Catching up with broadband projects in Hibbing MN: digital marketing, connectivity through the libraries and community center

Spent the morning in HIbbing talking with people about their broadband projects.  They have been part of a project (IRBC) with the Blandin Foundation and IRRRB focused on increasing use of broadband in the area. I’ll include full notes below – but a couple of highlights…

  • Working on fiber to community building
  • Digital marketing consulting with local businesses
  • Connectivity through the libraries
  • Tech fair for kids
  • PCS for people

Fiber into community (Memorial) building – people use the building for events such as circuses, STEM fairs and visits from Hilary Clinton. Their wifi was not good. So we shifted funds $12,300 for installation; 50 Mbps monthly cost is $100 – which is less than they had been paying (for lesser service). Working with CTC and NESC. The money came from reduced rates for the wifi project. (PCs for People haled them get cheaper solutions for hotspots.)

The cost is so low – many other government buildings should do the same – like the Fire Department.

Connectivity in the Libraries – we got wifi hotspots (20) for checkout. They are always checked out. It’s been very successful. PCs for People changed providers – that was a hiccup. There’s a population who needs this affordable option. Having broadband at home can make a kid feel better about themselves. NO one wants to be the kid without. Hibbing solution? Hotspot checkouts at the library!

It was a big blow when the Border to Border broadband grants didn’t get funded. We had hoped to take advantage. It will slow down broadband expansion in Hibbing. We are working on and using the feasibility study. It would be $6 million to do FTTH in Cherry Township.

Regional focus can be a challenge – we need to get back out to talk to the different towns and areas to renew their interest. It seems like the federal funding ($600 million from USDA) might be a possibility for the area.

We’ve been very happy with the consultant. We know unserved, underserved and served through the state maps – but now we have roads in the map. That helps connect the houses we know by address with their served/underserved/unserved status.

We will likely have three different project areas.

Digital Marketing – did a second round of one-on-one consulting with Molly Solberg. Businesses applied to be selected. We worked with 7 businesses initially – and eventually got funding to help all 23 that had applied. Each business created a digital marketing action plan. Then they had a to do list. Electric Power Door – been in Hibbing forever. They create blast doors – for mining, for NASA… Son is new graduate – working with father they create marketing and logo, Created a new website and got into who their customers are. Palmer’s Tavern – had to compete with new bar – worked on website and Facebook presence and well as focusing on what they do best. Sammi’s Pizza – helped the Hibbing branch abut that helped all of the branches. With the Chamber she worked on Google Analytics – that was helpful.

We did some training at Barr Engineering. Classes on SEO, photo, writing and design, using social media using online communication to find vendors. Classes were well attended and well received. They had 70 people attend 4 classes.

In the first round, there was a tech fair for kids that introduced them to a range of different tech fields. It was well attended and well received. It was an opportunity for kids to realize that there are tech jobs in the area. You don’t have to do to the Cities to work in technology.

PCs for People – did 2 rounds of 50 computers. They went to a range of people and the stories were so touching. (We learned more about them on the last visit.)

What are you proud of?

  • How much we got done. It’s pretty impressive.  I can’t believe how much we did.
  • The relationship building with the business community. It opened up doors for our organization to the local business community. And the overwhelmingly positive feedback we got from all the participants
  • The ability to build some champions.  To have some great partnerships.  And some individuals who really stepped up.
  • Compared to two years ago – many more people understand broadband and the need region-wise. So when Senator Smith comes to visit we can tell our stories.
  • It’s been great to be part of the team and to know what’s going on with broadband. BUT with the tech fair, it was fun to have students and teachers learn about tech projects.
  • Nice to hit the smaller businesses that we don’t normally see.
  • It’s amazing to see how much gets done and how partnerships build.
  • It is work – but it’s nice to see what gets done.
  • It’s good to get to know the geography of the Range.
  • Great to see leaders emerge – the light goes on and people get it!

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