From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Sherburne County…
In 2014, 92 percent of Sherburne County had access to broadband as it was then defined (lower speeds back then). In 2016, when the definition of broadband was updated to take into account technological advances, only 75 percent of the county had access to broadband speeds of 25/3 (Mbps down/up), and 28 percent had access to Minnesota’s 2026 speed goals of 100/20.
Sherburne County is going the wrong direction; they have gone from well served to underserved as the definition of broadband changes. It’s therefore not surprising that as a Blandin Broadband Community, Sherburne County focused on improving broadband access and infrastructure. The strategy they adopted was to focus on educating the public, improving technology use in schools, and on smaller public access projects.
Jolene Foss, Community Development Director at the City of Princeton describes their journey to better broadband:
The City of Princeton is unique in that it sits on the line Between Mille Lacs County and Sherburne County. As I became more informed of the status of high speed, reliable and affordable internet in our community, I was shocked to find out how many residents are underserved, or completely unserved! Businesses were suffering economically due to high rates and lost opportunities. The students in our counties were struggling to complete assignments and do research from home, especially those who reside in rural locations. People couldn’t bank or take care of their online medical needs with poor internet service. Quality of life was being affected and some of the leaders of our community recognized a need for change. The Blandin Foundation has graciously awarded these communities the resources needed to take necessary steps in the right direction. As a member of the Broadband Steering Committee for Sherburne County, our group decided to start a Community Outreach Subcommittee to educate and inform residents and elected officials on the importance of affordable reliable high speed internet service. We would like to see people reach out to the elected officials and express the need for more funding to enhance partnerships between providers and other stakeholders. These partnerships will pave the way for economic viability and secure our place in this fast paced world. Our people deserve every advantage that anyone else gets. We need to stay competitive if we want to see future success.
The Steering Committee used grant dollars to hire a marketing firm to create a brand for their group – “SherBand.” They created a webpage, education materials, and promotional items, and wrote bi-weekly blog posts. The community team contacted their elected officials, created a Facebook page, produced an educational video, and participated at various community events and meetings.
Infrastructure improvement and access projects included installing Wi-Fi at Rivers Edge Park, Lake Side Park, and the Becker Athletic Complex; extending fiber to the Sherburne History Center, and installing fiber to connect Elk River City Hall to Zimmerman City Hall and fire department. Additionally, while not part of the BBC project, internet at the industrial park in Princeton was upgraded during the project period.
For a more recent look at Sherburne County – check out the county profiles I did earlier this year.