Regularly the Blandin Foundation takes a look at the various communities they have been working with to promote, deploy and use better broadband. They use the Mountain of Accountability Framework as a tool to help learn from the past two years. The graphic to the right gives an overview of the pieces of the assessment. You can check out the full report to find out how many YouTube subscribers the Blandin Broadband channel has or total amount of grants awarded. But my favorite part is checking in on each of the communities helped – and for sake of archive and brevity of post I’m going to share them each separately:
Erin Smith, Otter Tail County BBC team member and Director of the Viking Library System, had this to say about her BBC experience during a meeting with Foundation staff in April 2021:
“During this past year broadband and these tools are how people have stayed connected. It’s so imperative that everyone has that opportunity – [both] during the pandemic and going forward too. I just think there’s a lot of purpose and meaning to the work… it’s been a bright spot!”
Indeed, as the pandemic took hold in 2020, participants in the county’s visioning process identified as priorities getting broadband access to families and individuals without
(through subsidized services, public Wi-Fi), enhancements to help kids be successful in the distant-learning environment imposed due to COVID, and public education around why broadband is important to everyone in the county – for schools, healthcare, attracting and retaining businesses, and more.
The Otter Tail County team implemented a number of projects to redress equity issues that came to light due to the COVID pandemic. For example, the county distributed one hundred Tech Packs to residents impacted by the pandemic. The packs contained a laptop computer, wireless hotspot device with six months of prepaid internet service, and digital resources for jobseekers from CareerForce. This
project was identified through the BBC visioning process, but the County primarily used CARES funding to pay for it, extending the reach of the overall BBC effort. Of the tech-pack recipients, 54% reported not having internet access at home.
Two other projects were identified through the BBC program but funded by CARES. The first was Smart Rooms – six indoor public meeting spaces with audiovisual equipment for use for job interviews, virtual meetings, distance learning, and more. The rooms are located at four public libraries, the Battle Lake City Hall, and the City of Vergas Event Center. More spaces may be identified and funded with Blandin dollars.
New public Wi-Fi access was made available in four locations: Battle Lake Public School parking lots, Underwood School activity buses, Kirkbride Park in Fergus Falls, and downtown New York Milles. More locations are being explored.
Two projects implemented address knowledge workforce. The first was a Virtual Career Fair and additional STEAM offerings in summer childcare programs. In previous years Greater Fergus Falls and the School District hosted in-person career fair to introduce students to local career opportunities. Shifting the fair to a virtual format actually allowed them to expand to six businesses outside the Fergus Falls area and expanded marketing efforts county-wide. The STEAM element allowed Fergus Falls YMCA to expand coding education and other technology education offerings. Also, Perham Boys & Girls Club added coding robots to their programming, and they explored digital media and arts in other kids’ programming. Another project focused on improving business resilience through technology by offering technology audits to local small businesses, and then using what they learned to provide specialized learning opportunities for participating businesses.
The Otter Tail County team made good use of the fifty PCs for People computers provided by Blandin Foundation. They targeted senior citizens and families receiving human
services assistance. They purchased webcams to complement the computers and offered tech support and digital literacy resources.