Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Cannon Falls

Every year, the Blandin Foundation does an assessment of how the Blandin Broadband Communities projects. Here’s the update from  Cannon Falls …

Recognizing the need to adapt, evolve and take advantage
of opportunities to modernize and grow, Cannon Falls
Economic Development authority (EDA) applied to the BBC
program and chose the school district as its physical
boundary. The city is located just over thirty miles south of
Minneapolis/St. Paul, making it a desirable place to visit,
conduct business and reside.
One of the team’s objectives was to address the
problem that not all families in the school district
have access to the same level of broadband service:
the city of Cannon Falls is served by a fiber-to-the-home network, while those in more rural parts of the
district struggle with poor service. BBC Steering Team
members are using broadband surveys to talk with
local internet providers about the need to improve
internet access. The pandemic of 2020 compounded
this issue, with all students needing equitable access
to learning-from-home. The district responded with a
project that allowed them to purchase mobile
internet hotspots for at least 28 families lacking
access and additional iPads for teachers to use to
teach in-school and at-home learners simultaneously.
The BBC team also has successfully distributed fifty refurbished computers from PCs for People
to income-qualifying families with school-age children and nonprofits in need in the area.
Working in partnership with many organizations across the community the EDA has built a local foods infrastructure that includes a farmer’s market, restaurants, meat processing, event space, and more. Cannon Falls used the Blandin Broadband Community program as an opportunity to build on and amplify this success by creating and implementing a 21st century marketing and promotion plan for the initiative and brand. Additional marketing support was included in 2020 to assist local food and beverage purveyors struggling due to the pandemic.
Recognizing that every business in the community would benefit from an increased level of digital literacy and sophistication of internet use, the project included a digital marketing deferred loan program where any local business can apply for funds to use technology and social media to promote and grow their businesses.
Another focus for the community is senior engagement. The BBC group helped purchase Virtual Reality (VR) headsets and software subscriptions for two senior care centers in the area, enabling residents to take virtual field trips around the world. VR systems are being used for wellness, stress reduction, and for the calming effect that guided imagery and ambient sound can have on improving
quality of life. There is growing research to show virtual reality helps the elderly cope with depression and anxiety. To that end, the Cannon Valley Senior Center received project funding to update their website in 2020,
improving staff’s ability to keep it up-to-date, and more useful and interactive for members unable to gather due to the pandemic.
Other projects funded for implementation in the Cannon Falls area include upgraded technology at the Cannon Falls Area Chamber of Commerce to increase efficiency and competitiveness, and increased participation with Explore Minnesota to generate more area tourism.

My hope is that the State of MN recognizes that broadband is a utility, like electricity was a utility for my great-grandparents and grandparents. That there is an investment that needs to happen here from the state –
because [the pandemic] is even exacerbating a much bigger equity issue than we ever knew we had. We have the
technology at school to support students, but [at home, families] may not have what they need to be able to educate their students in the way that is going to keep them on track.
– Amy Dombeck, Cannon Falls Area Schools

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