From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from RS Fiber…
RS Fiber is the name of the new, home-grown broadband cooperative serving ten cities and 17 townships in Renville and Sibley Counties in southwestern Minnesota. They are in the process of building their fiber-to-the-home network, and offer plans of up to 50 Mbsp, 100 Mbsp, and 1 Gbps symmetrical. Therefore, happily, broadband isn’t an issue for folks in the RS Fiber service area. The challenge is getting people to use it to its fullest potential, and stimulating economic growth.
The Steering Committee determined that many of the area residents were not tech savvy. They saw their challenge as not just teaching people how to use computers, but helping them see the almost limitless ways technology can improve their lives. To address the former, they offered well attended computer basics and more specialized classes and distributed 50 computers through BCBP’s partnership with PCs for People. To address the latter, they are creating a number of innovation centers with Internet hotspots in towns throughout the region. The Innovation Centers will house things like 3D printers, and one will have a drone obstacle course.
Engaging youth is another area of focus. They offered 4-H programming at the Innovation Centers being established throughout the county, established public hotspots at schools, and implemented Wi-Fi on busses. They made available low-cost devices to student riders who didn’t have their own to use and targeted bus routes that were experiencing a high number of behavioral incidences. Schools reported that the number of incidences of adverse behavior went down dramatically, and there was no longer a need for an extra adult supervisor on these routes.