About Bernadine Joselyn

Bernadine Joselyn is Director of Public Policy & Engagement at the Blandin Foundation. Based in Grand Rapids, MN, Blandin Foundation is a private independent foundation whose mission is to strengthen rural Minnesota communities, especially Grand Rapids.

Blandin Broadband Communities: Strut Your Stuff Gathering Notes

November 14, 2019
South Central Service Cooperative

Recently Bill Coleman and I had the pleasure of meeting up folks from three of our current Blandin Broadband Communities – Swift County, Rock County, and Cannon Falls –  to talk about their broadband projects.  To compare notes we used the Intelligent Community Framework: Broadband Infrastructure; Workforce; Innovation; Digital Equity; Marketing & Advertising; and Sustainability.

The Cannon Fall’s team told us, “We had projects that touched our whole community – all different points across our community.”  Swift and Rock County also reported on projects across multiple ICF pillars.

Here below is a summary of some of the broadband work currently underway in these communities. These efforts inspire me.

INFRASTRUCTURE/ACCESS

Cannon Falls

Water tower and water storage facility is now 20 years old and needs attention.  The city needs help understanding what’s up there. The city does have the money to hire someone to do this.

Families are paying too much for Internet in our area.  We have online learning days now – that saved our school district last year.  Some providers responded that “it’s too cold” for the Internet to work.

Rock County 

Hot spots 

The library has five portable hot-spots for check-out. Each hotspot can support 15 devices. “Incredibly popular.”  They check out for two weeks. We have had some problem with people who repeatedly want to use the equipment.  Folks paid the late fee instead of returning the equipment.  Late fee raised from $1/day to $25/day.

More hotspots?  We want to keep the hotspots after the grant runs out.  It’s $200/mo for the five of them.  We have demand for ten, but couldn’t support the subscription cost for that many. Also – now wifi available in many county parks and camp sites – could impact demand for the library’s hot spot?

Wifi on school buses 

Two transferable units are now installed and working well. They are used on activity buses as appropriate.  School will pay for these hotspots going forward.  $900/for two hotspots/yr.  These devices can support 50/60 students.

Wifi at Campgrounds 

In partnership with Alliance Communications, free public wifi has been installed at four campgrounds, including a state park and a ball field.  Delivering 100 MG symmetrical. Included 12 months of subscriptions – after that, each city has agreed to pay for ongoing costs.  Parks are allowed to suspend over the winter.  Also installed cameras for the City of Hills to help monitor their unstaffed camp ground.  Cities were very receptive to this project.  They will add a bit to their camping fees to cover ongoing costs.  There is a campground in Jasper, MN, county line goes through the town.  The campground is privately owned by the quarry.  Paperwork for the donation has never been recorded. Goal was to put one in publicly-held property – Jasper is a hold-up, because of the ownership question.

Swift County

We don’t have a champion for hotspot check-outs in our libraries.  Swift County is looking to bring wifi public access to city parks and county parks. Hearing these examples will help me.

Co working space had been a topic.  Looking at new options for an empty building in Benson for some departments – allowing the court house to be a “justice center.”

WORKFORCE

Swift County

Case IH; biggest employer in the county, worked with Ridgewater College to design and deliver a welding course, “Tooling U.”  Students got computers if they needed them.  Full practicum welding training.  16 fully passed the test in 5 weeks, now qualified to get a job as a welder. They had a waiting list. Pay $18-22 hour.  Case provided all the equipment, materials.  People had to agree to come to the classes and wear steel toe shoes.  ~$1000/person cost.  Students kept gloves/helmet.  Innovative program….. first we thought we’d train high school students. Next steps?   Would we do it again? Yes.  But it’s expensive.  We need grant funds for this.  Can DEED fund this for $20,000?  They tend to offer training for folks who already are employed.  Great instructor. That made a difference.  A lot of the success is thanks to great people involved.

Rock County

Community Ed led a project to host an Ag event in mid-August.  70 attendees; fewer than hoped. Good age range. Three speakers: Chip Florry, Ag marketer; a Luverne native who is an Ag precision lecturer; and speaker on security on the farms.  Local Ag groups were very involved.  Lots of vendors.  Alliance. SDSU; Extension. Hyper local presenters was an element of success.  Targeted to farmer/producer.  Banks helped to market.  Folks who attended said they found it very valuable.  No fee to attend.  Instead of 9 – noon, 7 to 10 with beer.  Beer instead of coffee.   Community Ed (Karen) would like to do this again and could take the lead on doing it next time.  Could add vendors – that would help the event be self-sufficient.  As an alternative format, disaggregate the content and offer it once/wk over coffee in a coffee shop?

INNOVATION

Cannon Falls

Business Education

Grow Cannon Falls has hosted chamber breakfasts on using social media and has created a “Discovery application.”  Helps companies do self-assessments of their tech needs/opportunities and then connect with marketing resources to create/improve on-line presence.  Chamber is a one-man show. Looking at how to help modernize the chamber’s connectivity.  Have the chamber be the hub for the community.

Online HS newspaper “The Lantern”

Interested teachers want to help students publish an on-line newspaper are now partnering with Anna Braataas, whom they met at the broadband conference.  About 30-40 students are contributing content.  Also exploring the idea of “relighting” the middle school’s “Candle” newspaper in an online version.

VR Head-sets for memory care residents 

Inspired by a presentation at the broadband conference, four VR head-sets have been purchased for two memory care facilities in Cannon Falls.  Facilities staff received three-hours of training on using the equipment; they are excited.  Headsets are fully loaded with content, plus they get a year of subscription use. $16/mo going forward (per set).  $1,000 per head set fully loaded plus subscription for a year.

Swift County

STEM Camp

KMS schools organized a full-day summer STEM day camp curriculum for 80 elementary grade students. Based on positive feed-back from students and families, Community Ed hopes to continue this next year, but funding is a challenge; the curriculum is expensive.  Maybe expand to Benson, if funding allows.  $5,000 of Blandin investment.

Digital Marketing/Consulting

Ten businesses have received digital marketing assessments and marketing consulting in two rounds of the program. Examples: general hardware store/grocery store dealing with a Dollar General coming to town; a local newspaper that doesn’t have a website; a realtor.  People love her services.  Used a competition format to identify served businesses. Marketing: mailed personalized letters with brochures to business owners.

County Fair App

Our goal: get more youth involved in 4H in our county.  Found someone in Extension in Iowa to help us create and set up an app to server our 4-Hers and their families. It cost us $500/for two years’ subscription.  The app has a spot to sign up, registration forms, calendar of (local) events, registering your fair projects, link to fair campground reservations, links to University site; to training opportunities; options to do push notifications.  Uploaded show books onto the app. First in the state to have an app like this. Helpful during the fair.   Served as a pilot for 4H for the university; U trying to develop something like this for 4H across the state. Was tried out during the fair.  The internet in Appleton is not great. It took four months to build the app.  Marketing through word of mouth, newsletter.  100 out of 300 youth have downloaded it after three months.

There is a need to improve connectivity at the fair: Possible action: county could reach out to Verizon, copy state representative.

DIGITAL INCLUSION

Rock County

Library programming

We’ve had lots of fun programming at the library, including scary story reading at a Haunted Halloween patch, and very successful Monthly Trivia nights at the local brewery. It was so much fun.  Monthly Trivia night at the brewery.  Last month: 96 attendees!  29 teams! 16 – 80 years old.  PBS came to film the event.  It’s very easy to do.  Winners get a gift card.  Trophy.  Use FB and Instagram to promote the event.  1200 followers on Instagram.

Blue Mound Towers

Two computers with internet access were installed in the Blue Mound Towers low-income housing complex in Luverne.  Many residents have mobility issues.  The building’s manager is on the broadband steering committee. When looking for PCs for People recipients, they got involved.  There is public wifi downtown… but it doesn’t reach this housing complex.    Some individual residents also got PCs from PCfP.

Generations Senior Center

The Center lost its partner at ACE (the new version of RSVP)…. and is now beginning a building project that is to include a computer lab with six computers.  So far, three have been set up in a temporary configuration.

Computer Education Videos 

Alliance Communications is producing educational videos to help with wifi problem-solving and posting them on their website and YouTube.  Five have been completed so far: two on equipment trouble-shooting; two on email – trouble testing email issues; one on top ten issues why your wifi isn’t working.  4700 views on one of the first videos.  Customers like the local content/local origin.  16 topics developed so far.  Purchased some equipment and editing software.  Otherwise, not a high cost activity.

Adobe primer editing software. SDN provided advice on camera equipment purchase.

PCs for People

Worked successfully with schools, including a school in Nobles county that serves families that live in Rock county.  Preschool families were solicited.  Distributed a total of 60 PCs in response to demand.

We staffed a presence at the Rock County Fair.  We learned that you need free stuff to get folks to come to your table.

Computer classes at Community Ed 

Classes offered: Tech for Seniors. Some of them were one-on-one classes, including in the library. Google and Google Sheets.  Cyber Security.  E-book. Marketed through community ed.  Community ed charges.  Library does not.  Library does not charge for classes offered at the library.

 

Cannon Falls 

PC for People

We worked with social workers in the schools to identify recipients, and also with retirement homes.  30 families received computers in a distribution event on Sept 22.  Possible partnership with Three Rivers, an affordable housing developer nonprofit.  Hope to give one to local food shelf, but she won’t take them.

 

Swift County

PC for People

The process of working with the schools was really hard.  One school didn’t care – they have laptops for their kids.  Other schools wouldn’t share data.  We managed to give away 30 of 50 computers.  We will work with HRA to continue to distribute the rest.  Want to add an instructional piece on community engagement (census, library access).

 

MARKETING/ADVOCACY

Cannon Falls

Branding:  Local foods has been identified as an economic development opportunity for Cannon Falls and the Use of Cannon Roots is gaining some momentum.

Swift County

Six out of eight communities in Swift County have created community websites.  Some Mayors have told their clerks not to be involved.  Half of communities had no website at all. Golden Shovel is the gateway/host. The committee has tried to promote the regional brand: “Enterprising by Nature.”  People don’t search by counties, they search by cities.  ADA compliance issues have required attention.

Rock County/Luverne 

We are working on social and media marketing optimization. Using a local business for this training.  Meeting with businesses one-on-one for up to six hours/org.  each organization had to pay $100.  Blandin paying for the rest. E-commerce is a big need.  Goal of serving 20 businesses.

Register Now: Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work

Register Now: Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work
October 8-10
Grand View Lodge – Nisswa MN
#mnbroadband

Please join us October 8-10, at the gorgeous Grand View Lodge in Nisswa for our annual broadband conference, Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work. Broadband access today is as varied as communities across Minnesota. Some enjoy a gig, others are working hard for any service, and the rest are somewhere in between. This conference is for all communities, regardless of where they are on the spectrum – because we’ve learned that having broadband isn’t enough. It takes inspiration, encouragement and guidance to reap the full benefits. We’ll be talking about how to make the most of what you’ve got and/or get more.

This year’s conference will shine a light on local broadband heroes as well as look at several aspects of broadband:

  • Getting Connected
  • Community Vitality
  • Economic Development
  • Digital Equity

Check out the conference website for more details, including the preliminary agenda. (Or learn about opportunities to sponsor or exhibit.)

Register Today!

Join policymakers, economic and community development professionals, and community broadband champions from across the state for this annual opportunity to learn, connect, and engage.

We hope to see you there!

Why is Blandin Foundation leading a Minnesota contingency to the Intelligent Community Forum Conference in NY?

The Blandin Foundation is leading a contingency of broadband-focused community leaders to the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) Global Conference in NY in June. Why? To learn and to teach!

We will go to learn from some of the top smart cities (counties, counties and towns) in the world. The ICF awards the “Intelligent Community” each year. These are communities that are ahead of their peers when it comes to having and using broadband to the point of creating innovation in work, school and play!

ICF has a framework for communities that the Blandin Foundation has adopted with the Blandin Broadband Communities. It focuses on 6 facets (pictured at the right) that help communities recognize their strengths and challenges and create a plan to use broadband/smart technology to highlight strengths and address challenges.

We are also going to talk to communities around the world about our work in rural areas. We suspect that there will be projects that will excite us coming from larger communities but that our communities might also serve as a model to smaller communities. We have worked with the ICF model for almost a decade now and we feel that we have some lessons worth sharing!

We are bringing representatives from:

A look back (assessment) at Blandin Broadband Community work in 2015-2016

Sometimes it feels good to look back, see the road we’ve traveled and progress we’ve made. So while the task is arduous, we always enjoy the assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program, which includes work of the BBC (Blandin Broadband Communities) cohort, annual conference and other meetings, webinars, the Blandin on Broadband blog and other broadband-focuses efforts supported by Blandin.

I’d like to thank and recognize our 2015-2016 BBC Partners:

  1. Carlton County
  2. Central Woodlands (east central Minnesota)
  3. Chisago County
  4. Martin County
  5. Nobles County
  6. Redwood County
  7. Red Wing
  8. RS Fiber (Renville & Sibley Counties)
  9. Resilient Region (Region 5 in north central Minnesota)
  10. Sherburne County

We’ll share their stories from the report on the blog in the next week or two. The stories have been told here but the recaps are valuable too. (I would like to point out the table of grants awarded that start on page 28. It’s an inspiring list of community projects that have helped spur local broadband adoption. If you have looking for activities to try in your own community – this is a good starter list.)

But the work doesn’t stop with the BBC partners. Blandin supported technical assistance with 11 communities, hosted or supported a number of events from local hackfest to the annual broadband conference, maintained the blog, which is read by practitioners, community leaders and policy makers in Minnesota and beyond and supported efforts to lift up broadband as a tool to expand opportunities in Minnesota and make it possible to commit (re-commit) to rural areas.

Broadband feasibility studies are a step toward grant applications, RFPs, getting networks built!

Last week, the MN Broadband Task Force heard from practitioners on the utility of feasibility studies. I’m on the Task Force and found the topic interesting and worth a deeper dive, especially given Blandin Foundation’s experience with and commitment to the feasibility study as a key step in moving a broadband project closer to reality.

Since 2007, Blandin Foundation had provided matching grants totaling $718,321 to 24 rural Minnesota communities to support the cost of a broadband feasibility study through its Robust Network Feasibility Fund. This grant program requires communities to produce a one-to-one cash match for awarded grants.

In 2013, Blandin Foundation published Lessons from Rural Minnesota Broadband Feasibility Studies: What can rural communities learn about broadband expansion, based on feasibility studies completed to date?” It looks at grants made between 2007 and 2012 to 11 communities to fund broadband feasibility studies, and identifies some best practices and recommendations for maximizing the effectiveness of such studies.

Five of these funded communities have gone on to deploy broadband networks; six have not.

The difference: access to capital.

Four of the five communities were able to build networks based on their completed studies due to ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funding. (Actually four networks were deployed, as two communities with feasibility studies became one ARRA project.) Having feasibility study results in hand played a key role in positioning the awarded communities to be competitive for federal funding.  The studies provided the communities with the data required in the application process and demonstrated that they were shovel-ready projects, which was a major requirement of projects seeking ARRA funding.

One community, Red Wing, successfully deployed a fiber optic network without ARRA funding, through partnership with Hiawatha Broadband Communications. HBC applied for ARRA funding, but was not awarded funds. Despite this setback, HBC moved ahead with the Red Wing project using their own source of funds.

State broadband funds were not available at this time, so that was not an option for communities.

In 2013, Blandin Foundation made three more broadband feasibility study grants:

As communities and counties increasingly feel the pain of being left behind, Blandin Foundation is experiencing increased demand for feasibility study grants.

In 2015-16, Blandin Foundation funded broadband feasibility studies in 10 communities.

The grant applications for this round of feasibility studies all emerged from an inclusive community engagement process.  Community members identified the need to conduct a study in order to move ahead on their technology goals and then shaped the study’s purpose, goals, and scope, and selected a consultant.

Broadband networks are now being built in six of the 10 communities that conducted feasibility studies in 2015-2016; four with state grant dollars, and two without.

Some conclusions I draw from this experience:  

  • Feasibility studies can be an effective tool in helping communities advance their broadband goals.
  • Feasibility studies inform both sides of prospective partnerships: public sector leadership and private sector providers.
  • Feasibility studies should be designed to drive decision-making throughout an interactive and iterative process defining public sector role, technology choices and partnership options.

Minnesota Broadband’s $35 million budget: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The dust is settling at the Capitol, and it’s time to assess chisago BB 1. The Good news is the Legislature has carved out $35 million for broadband, a significant increase over last year’s appropriation.  The Bad news is that this amount falls far short of the need. And the (potentially) ugly lives with the devil in the details.

But before turning to the details I’d like to express my admiration for the many  broadband proponents who made their voices heard during the session.  Local media ran stories and editorials; citizens shared stories on social media; constituents contacted their representatives. A coalition of rural advocacy organizations aligned their broadband platforms and messages. Together, you kept community broadband off the chopping block and in the budget.  Showing up and speaking up does make a difference.

Here are the facts of the legislation being sent to the Governor:

  • Broadband budget is $35 million in Fiscal Year 2017
    • No more than $5 million carved out to go to underserved areas
    • Up to $1 million may be used for administrative costs
    • $500,000 for low-income households
  • Broadband speed goals are changed to align with recommendations from the Governor’s Broadband Task Force: 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up by 2022
    • Speed goal for 2026 is 100/20
    • Unserved is redefined to speeds below 25/3
    • Underserved is redefined to be speeds below 100/20
  • Some details around grant application have changed
    • The Office of Broadband Development is expected to announce application criteria 30 days in advance (to that end they are working on a tentative meeting on June 23)
    • Incumbents and providers adjacent to a community have more a formal process to challenge grant applications from competitors looking to enter their markets
    • Prevailing wage requirements have been softened in the last mile deployment

So the work continues! We are already thinking about how we can work together better next year on behalf of rural community broadband needs. Here are some next steps:

  • Grant details should be available in late June, we’ll watch for that
  • Partners are working on webinars to discuss the details
  • The Blandin Foundation is working on a meeting in the Fall to regroup, retrench and refresh for the next big push for better broadband.

Webinar cancelation notice: No June Blandin Webinar on CAF 2

chisago BB 1We are sorry to announce that we have had to cancel the upcoming Blandin Broadband Webinar on the Connect America Fund (CAF2) scheduled for June 9. Neither CenturyLink or Frontier Communications, the primary recipients of the approximately $500 million dollars of FCC funding, will provide a representative for our webinar. In addition to CenturyLink and Frontier, Windstream and Consolidated Communications have also accepted this funding.

Through CAF2, providers have six years to install broadband service in unserved rural areas. The improved network must be able to deliver a minimum of 10 Mb download and 1 Mb upload, which is less than one-half of our new Minnesota speed goal and the FCC’s own minimum broadband definition. Customers located closer to the fiber-connected electronics would receive higher speeds.

The goal of the webinar was to help unserved communities clearly understand provider plans, the “when” and “if” of when these network improvements will occur. Communities would also benefit from knowing how they might partner with these large providers to upgrade the planned network to meet the 2026 Minnesota broadband goal of 100 Mb/20 Mb or at least the 25 Mb/3 Mb 2022 goal. As we all know, the difficult economics of rural broadband deployment means and past history demonstrates that the CAF2 funded investments may be the last significant investment in these unserved areas for a generation.

You can find a map of the CAF2 eligible areas at https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/maps/caf-2-accepted-map. Areas that are either extremely high cost or served with broadband at 3 Mb or more are ineligible for this funding.

If you are served by either of these four companies, you should contact them directly to learn more about their plans for your area. If you need help identifying the right contact for your provider, email broadband@blandinfoundation.org and we will provide that information to you.

Broadband Communities Conference: Community Fiber Networks Economic Development October 18 – 20 in Minneapolis

Bernadine_InCommonsBlandin Foundation is pleased that Broadband Communities is bringing their regional conference to Minneapolis this Fall. I have had the pleasure of attending previous conferences in Austin (TX) and Chicago. I have learned a lot a made some great connections.

We are honored to be working with Broadband Communities on some of the content and conference planning. We’re excited to show off some of our Minnesota success to a wider audience. (Not to mention showing off the beauty of a Minnesota autumn.) In some ways, the Broadband Communities conference will act as our usual Fall Broadband Conference – we will have a much smaller event because we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to partner and go bigger when we heard from the folks at Broadband Communities.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Here’s the word from Broadband Communities…

Why Minneapolis, MN?
Border-to-border high-speed Internet access is the goal throughout Minnesota. That’s a goal we all share.

REGISTRATION NOW OPEN!
Call For Papers And Speakers
Why Minneapolis, MN
Conference Hotel: Radisson Blu Downtown- $199 Per Night Register Now – Low Rates Expire Soon Public Officials: $175

5th Annual Conference
Enhance your community with advanced fiber networks Drawing Leaders From a 7-State Region, Spilling Over the Canadian Border

Minnesota
North Dakota
South Dakota
Nebraska
Iowa
Wisconsin
Montana
Ontario, Canada
Manitoba, Canada

What You Will Learn:

  • How to successfully plan for, monetize, and manage an all fiber-based broadband investment.
  • Explore best practices for developing broadband strategies for the knowledge economy.
  • Learn the strategies necessary to foster collaboration with economic development agencies.
  • Differentiate your community with advanced broadband connectivity.
  • Discover how your community can become a magnet for the tech industry.

Who You Will Meet:

  • Local, State & Federal Officials
    Economic Development Professionals
    Investors
    Public and Private Network Operators
    Business Leaders & Entrepreneurs
    Financial Institutions
    Community Anchor Institutions – Education, Medical, Public Safety & Security Electrical Cooperatives Broadband Champions

Learn more!

Bernadine Joselyn for policymakers – we must invest in broadband

BernadineI had been invited to testify yesterday before the House Committee on Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance committee, but didn’t get the chance. Here is the testimony I prepared and would have delivered.

Good Afternoon Chairman Garofalo and members of the committee.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today.

My name is Bernadine Joselyn. I am the Director of Public Policy & Engagement for Blandin Foundation, Minnesota’s largest rural-based philanthropy. The Foundation has been invited as technical experts to offer our opinion as to the strengths and weaknesses of proposed legislation under discussion by this committee.

Our mission is to strengthen rural Minnesota communities – a goal I am confident each and every one of you share.

So in a sense I speak to you today as your colleague – as someone who, like you, is dedicated to promoting the economic vitality of Minnesota’s rural communities.

My job at Blandin, and before you today, is to help ensure that rural perspectives are well represented in policy debate that impacts rural, a hat I also wear as a member of the Governor’s Broadband Taskforce.

We’re not the “Broadband Foundation,” and so why, you may ask, has Blandin dedicated so many resources over the past dozen years or so, to rural community broadband.

That’s because we have come to recognize that broadband is critical to everything we care about as a foundation – prosperous rural communities, opportunity for all, and vibrant civic life.
Unfortunately, in Minnesota the rural / urban divide in broadband quality and availability is all too real: 99% of urban areas have access to broadband speeds of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, while only 47% of rural areas, including many tribal areas, have such access.

This state of affairs is hurting Minnesota. Without broadband infrastructure, rural communities cannot compete. Innovation can happen anywhere there is world-class broadband. If we want to preserve a “rural option” in Minnesota – we need border-to-border broadband. All Minnesotans benefit when rural communities are vital and thriving.

So far, we’re not doing very well. In fact, Minnesota did not reach the goals you set for 2015 of border to border access to 10 to 20 Mbps download/5 to 10 Mbps upload.

I know you hear a lot from the telecom industry. By contrast, rural community voices are disaggregated. And while every sector – from education to health care to public safety to business – is better with broadband, it can be challenging for rural broadband advocates to counter the industry’s message that the free market alone will meet community needs.

This year, however, the chorus of need has been reflected in a broadband vision for Minnesota. It reads:

Everyone in Minnesota will be able to use convenient, affordable world-class broadband networks that enable us to survive and thrive in our communities and across the globe.

This vision has been endorsed by dozens and dozens of entities who care about Minnesota communities – including the League of Minnesota Cities, Association of Minnesota Counties, the Association of Minnesota Townships, all of the state’s Regional Economic Development Commissions, MN Rural Education Association, and many many others. Among the 16 individual counties who have adopted this vision are some represented by members of this committee, including Kandiyohi, St. Louis, Yellow Medicine, Lac qui Parle, Redwood, and Sherburne.

To achieve this vision, MN must invest.

The Governor’s broadband task force has estimated that to meet the 2015 goals would require up to $3 billion dollars. Meanwhile, Minnesota has fallen in national rankings of broadband availability and speeds as other states do more to encourage broadband investment. Minnesota can do better.

Rural Minnesota communities are ready with quality fundable projects:
Last year, the Office of Broadband Development received 44 grant applications for a total funding request of $29 million. It was able to award only $11 million in grants, leaving $18 million worth of projects unfunded.

Pretty much everyone agrees the OBD has done an excellent job administering the fund and selecting projects worthy of public investment. I caution you not to overburden the office with onerous new administrative requirements like incumbent right of first refusal. The fund is working well. It’s not broken – it just needs more money.

$100 million dollar fund is not enough to get the job done, but it is a good start.

Before closing, I’d like to say just a few words about Connect America Fund (CAF2) and its impact on Minnesota broadband needs.

Do not fall into the trap of believing that the Connect America Fund (CAF2) dollars can substitute for the investment Minnesota must make.

The CAF2 standard of 10/1 is not world class. It is second class. Not good enough today; definitely not good enough for tomorrow.

The same is true for any proposal allowing public funding of wireless networks at 10/1 upload/download speeds. Public funding should support networks that are scalable for the future.

None of us would not be satisfied with new sewage treatment facilities that do not meet current federal standards; why would we be happy with federally-subsidized networks that don’t meet current broadband standards and fall far short of where technology is going?

It is also important to keep in mind that it is the upload speed that delivers economic development. Download speeds are important for streaming Netflixs; upload speeds are needed to generate economic prosperity. Download speeds are for consumers; upload speeds are what matters for producers and entrepreneurs. My husband runs an internet business from our rural home, and upload is what matters to him.

And finally, also beware of the myth that wireless is good enough. That wireless is the future.

In fact, our broadband future is tied to investment in fixed networks. Fiber is the foundation of all wireless technology. Wireless infrastructure without fiber backbone is like airplanes without airports.

On behalf of Minnesota’s rural communities, I urge you to make the investments necessary for Minnesota to be “above average.” Fund the fund.

Don’t fall for the line that CAF2 is the answer, and neither is wireless without fiber backbone.

Thank you.

Bernadine Joselyn
Director, Public Policy & Engagement
Blandin Foundation

2015 10/5
2022 25/3 (FCC definition)
2026 100/20

Reflection of Blandin’s role in broadband in rural Minnesota (and beyond) in 2015

Bernadine JoselynOne of the fun things we get to do at the end of the year at Blandin is create a summary of our inputs, outputs, and outcomes for our Trustees. It’s a great reason to reflect one what has happened and we’re pleased to see that the ball is moving farther down the field. More communities are going deeper to get more innovative in their use of broadband and more communities are working hard to figure out how to get better broadband to meet community needs. The question is no longer “why broadband?” it’s “when, where and how!” Here’s an abridged version of our report..

Our objectives are to:

  • Advance sustainable broadband adoption,
  • Increase community vitality, and
  • Enhance quality of life and place

We Invest

Grant funds: $1.5 million dedicated grant dollars allocated by Trustees for 2015-16, of which $759,658 was expended in 75 individual grant awards. The remaining $740,342 grant dollars for 2016 will be dispersed beginning in January in support of projects developed by the current Blandin Broadband Community cohort (2015-2016) to advance community technology goals.

We Leverage Community Investment

Approximately $331,000 in match contributed by partnering Blandin Broadband Communities and community project grantees.  A project developed with technical and facilitation assistance provided through BCBP received a $2 million state grant to bring broadband to all or part of three Itasca County townships.

We match community resources and vision with technical support, grants, internet-based information and educational resources, webinars, and conferences.  Program components include:

  • Community Project Grants
  • Community Broadband Resources (technical assistance) and
  • Blandin Broadband Community (BBC) partnerships.

Community Project Grants  BBC 2015

Grants:  In 2015, 75 grants were approved to 48 organizations for a total of $759,658.

Some highlights from the 2015-2016 cohort of ten Blandin Broadband Communities:

  • In Red Wing, a group of professionals and volunteers who are involved in STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) from K-14 are meeting on a bimonthly basis. The group is focusing on what it can do to support technology initiatives underway in the region.
  • In Nobles County, community broadband champions are working to establish nine free access wireless ‘hot spots’ across the county with a goal of providing unserved country residents high speed broadband access within five miles of their home. The Nobles Blandin Broadband Steering Committee also is engaging community members in a study of what it would take to bring a fiber network to the county.
  • In response to many complaints that local broadband service in Chisago County is slow, costly, or unavailable at all, the county’s Blandin Broadband Community Steering Committee undertook a survey of county residents about their broadband use and broadband needs. 900 residents responded. Of those surveyed, 28.8% said that with better broadband access they would telecommute, and 22.6% said they would operate a home-based business with faster internet. This information is being shared with county commissioners, school boards, state legislators, and providers, with the goal of persuading providers to expand their services in the area.
  • In Martin County, the Blandin Broadband Steering Committee supported a summer camp training for student in grades 9 – 12 to build mobile computer applications. Each student built an “app” about Martin County that is now available for all residents and visitors. The success of the first App Camp inspired the grant committee to double down on collaboration with all areas schools to create more opportunities for students to apply their math skills and learn computer programing. A shared community calendar has been created for all Martin County communities and area school districts. Usage and crosscommunity collaboration is growing.
  • The Sherburne County Blandin Broadband Steering Committee established “SherBand” to educate and partner with residents to help Sherburne County get and use the broadband it needs to secure its economic competitiveness and vitality. The group includes more than twenty local economic development professionals, elected officials, chambers of commerce, library, education and workforce development representatives, and business leaders. They attend local fairs, farmers’ markets, music festivals and other events to spread the word of the importance of broadband. “Sherband” members report: “Through the process we have heard hundreds of stories from residents and businesses struggling to receive reliable and affordable broadband service. New alliances and partnerships have formed and momentum continues to spread.” The county now donates all of their expired computers to PC’s for People allowing a wide variety of county residents to have digital access for the first time.

In 2015, $137,500 in grant dollars were awarded to fund seven Robust Network Feasibility Studies.  Those studies are now underway. Blandin has funded 27 RNFF studies since the program began in 2007. These feasibility studies provide sound information for local decision-makers and partnership building.

  • RNFF recipients Cook and Lac qui Parle Counties have partnered with existing cooperatives to construct fiber optic networks. A coalition of communities in southwestern Minnesota now provides 100% fiber connectivity in their communities with partners delivering wireless services in rural areas.  A new cooperative in Renville/Sibley Counties has a fiber network under construction.
  • Other communities, like the Cloquet Valley area north of Duluth, used their studies to convince the area electric cooperative to extend their wireless services into the area. Or in Redwood and Todd Counties, to encourage incremental broadband investment by companies like New Ulm Telephone Company or Arvig, including the leveraging of state grant dollars to expand broadband.
  • There are additional communities, like Kanabec County, that have conducted their study and been aggressive in courting private sector providers and seen few tangible results due to the significant investment barriers. They continue to seek partners and funding opportunities to close the ROI gap that precludes private investment.

Community Broadband Resources (technical assistance)

Through this technical and facilitation-support component of BCBP, Blandin provided almost 200 hours of assistance to ten communities. Community Broadband Resources is designed to meet communities “where they are at”; the kinds of assistance requested ranged from technical, educational, or informational to convening/facilitation support.  The foundation was able to respond to every request received.

Recipients of Community Broadband Resource assistance say…

  • “Blandin’s Community Broadband Resources Program helped us to win a spot as a quarter-finalist in Frontier Communication’s America’s Best Communities Program. As one of 50 quarter-finalists, we were awarded significant community economic development planning dollars that we have used to engage more than 100 community members around ten significant project concepts.  Blandin’s help make it happen!”   ~ Tangi Schaapveld, Chisago Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce
  • “Itasca County is fortunate to have had the assistance of Blandin’s staff, connections, and resources. Itasca County knew we needed to be a leader in the broadband conversation and to carry a vision forward. But as public sector, we do not have the resources to put into staff to coordinate such a project and have no experience with developing a communication campaign.  With Blandin’s assistance, we were about to purchase a survey tool and utilize broadband expertise to gather information about need and interest for broadband in the rural areas of Itasca County and to mobilize a team of champions.  These community broadband champions devoted hours to getting their neighbors on board with our initiative.  We have now established good relationships with our area broadband providers and have given them data and maps that identify their best opportunities for broadband expansion.  Utilizing the data Itasca County generated through this initiative, Paul Bunyan Communication’s submitted an application to DEED’s Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program.  If successful, this project would facilitate expansion of broadband into more than 1,000 homes and over 80 businesses while leveraging four million local dollars, including a $250,000 Itasca County commitment.   We would never have been able to move this project forward, especially in such a short time frame, without the support and many resources provided by Blandin.  We are extremely grateful.”   ~ Trish Harren, Itasca County Administrator
  • “Blandin Foundation has helped our broadband initiatives in Martin County and the City of Fairmont through your Community Broadband Resources program. Having an experienced consultant help us sort through the complexities of our broadband analysis and provider relationships has been very helpful.  By helping us design our RFP for our upcoming feasibility study, we are sure that the study will give us the information that we need to make smart next steps.”               ~ Scott Higgins, Martin County Coordinator

Blandin Broadband Community (BBC) Partnerships

Information/Education Support: In 2015 the Blandin on Broadband Blog (BoB) and monthly eNews continued to serve as the state’s key information resource on policy and practice related to broadband access and utilization.  E-News subscribers have more than doubled in the past 11 months, from 1,014 in January 2015 to 2,102 recipients in November 2015, and blog subscribers increased from 775 in 2014 to 1,127 today. Subscribers include legislators, journalists, national broadband figures and community members. Blog content frequently is cited and amplified by other state-wide and national media.  The average number of blog posts per month was 46 in 2015, compared to 42 per month in 2014. Visitors to BoB are able to “share” posts with their colleagues through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media channels. In 2015 BoB articles have been shared 8,083 times.

Webinars: Staff coordinated the delivery of 10 webinars in 2015. Topics were generated by staff in response to stakeholder perceived needs and interests. Participation in the webinars ranged from 10 to 30, for a total of 205, with an average participation rate of 20. All webinar content is archived on the Blandin on Broadband blog, where they has been viewed 357 times. The webinar PowerPoint presentations have been accessed 1,432 times.

Convenings: Foundation staff recruited more than 25 organizations to join in co-sponsoring a statewide conference Border to Border Broadband: Better Together.  Over 160 participants, including legislators, county commissioners, economic development professionals, internet service providers, and community broadband champions participated in this “So what? Now what?” conversation about Minnesotans’ shared aspirations for border to border broadband.

Conference highlights included:

  • Interactive sessions in which participants articulated a “broadband vision” for Minnesota. A panel of state legislators provided feedback on the vision in real time.
  • More than 20 Native youth from three reservation communities attended a custom workshop to build skills for using free online applications to tell their own stories and the stories of their communities. o Lt. Governor Tina Smith chose the conference as the venue to announce the awardees of Minnesota’s 2015 $11 million broadband development fund grants.
  • Blandin Broadband Communities presented their best practices. o Over 40 presenters in three tracks (Digital Literacy; Innovation; Partnerships).

Other Community Technology Events: As part of an abiding effort to support and inspire an innovative culture in our partner communities, in 2015 the foundation also continued its support of community technology events, such as the Hack 2.0 in Willmar in September. “Hack-a-thons” like this one gather together folks from the region and beyond who are interested in developing technology solutions for local public problems.

Promoting Co-ops as Part of the Answer: Cooperative broadband providers deliver the best broadband services in rural Minnesota and most of the significant public private broadband partnerships have a cooperative as the private sector partner.  In 2015 Blandin Foundation has convened discussions among existing broadband cooperatives, electric cooperatives and cooperative stakeholder organizations to determine the opportunities and barriers to expanded delivery of broadband services by cooperatives.  There is significant interest from the cooperative community to move this initiative forward.  The Border-to-Border Broadband Conference was infused with the cooperative message, and we will continue the discussion there and afterward.

Bringing Rural Voice to St. Paul  and Influence beyond Minnesota

In 2015 I was reappointed by Governor Dayton to represent rural perspectives on his Broadband Task Force. I was also pleased to be invited by the US Senate Democratic Oversight Committee to provide expert testimony on best practices for addressing the digital divide in rural America.

In 2015 Blandin Foundation also was invited to showcase its experience and expertise in community-based broadband adoption efforts at The Summit on Rural America, and Grantmakers-in-Aging, both in Washington DC.  And on behalf of the rural communities we serve, Blandin Foundation responded to a call from the Obama Administration’s Broadband Opportunity Council for input on how the administration can better meet the communication technology needs of rural Americans. We solicited and aggregated input from rural broadband advocates across the state, ensuring their perspectives reached Washington.  A number of Blandin’s recommendations were reflected in the BOC’s report, including to empower communities with tools and resources to attract broadband investment and promote meaningful use, and to focus on public-private partnerships, including with philanthropy.

It has been a rewarding 2015 and we look forward to new challenges in 2016!

Growing the Cooperative Broadband Movement in Minnesota

Bernadine JoselynFor more than a decade, Blandin Foundation has worked to improve broadband access and use in rural Minnesota. We believe that broadband is the essential 21st Century infrastructure and is required for everything else in which the Foundation is engaged – community economic vitality, education, leadership and advocacy.

Our entire society, urban and rural, is increasingly dependent on broadband – farmers, students, manufacturers, health care providers, small business owners, and retirees. In other words, everyone. Without broadband, rural areas will be left behind, unable to attract or retain the necessary people and investment to sustain vibrant economic activity.

We are supportive of a wide range of options for getting broadband but we have found that what works in metropolitan areas – or even towns isn’t working in the far corners of the state. Large parts of our Minnesota rural countryside are being left behind with inadequate broadband infrastructure and services but we are noticing that cooperatives are starting to fill the gap.

Telephone cooperatives are delivering world-class broadband services over fiber optics in expanded service areas. Electric co-ops are meeting their members’ needs with new fiber and wireless networks. A new multi-county hybrid fiber/wireless co-op, formed as a public-private partnership, is under construction and will be 100% fiber-based within several years.

Blandin Foundation applauds local ownership, patient capital and a focus on community benefits that will drive and sustain rural broadband investment where traditional businesses have difficulty venturing based on the premise of an ROI that suits shareholders. Cooperatives have the management, financial and physical assets to be successful. Many local governments have found cooperatives to be  their best choice for equitable public-private partnerships.

We welcome you to join this conversation at the November 18-20 conference, Border-to-Border Broadband: Better Together in St. Louis Park. Several sessions will focus on the role of cooperatives in broadband development, and all sessions will address the “Why’s and How’s” of rural broadband development. Register here.

Summit on Rural America: People Matter, Leadership Matters

Bernadine_InCommonsThis week it was my honor to participate in a “summit on Rural America” hosted by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. The goal was to get people “inside the beltway” to think about “rural as rich” – a place of resources and talent, where resourceful and self-reliant people on Main Street can make small investments go a long way. The critical need for all Americans to have affordable access to Broadband and the skills to use it was a big theme of the day. Here are my notes of highlights of the day.

  • Representative from the White House Council on Rural says: most important investment we (including fed government) can make to address persistent rural poverty is invest in kids.
  • Chuck Fluherty is talking about BB and “quality of place” as key to rural vitality.
  • Repeated calls for need for community leadership capacity building
  • Significant call to “place-based” philanthropy to partner and focus NOT necessarily on Economic Development (job creation ) directly but rather on developing human capacity.
  • Place-based philanthropy being called on to step into role of conveners and host conversations across community silos.
  • Fluherty also talking about the importance of inclusion and is endorsing collective impact model.
  • Recognition here that each rural community is unique and rural funding streams need maximum flexibility (not AS much true in urban spaces where you can count on a suite of institutions being in place)
  • Calls to think forward 7 generations
  • National foundations being called upon to spend more of their wealth on rural
  • “People matter. Leadership matters”

BoB hits a milestone: A note from Bernadine Joselyn

Dear Faithful BoB reader:

Today is a Red Letter day for the Blandin on Broadband Blog… or “BoB” as we affectionately call it. … drum roll…

BoB writer, editor and curator extraordinaire, Ann Treacy, modestly informed me that BoB has hit the milestone of 1,000 followers!

Please join me in thanking Ann for her work and congratulating her on reaching this impressive number.

I, in turn, thank all of you BoB readers who are doing the real and persistent work out in communities where it matters – and creating the great community broadband stories that Ann shares via the blog.

Bernadine Joselyn
Director, Public Policy & Engagement
Blandin Foundation

Gratitude and good wishes to Carolyn Parnell

Bernadine_InCommonsLast week Governor Dayton thanked Carolyn Parnell for her service at MN.IT  Services Commissioner; she is resigning and we are sad to see her go. Like the Governor, we thank her for her hard work in improving IT services and reducing costs for the State…

As Commissioner of MN.IT Services, Carolyn Parnell ably led major reforms in our state government’s information technology and related services,” said Governor Dayton.  “This consolidation improved agencies’ efficiencies and saved Minnesota taxpayers nearly $28 million. I am grateful to Carolyn for her dedicated service to the people of Minnesota

“I couldn’t be more proud of the accomplishments we’ve made in the past four years to improve how information technology powers state government,” said Commissioner Carolyn Parnell. “While the investment in information technology is never done, I know that the changes we have made over the past four years will make it far easier for the State, going forward, to invest wisely in the things that matter.”

We thank her for her innovation and imagination, which was recognized last year when she made Gov Tech’s list of the Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers. We thank her for the countless ways she shared her expertise. And for her support of Open Government – from supporting Open Government efforts to supporting events such as Hackathons that promote Open Government.

I got to know Carolyn through her work on the Blandin Broadband Strategy Board. The job is part approving broadband grant applications and part helping to steer conversations in and out of the boardroom to promote better broadband in Minnesota. Busy as she is, Carolyn always came prepared, had great questions about the grant applications and great insight for conversation.

I was personally impressed with how down to earth, yet geeky Carolyn is. She’s the sort of woman who grows her own food – but using the latest precision agriculture apps, even in her own backyard. She’s very practical and able to look at a very large picture (like IT throughout State offices and agencies) and bring better order and process to it.

Carolyn came to the job with a wide range of experience working for MNSCU and private companies and that mix of understanding public service and appreciating business acumen made her an asset to the State; one that will be hard to replace. (Although they are already accepting applications!)

Finnfest message: education in best investment in innovation

Bernadine_InCommonsLast week I had the chance to attend Day One of the “Educating for the 21st Century” forum held at the Carlson School of Business as part of this year’s Finn Fest. My colleagues Ross, Savage, Jaci David, and Dane Smith and I showed up to hear presentations from Finnish educators, entrepreneurs, and national government experts in international education. It was a very full day, made more charming and compelling by all the Finnish names, accents and ideas in the conversation.

Here are some of the things we heard that caught my attention and imagination:

  • The fundamental value of Finland’s educational system is Trust – of teachers and students: There are no national standards or tests; Teachers have autonomy in the classroom and are encouraged to put the relationship with the student at the heart of their work. Teachers are trusted to judge what is best for students and to report their progress.
  • The Finnish education system values broad knowledge and gives equal emphasis to all aspects of individual growth and learning: personality, morality, creativity, physical health, knowledge and skills. Our Finnish guests argued in favor of shorter school days and mandatory time out-of-doors each day for kids.
  • The key to quality education is quality teachers. In Finland the teaching field is highly professionalized, and a high value is placed on teachers. There are 10 applicants for every hire.
  • Learning can be fun and should be fun. There is great potential in using gaming formats to promote learning. Mass Education programs now are possible: Angry Birds taught 30 kids to code in one week. Teaching kids to code is a powerful engagement tool.
  • Learning happens everywhere; not just in the classroom.
  • At the heart of life-long learning is “flow” – the condition between boredom and anxiety – when engaging in an activity is itself its own reward. (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)  Flow is highly contagious. Cultivating intrinsic motivation — the attributes of autonomy and competence – helps flow. The teacher’s role is to enable student engagement.
  • Master teacher Miiska Lehtovaara from Tampere Finland elaborated that active learning requires that students feel the situation and information are meaningful to her or him. Humor helps. The right kind of humor comes from respect and a feeling of security.
  • From Peter Vesterbacka, CEO of the company that created Angry Birds, the assertion that “education is the best investment you can make. Our quality education system is having a big impact on Finland’s business success and innovation.”
  • From Hector Garcia, head of the Chicano Latino Action Coalition (?), a critique that the American system is designed to produce elites – not equity. This is short-sided and detrimental in a world that is increasingly interdependence.
  • According to Lauri Jarvilehto, the Finns say: “In Finland you don’t get an A, you get [a glass of] milk.