that no family would have to travel more than 5 miles for free wifi.

Feasibility Study – Talked to a number of providers. Lismore Telephone will be applying for a State Grant. The feasibility study was instrumental is quantifying the need for better broadband in Nobles County. We want to put in a fiber loop and will use/build 6 tower. SO we’ll be making fiber available to some areas and will branch out with wireless to provide “served” speeds of 25/3. But we are building the fiber ring understanding that fiber will be the solution for the future. And we’d include a digital inclusion component to our plans. We need a 60 percent take rate for our project to work.

myON Digital Library – a subscription service that helps families learn to read together. Adult learners get login and you can track progress. 480 students have used myON. About 98percent are non-native English speakers. Learning to 675 hours of reading on myON.

iPad for Public Use – for use in the libraries. And they use them in training. That means that the librarians are learning to better use them too – increases their use and helps them better serve patrons who come in with their own. They have a number of community partnerships and many are being used to improve ABE – which really means English as a Second Language. They are working on a plan to allow of off-site use and creating a wifi part in the green space adjacent to the library. First user was a New American who used it to immediately connection via Facetime with folks back home.

BAC Fiber – the goal is to provide best speeds in the Biotechnology Advancement Center  home with the local Extension folks and others.

Technology Education for Round Lake – We got a partner because our tower was very attractive to them. Our goal is to provide the opportunity to the Round Lake Community and surrounding rural areas to develop computer and technology skills while enjoying social interaction. It includes a lot of older citizens and low income families and a few college students.

Changing Mainstreet – Goal to enable community education to plan and implement educational opportunities designed to help existing business owners with succession planning and prospective business owners with business planning.

Regional Data Center visioning – turn an old jail into a data center. It’s secure, it’s open, it could be perfect. They have fiber from 2 providers going into the building. Could provide service to 12-15 counties.

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