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.