Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Rock County

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

As of 2019, and again in 2020, 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 is 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 computer labs in the senior center
and public housing complex.

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, computer classes and early childhood distance instructional equipment through community education, and distance learning
terminals for boys housed at the local detention and education center.

Projects:

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.
(Impact) 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
Wi-Fi at campgrounds serve both tourists and temporary
workers. It also allows for security cameras and benefits
campground staff.
(Impact) We’ve had some essential workers that’ve moved in [to Magnolia Campground] this spring. One is a traveling nurse living out of their camper while remote working. They log on every night through that Wi-Fi. She’s able to conduct [tele-health] in a campground because of the backbone that’s provided. … They’re conducting
essential work out of the campground because they’re able to travel down and do those things.
– Kyle Oldre, Rock County Administrator
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.
(Impact) 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

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