The Blandin Foundation recently published an inclusive assessment of the last cohort of Blandin Broadband Communities. Including a segment on Rock County…
As of 2019, Rock County is the top ranked county in Minnesota for broadband speeds meeting the state’s 2026 speed goals of 100/20. They received $5 million in 2015 from DEED’s Border-to-Border Broadband grant program to build gigabit-capable fiber to the premise network throughout the county. While the availability of high-speed internet access is a great advantage to Rock County, the BBC team recognized that their residents and businesses in many cases still needed the skills to take full advantage of those services. Especially in the areas of healthcare and agriculture.
Libraries play a key role in closing the rural broadband gap by providing access to people who may not be able to afford home subscriptions, and librarians can help connect people with information and resources. Thus, it’s not a surprise that this Rock County Community Library-led effort focused on providing free public Wi-Fi and the training to use it.
The team designed and implemented projects to provide free public wireless internet at six area campgrounds and two parks. They also implemented Wi-Fi on school buses, purchased mobile Wi-Fi hotspots for check-out at the Library, and installed a computer lab in the senior center and public housing complex.
Blue Mound Tower is a 70-unit income-based housing facility. The project supplied two PCs for People computers and Wi-Fi for residents’ use when registering for services, accessing medical records, applying for jobs and to connect with family and friends. They are also invited to attend classes at the senior center or library to learn to use technology better.
Wi-Fi at campgrounds serve both tourists and temporary workers. It also allows for security cameras and benefits campground staff. • The library mobile hotspots can be checked out by patrons for two weeks at a time. They use a reservation system so people can be sure to get them when they need them. They’ve had a great response and generally keep a waiting list.
Agriculture is the major industry in Rock County. Advances in technology are transforming how it’s done. One BBC project surveyed Ag producers on their technology interests and needs and then provided a day of learning to help address them. Seventy people of all age ranges attended and found it valuable.
Other projects included a booth at the county fair to promote the team’s BBC work, customized social media and website training for twenty small businesses and nonprofits in the county, mental health education offered via distance learning, and computer classes through community education.
Many of our tenants cannot afford to own a computer nor can they afford a monthly internet bill. These computers [acquired through BCBP] have made it possible and convenient for tenants to search employment opportunities and apply for jobs. They can establish an email address for communicating with family and friends and employers. Many of our tenants do not have transportation, therefore online ordering may be the only way they can purchase their basic necessities. Several have established Facebook accounts which have connected them with family and friends. Currently we are live streaming the MN DNR and Decorah, IA, Raptor Resource Project eagle cameras. Tenants of all ages love to check in on the eagles. These computers have opened a window to the outside world and enhanced many lives at the Housing Authority of Luverne/Blue Mound Tower.
– Tammy J. Johnson, Executive Director, Blue Mound Tower
The hotspots are always checked out! We have families who take them on vacation and students who check them out to do schoolwork. We have heard so many times from our library users how great the service is and how happy they are to have the hotspots available in our community! The five hotspots have been available for ten months, and they have checked out a total of 99 times!
– Calla Bjorklund Jarvie, Director, Rock County Community Library