Congrats to the awardees (part one) and thank you for your service!
This award is made in posthumous recognition of the Courageous Leadership of Paul Bergman, whose vision for a broadband-enabled future for Lake County brought modern access to the Internet to the residents of the county he loved. Paul served as County Commissioner from 2007 until his death in 2013.
- In 2008, Lake County leaders began exploring solutions to address the region’s lack of connectivity, recognizing it as a public safety, economic development, and quality of life issue.
- Paul Bergman was an early champion of bringing a fiber-to-the-home network to the people of Lake County. He understood that the county’s future depended on it.
- The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 emerged as an opportunity to improve Internet access and the county was ready.
As a businessman, Paul was known for his good will and humor and his signature of honesty and fairness. He had a gift for bringing out the best in others. These good traits prompted voters to elect Paul to represent District 4 on the Lake County Board of Commissioners. It was a job that he loved. At the time of his death, Paul was serving his second term in office.
Today, Lake Connections, is a 1,200-mile fiber network across Lake County and parts of eastern St. Louis County operated by Zito Media in what has to be some of Minnesota’s most rugged and difficult territory for broadband deployment. It is delivering a myriad of benefits to county businesses and residents.
This Courageous Leadership Award is presented to Jan Keough for the leadership and commitment she has shown to the now eight townships of the Cloquet Valley Internet Initiative over the near decades-long struggle to bring broadband connectivity to her rural region due north of Duluth.
Jan’s steadfast positive outlook and consistent efforts to work with incumbent and prospective providers alike has allowed this initiative to continue forward, even as providers have failed to deliver on their promises. Hope again is on the rise as the area electric cooperative has submitted an application for fiber-to-the-home deployment across the area.
Jan is emblematic of citizen leaders in the Cloquet Valley and across the State of Minnesota who invest hundreds of hours on this challenging, but critical community vitality issue on behalf of their neighbors. Jan is an inspiration to the Blandin Foundation Broadband team, her neighbors and colleagues.
Lac qui Parle County and Farmers Mutual Telephone Company
For their vision and innovative partnership that brought fiber optic communications to more than 1700 rural farms and businesses providing a model that has now been replicated in multiple rural Minnesota counties.
- In 2010, approximately 52 percent of all Lac qui Parle residential properties and business properties still depended on dial-up or satellite.
- In 2008, the county’s economic development authority formed a Broadband Steering Committee to study options with the support of a Blandin Foundation broadband feasibility study.
- In 2009, Lac qui Parle partnered with Farmers Mutual Telephone Company, a local telephone cooperative, to expand Internet access. The County and Farmers were awarded a $9.6 million federal grant in August 2010.
City of Monticello
This Courageous Leadership Award is presented to the City of Monticello for its early recognition of the importance of telecommunications to its economic future and for its perseverance in deploying a fiber optic network that has transformed the city’s local Internet environment.
- In 2005, in response to business and resident complaints about slow, unreliable Internet access and overly expensive telecommunications services, the City Council appointed a Task Force to investigate options for the community.
- In a referendum in 2007, 74 percent of voters supported creation of a municipally owned network.
- Despite a disruptive lawsuit by an incumbent provider, the city forged on and today, FiberNet Monticello delivers affordable high-quality broadband services in a highly competitive local marketplace.
FiberNet has dramatically increased available speeds and reliability, improving Monticello’s ability to support innovative business practices and attract and retain knowledge workers. Thanks to this municipally-owned fiber-to-the-home network, the City of Monticello has transitioned from a poorly connected community to one of the top connected communities in the nation.
This Courageous Leadership Award is presented to the members and Board of Directors of RS Fiber for their unwavering commitment, courage and innovative approach that launched a new broadband cooperative providing fiber optic connectivity to residents in ten communities and robust wireless services to farms and rural residents across multiple counties resulting in more competitive enterprises and new community development opportunities.
Today, with a vision of “Enriching the Lives of our Rural Communities,” RS Fiber is a community-owned, community- driven network bringing high-speed, low-cost broadband services to more than 2,200 customers in Renville, Sibley, McLeod and Nicollet Counties … and still growing.
RS Fiber received the League of Minnesota Cities’ “City of Excellence Award” in 2016 for their collaboration in working to bring high-speed broadband Internet to their communities. The winning award entry stated: “The cities developed grassroots support for the project by hosting more than 150 meetings and by personally contacting hundreds of residents, local businesses, and government officials.”
Throughout the long and arduous process of creating RS Fiber, the leaders have remained steadfast in their commitment to build a fiber network to every farm and home; with no one left behind.
City of Windom
This Courageous Leadership Award is presented to the City of Windom for vision and perseverance to construct and operate Minnesota’s first municipal fiber-to-the-home network and its support of regional broadband via Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services.
- Well into the 1990s, the quality of available internet service in Windom was poor. Community frustration was on the rise.
- Community leaders did not quit after a failed vote to build a municipal network in 1999; the community rallied with a successful ballot initiative in 2002.
- The network build began in 2004, making Windom the first city in Minnesota to own and operate a competitive municipal citywide fiber-to-the-home network.
- In 2007 WindomNet began to collaborate with eight other communities to form Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services.
- Windom was a Blandin partner in both Get Broadband and Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities programs to spur technology sophistication in the community.
This investment has brought multiple benefits to the community: WindomNet has been critical to retaining anchor employers; it has spurred job growth and facilitated adoption by local health care providers of cost-effective tele-medicine applications.
This Courageous Leadership Award is presented to Christopher Mitchell for his research, advocacy and leadership at the national level on behalf of community broadband networks, via public sector ownership and cooperatives, as the best strategy for maximizing community benefits from broadband network development.
- Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance where he researches and publicizes the benefits of community-owned broadband systems.
- Honored as one of the 2012 Top 25 in Public Sector Technology nationally by Government Technology magazine.
- Created and leads MuniNetworks.org, a comprehensive online clearinghouse of information about community broadband. Chris is also policy director at Next Century Cities, a national community broadband advocacy organization.
Chris’s tireless work to document and share stories about the value of public networks has inspired many community broadband champions across the nation.