Be Prepared for Opportunity!

Blandin Foundation is seeking communities/counties to participate in their Community Broadband Resources: Accelerate! program beginning in September.  Blandin decided to launch a 2nd cohort of communities due to the enthusiastic response from our first cohort that completed the program in June.  We hope to have a group of 3 – 5 communities participating as a cohort and would like to start in late September as soon as we have our community cohort on board.

In essence, we ask that each community form a steering team with at least 8 people.  In our first cohort, teams ranged from 8 – 16 members that committed to participating in weekly meetings, each Friday morning from 9 – 11 am.  We do not keep attendance and ask only that people make a good faith commitment.

Each week has a theme.    From 9-10, all of the communities meet together to: 1) learn from experts; 2) hear from Blandin members; 3) learn from each other.  The second hour is devoted to each community’s steering team meeting where the teams plan their upcoming work.  We also ask that members watch an archived video webinar some time during the week on that week’s topic.

Through the process, each community will conduct a community survey using a standardized survey.  MN Extension will assist on data reporting.  In our last cohort, communities combined online and paper surveys.  Local communities are responsible for doing any data entry with the paper surveys and for any mailing or publicity costs.  In the first cohort, we used the statewide speed test web site to gather that data.  I am uncertain as to the availability of that site for our purposes.

Provider interviews are also a part of the process.  Several community-friendly providers participated on community teams in the first cohort.

We spend quite a bit of time on mapping, public private partnerships, public finance, etc.

The last two weeks of the program are devoted to the creation of a community broadband plan where Blandin staff works with each community to finalize their plan and a presentation that they can bring back to local elected officials, community groups and members, and broadband providers.

The application process is quite easy and informal.  The list of steering team members is the key element.

If you would like to know more, contact Bill Coleman at 651-491-2551 or  He would be happy to do a quick webinar to ensure there is clear understanding of the process.

February Broadband Infrastructure Lunch Bunch-“Talking with Legislators” notes

More than 30 participants in the Lunch Bunch talked about effective communication strategies for promoting broadband causes at the Legislature this week.  Nathan Zacharias of the MN Rural Broadband Coalition shared advice ranging from the general – common courtesy to the more specific – the coalition messaging strategy.  You can see the Coalition’s materials on their web site – .

Nathan was joined by a more unlikely, but interesting guest.  Dorian Grilley is executive director of the MN Bicycle Coalition (BikeMN).  This advocacy organization has become a force across the state with a Mayor’s Advisory Caucus and partnerships with MNDOT and Health Department.  Dorian talked about the local chapters and certified cities programs that promote the benefits of cycling.  Dorian had extensive data that documents how state investments and programs save infrastructure dollars and improve health and spur economic development.  Broadband and bicycles are two ingredients that attract new residents and visitors.  That list was expanded to include breweries and blues bands (and schools, but schools does not start with a “B”).

Nathan encouraged local entities to continue to promote the statewide speed test (on the coalition site) as a tool that provides a powerful picture to legislators interested in their own districts.  Nathan and the coalition are planning for a Virtual Day at the Capitol for late spring, so watch for more news on that later.

Our March 10th discussion will focus on the benefits of publicly owned broadband networks.  Register here:

Free WiFi Access Points

Thanks to Danna MacKenzie, former Office of Broadband Director, I became aware of a great opportunity from a national non-profit organization – the Information Technology Disaster Resource Center ( .  The initiative is called Project Connect.  You can see details under the COVID 19 tab on their web site, including the application form.  They have a great FAQ on their web site with all of the details.  This organization comes highly recommended.

The have the resources to install an external wi-fi access point on a public or private building, all for free.  They also help the host ensure that everything is secure.  They also provide some ongoing, but limited support on the access point management.

The local host must provide the Internet access, either through their existing access or with a new separate Internet service.  Most hosts are public entities like cities or libraries, but it could be a local grocery store.  Having a place to park or sit is important.  The access point can be located inside, such as in a community room of an affordable housing development, but public access is required.  Smaller communities might identify one site; larger communities might think about identifying sites that are at least 1/2 mile apart.  There seem to be few restrictions.

ITDRC uses paid staff and a corps of qualified volunteers to do this work.  It takes 30-60 days for equipment to be installed.  For those interested, they generally use Ubiquity access points.

Complete information is on their web site.  They would prefer that each site host complete their own application so that all the information goes directly into their system.

Let’s keep them busy in Minnesota!

Blandin Broadband 101 – A conference within a conference

Have you always wanted to attend a national broadband conference to learn from the very best consultants and broadband providers?  Broadband 101 – a conference within the Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand conference, starts Monday, October 12 right from your desktop.  For two weeks, each day at 1 pm, a nationally recognized expert will address a key community broadband topic.  No registration fee, no travel expense, open to all!

Our speakers hail from across the country, including a couple right here in Minnesota.  Topics include fiber optics, 5G, federal funding sources, feasibility studies and provider partnerships, and rights of way management.  We will also have a bonus public policy seminar on the afternoon of October 15th followed by a fun happy hour session.

Get complete details at .

Broadband Roundtable on CARES funding to further broadband access notes

The use of CARES funding for broadband development is a very hot topic right now.  Cities, counties, townships and school districts are all increasingly recognizing broadband access and digital equity concerns magnified by COVID-19.  The short timelines and vague guidelines have caused great confusion and uncertainty across Minnesota and beyond.  I am rarely at a loss for offering advice, but the possibility of claw-back by the federal government for misspent CARES funding is a real concern.


Barbara Droher Klein, superstar volunteer/part-time staff for the Le Sueur County Blandin Broadband Communities initiative, talked about how they are approaching this opportunity.  They are utilizing existing fiber and tower assets to almost immediately launch some fixed wireless services in and around LeCenter and along Highway 169.  They are also working to expand existing fiber to the home deployments to reach more homes, including some that were disqualified due to an incumbent’s challenge.  Barbara reports that these folks are ecstatic to learn that they will get fiber to the home when they thought that they would be stuck with slower DSL while their neighbors enjoyed gigabit connections.

Dakota County requested letter of interest from the provider community and received a good response from a number of providers.  The county board will be reviewing those responses and setting budgets and pursuing formal partnerships.  Dakota County has used their 300+ mile fiber network to increase public access at parks, libraries and government buildings in an attempt to address access questions.

Some governments are frustrated with the short timelines and restrictive rules that limit flexibility and long-term thinking.  There was some discussion that there could be an extension of timelines or new COVID response legislation.  We will have to see what happens in Washington or St. Paul.

This was the last of the Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtables.  Hope to see you participate in the Minnesota Broadband Conference in October!

Chat log

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable with Christopher Mitchell of MuniNets (ILSR)

In today’s Blandin Community Leadership Roundtable, Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) presented and discussed local community ownership models being implemented across the country as a way to bring the highest speed, lowest cost Internet services to their citizens.  He also talked about the network as a community asset to promote economic development and digital equity initiatives.  Scott County was cited as a model for economic development in using its network assets to attract data hungry companies.  Chattanooga TN was recognized for using its network to provide broadband services to all of its citizens during the pandemic.  We learned about how Dakota County is continuously seeking partnerships with other providers to expand and fortify its network.

Next week, in the final episode of this series, we will focus on what Minnesota local units of government are doing with CARES funding to further broadband access and adoption.  Barbara Droher Kline, Le Sueur County’s Blandin Broadband Communities leader, will showcase how Le Sueur County is using its broadband planning efforts to allocate county funds and amplify Blandin funding.

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on MN Broadband Coalition and speed test notes

Today, the Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable participants heard from Nathan Zacharias, representing the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition about the new statewide broadband speed test.  With large numbers of participants, Minnesota will be able to create a new broadband map that demonstrates the availability and use of high speed Internet.  The new map will also show where high-speed broadband is not available.  Large numbers of tests will increase the validity of the maps.  The software system has a built-in feature that provides the required number of tests to ensure statistically valid information.

While there is clear value for this tool at the state level, there is huge value at the local level.  Cities, townships and school districts can use this information in their own broadband planning and development programs as well as for digital equity initiatives.  Local efforts to promote and complete the speed test will provide clear evidence that supports grant applications and local leadership.

For complete information, go to the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition website at .

Next week, August 18th at 9 am, Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance ( will lead a discussion about public engagement in broadband network development.  Join us.

Chat log: Continue reading

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Data and Broadband Investment Archive

Thanks to Michael Curri of Strategic Networks Group ( for a very interesting and informative presentation on the uses of data to justify broadband investments.  Every stakeholder group – community members, business owners, elected officials, broadband providers, funders – has a unique set of Return on Investment measures by which they will consider participation and measure success.  Michael’s presentation provides an overview of those measures.

Participants raised many questions about broadband investment, including discussion of a changed mindset that would treat broadband infrastructure more like roads, a part of the public investment strategy to supports economic development.  We also talked about the economic and business benefits to increased broadband and technology sophistication.  An interesting point was made about that jobs created by a rural-based company may now be filled by people who are working online from another location.  We often think about remote rural workers teleworking to jobs in the metro area; the Internet is a two-way street which reinforces the need to build a local knowledge workforce.

Congratulations to Becky Lourey and her company Nemadji.  After years of seeking better broadband, they are about to get it through a new fiber extension by SCI, a regional broadband provider in east central Minnesota.  As a result, Nemadji will now have a redundant Internet connection and all residents of Bruno, population 102 in northern Pine County, will have fiber to the home Internet services!

Next week, August 4th, Bernadine Joselyn will lead a presentation and discussion about the new Connected MN program and how that will benefit Minnesota students in the months ahead.  Register at under the webinar heading.

EVENT JUl28: Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Data and Broadband Investment

Join us Tuesday, June 28th at 9 am for the next Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable where Michael Curri of Strategic Networks Group will participate in a discussion of broadband data necessary to justify a broadband investment.  Strategic Networks Groups has worked with many states and cities gathering and analyzing broadband related data.

SNG has recently been studying how various stakeholder groups can effectively measure their own Return on Investment for broadband investment.  Learn what what data are needed to make the case for broadband and to build local buy-in or to get projects funded and financed?

Everyone that invests their time, money, and/or effort needs to see returns based on their terms – which vary depending on the stakeholder group and what they are bringing to the table. Elected officials, local champions and organizations, service providers, investors, government funding will be discussed and what each need to move forward in terms of data, commitments, or opportunity.

Bring your data questions for Michael. Register now.

Can 5G Compete with Cable Broadband? A response from 5G

I asked Nokia’s Brian Pickering about Doug Dawson’s timely Pots and Pans 5G blog post today.  Brian shared this response with me and Blandin on Broadband blog readers.  You can see Brian’s presentation to our Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable here:


This has been a heavy debated topics with the big operators, cable industry and others.  The discussion has always centered around the business case for 5G – number of house covered, uptake of customers per cell site, etc  vs trenching fiber to the house or through a subdivision.

mmWave and cmWave is the best for this solution.  mmWave having large bandwidth, but small coverage AND requires an external antenna to receive the signal as the signal will not penetrate the exterior walls.  There is a high power CPE coming to the market in the 2H 2020, which may eliminate the outdoor antenna.  cmWave is great for the coverage, but the speed may be comparable to cable guys, and outdoor antenna is not required.

I have heard from a cable company, they believe 5G to the home is a case by case for deployment – a tool in the tool box.  Will use 5G where it makes the most economical sense.  With that said, the big cable operators do not have a large amount spectrum yet.  Windstream small regional operator has 28Ghz spectrum.

Verizon as you know have pushed 5G to the home and had small success with it.  They have launched it in 6 markets, but its very limited in its geographic area.  Tmobile stated over a year ago they will go after the cable industry using their 2.5Ghz spectrum, using the same business model and process they do for wireless.  The cable guys continue monitor and test 5G to better understand what the telecom guys are doing.

Prior to the pandemic, cellular systems were lightly loaded in residential areas during the day as everyone went to work, traffic picked up in the evening, but overall still not heavily loaded.  Verizon looks at 5G to the home as a benefit to the network, as it helps use a lightly loaded network in the evenings or at night.

5G to the home is probably more appealing to the 20 &30 year olds – where they can take it anywhere at any time.  Example, my eldest has a 6 month co-op internship, he was  not able to get cable at his apartment because the cable company wanted a 1 year contract.  So, he is connecting his computer to his cell phone so he can watch Netflix, youtube, etc.

Hope that helps.  If you have any questions, please let me know.


Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Minnesota’s Children Press archive

Anne Brataas, director of the Minnesota’s Children Press and other enterprises, was our guest presenter.  She described how she is active in the Grand Marais community empowering kids age 5-15 with technology and communications skills around community messaging.  There is a strong focus on entrepreneurship so that kids develop both skills and attitude to achieve economic self-sufficiency.  Most recently, the kids have been creating messaging around community health during the pandemic for residents and visitors to Grand Marais.  Using marketing strategies borrowed from Burma Shave, they find sign sponsors, create the verbiage, and make and install the signs.  Profits go to community projects like a new cover for the practice rolling log at the YMCA or a new sun shield at a local park.

The discussion included active conversation about the current pressures on local newspapers, many of which are cutting the number of papers published per week, including the Duluth paper.  Becky Lourie noted that many of the articles in her very local papers in northern Pine and Carlton County are written by citizen journalists.  We also talked about the ability of local media, especially with active youth involvement, to address the gaps of information around local history, including a focus on indigenous people and other people of color.  Anne calls this “whole history.”  Finally, we had an active social justice discussion on the uneven impact of the pandemic on people based on race and economic status.

Next Tuesday, July 14 at 9 am, we will talk about 5G.  Brian Pickering will be our guest expert.  Brian is Nokia’s Vice President of 5G Product Sales North America.  This is a great opportunity to learn about how 5G technologies and services might impact your community’s broadband services and the way that your residents, organizations and businesses use technology. (See slides.)

Webinar chat: Continue reading

Broadband Roundtable on small-scale economic development strategies Archive

In today’s Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable, Ann Treacy and Molly Solberg, each a social media wizard, shared how they work with local businesses to expand and improve their online marketing efforts resulting in increased sales.  The theme today was Small Scale Economic Development Strategies.  Through a combination of training, networking events and one-on-one technical assistance, they work with businesses to implement social media strategies.

They help the businesses establish goals, determine the most effective set of social media platforms and do the necessary work.  Molly noted her use of customized step-by-step powerpoint checklists that help to establish a disciplined approach that help a business stay on course.  Bud Stone of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce noted the importance and the difficulty of a sustained effort.  Ann Treacy said that she sometimes works to develop long-term community capacity by training a local person while assisting small businesses.  Communities need to consider small business technology mentoring as a core business retention and expansion strategy.  The benefits can be large, especially if the community can develop a core set of tech-savvy small businesses.  Thanks to Ann and Molly for sharing!

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable:Social Media for Community Broadband

The June 16 Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable discussion centered on social media practices in Community Broadband Initiatives.  I did a brief history overview beginning with Google Fiber and their community competition and went up through today’s collaborative environment with friendly providers’ use of fiberhood survey practices.    From there, the conversation went to a more general overview of successful social media strategies.  We talked Facebook. Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Next-door and TikTok.  Multiple folks chimed in with both successes and challenges of the use of social media in communicating with customers and community members.  We talked extensively about magnifying your social media strategies by re-tweeting, liking posts, tagging and hash tagging.  We also had a good conversation about the need to ensure accuracy of your own posts and to work to fight disinformation.  Thanks to all who chimed in!  It made it a very interesting conversation.

On Tuesday June 23, we will talk about the rapid emergence of telehealth in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.  To contribute to the conversation, find out what is now available from your own health care network or even bring your own tele-health care experience!

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable: Polco’s civic engagement platform notes

Thanks to Matt Fulton of Polco ( ( for an excellent presentation on the Polco community engagement platform.  The survey tool allows local units of governments and other entities to quickly and easily set up surveys to gather community input on any topic.  The basic Polco platform is free to use and Polco offers upgraded features for a fee.  It is easy to embed the surveys right on a web site or blog or newsletter.  Results can be seen by geography or demographics.  Survey respondents can be verified through a registration function which also enables the results by neighborhood features.

There was great interest and questions by roundtable participants.  There was a question around privacy and the verification process.  The verification process guarantees that people are not voting multiple times and provides geo-coding oof results.  People do not have to use the verification process, but some functionality is lost.  There were also questions about how community organizations could use the tool for organizing and informing citizens about issues like water quality and youth engagement.  There was also discussion about the need to write good survey questions – Polco has some online tools as well as examples to guide survey development.  There were also concerns about how representative poll results might be if there is an unrepresentative sample of survey respondents.  Organizers can check the demographic and geographic representation of the responses and actively market the survey to increase the responses to make it more representative of the community.  There are also ways to use Polco to do a random sample survey rather than an open poll on the community web site or Facebook page.  With so many public entities now using Zoom meetings and more limited opportunities for public input, online tools used correctly can play a signifiant role in filling the participation gap.

Next Tuesday morning at 9 am, June 16, we will take a look at some examples of the use of social media in community broadband organizing.  If your community is making effective use of online communications to spur your broadband projects, please send me some links so that I can look at them in advance.  Thanks for your help on this!

EVENT June 9: Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable: Polco’s civic engagement platform

The next Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable will feature a presentation by Matt Fulton of Polco.  According to their website, “Polco’s civic engagement platform makes meaningful communication between community leaders and the people they serve not only possible, but enjoyable.”    See more at .  Be prepared to share how your community is using online tools to engage citizens and the benefits and challenges of that engagement.  The Blandin broadband team will share its experience of moving it Blandin Broadband Communities project development process online.  Join us Tuesday, June 9 at 9 am by registering here: .

Please share your ideas for future discussion topics to