Every year, the Blandin Foundation does an assessment of how the Blandin Broadband Communities projects. Here’s the update from East Range Joint Powers…
The East Range Joint Powers Board (ERJPB) is a collaboration and partnership between the Iron Range cities of Aurora, Biwabik, and Hoyt Lakes, and the Town of White. The four communities share a school district and pool their time and financial resources toward joint services, facilities, and programs and initiatives.
Large portions of the East Range area are un- or underserved, or available broadband services are unreliable and/or prohibitively expensive, particularly outside of denser population centers or towns. To address this need, the towns served by the ERJPB have joined with fellow IRBCs Laurentian Chamber of Commerce and Tower to conduct a feasibility study to determine what options exist to expand broadband services in the region.
Enhancing public Wi-Fi was a priority for these communities. The ERJPB team installed hotspots at the Biwabik City Center and at the libraries in Hoyt Lakes and Aurora.
The ERJPB BBC team increased their region’s capacity to work better together by significantly upgrading the partnership’s website to include a shared community calendar and repository for information on the region’s broadband enhancement efforts.
The ERJB team is working directly with local businesses to assess and address their technology training and planning needs, including with the help of a new portable training lab developed to increase the ability of local employers, educators, economic development organizations, clubs, associations and others to offer computer, technology, community and professional education and training to individuals and groups across the region. They later added a component that provided individualized website and social media training for local businesses through Northeast Small Business Development Center.
ERJB team also has been active in statewide broadband advocacy efforts, including engaging their local business community in making the case for the need to improve broadband access and adoption.
The Mesabi East school district is large and spread out, meaning students spend a lot of time on buses. The BBC is equipping four longer-haul buses with Wi-Fi so students can do schoolwork while traveling. They are also helping the school district better communicate with its families and community by improving its communication infrastructure.
As part of an effort to improve the region’s tech literacy and inspire knowledge workers, the team supported a project to offer STEM education for all ages. They aim to have students teach older adults how to use mobile devices. They’ll also schedule classes at the library on coding and robotics, create kits to check out with preloaded apps for robotics and coding, and will acquire and manage a supply of devices to be checked out for those who don’t have cell phones or tablets of their own.
Lastly, the ERJB team implemented a few projects centered around modernizing the region’s emergency services, including technology upgrades for Hoyt Lakes Public Safety Building and Palo Volunteer Fire Department, and updating laptops for use in East Range and Hoyt Lakes squad cars and ambulances, and for EMS training. They also addressed safety for recreational vehicle users through a project that extended cell service to the local snowmobile club maintained trails, and internet to the club building.