Every year, the Blandin Foundation does an assessment of how the Blandin Broadband Communities projects are going. The assessment is part update and part cumulation. You can read the whole report online. There update from the following communities:
- Cannon Falls
- Koochiching Technology Initiative
- Rock County
- Swift County
- East Range Joint Powers
- Iron Range Tourism Bureau
- Laurentian Chamber of Commerce
- Tower Economic Development Authority
- Aitkin County
- Grizzlies (Bois Forte, Cook, Orr)
- Mt. Iron-Buhl
I will post those updates separately so we can all find them next year when we want them. And here’s the overall commentary on the impact of 2020 and all it has brought with it…
2020 COVID-19 Response: Under normal circumstances, community teams are encouraged to invite the public and the media to the third and final Strut Your Stuff Tour to join in celebrating success. BBC Steering Committees use the occasion to revisit the community goals that informed their activities, report on progress achieved toward those goals, and recommit to continued efforts. However, in 2020 the third visit was being planned for early spring, so the decision was made to shift to virtual meetings via Zoom. Furthermore, most communities were very busy with COVID planning and emergency relief activities related to Minnesota’s Stay-a-tHome order. As a result, these were smaller, virtual gatherings where the focus was on both progress-to-date and COVID adjustments.
One nearly across-the-board adjustment was that communities were invited to extend their grant periods through December 31, 2020. Most had been scheduled to be concluded by midyear. The reason this was necessary was because a lot of the work was paused while team members were occupied with emergency response, and in-person gatherings and trainings were put on indefinite hold. An extension allowed the BBCs to pause and reassess current projects and allocate or reallocate funding to implement technology-related COVID response projects.
Other common challenges for BBCs included:
Mobile devices, hotspots, and even some laptops became difficult to find due to high demand as schools shifted to online learning.
The gap between students with internet access at home and those without became even more significant, and districts scrambled to find solutions for students. The 35 solutions were often mobile Wi-Fi hotspots or reduced cost internet subscriptions through local providers.
Trainings and workshops originally designed as in-person had to shift to videoconference. This was a particular challenge when the expected audience had very limited exposure to technology, such as senior citizens.
Delays related to equipment availability and concerns related to social distancing with installation.
However, the challenges of 2020 highlighted the importance of universal broadband. It became clear to so many additional people that high-speed internet access and the skills to use it is critically important infrastructure. Working and schooling from home is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity, and internet access makes it possible to do so successfully. Meanwhile inequitable access to the internet leads to inequal educational and work opportunities. The digital divide intensified but received more attention from new advocates.
Businesses began to adapt to more online and less in-person traffic. Many BBCs have funded digital marketing and technology trainings for small local businesses and nonprofits over the past few years, and those businesses were in better shape to adapt and respond to the pandemic.