Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects in Koochiching County

Part of becoming a Blandin Broadband Community (BBC), is the opportunity to show off what you’ve been doing related to broadband in your community. It was great to hear from folks from Koochiching County.

Koochiching is well orgnaized and engaged. They talked abtout a number of projects. The ones that really caught my attention is broadband in the homeless shelter. WHat an asset to help people get jobs, education and healthcare. They also have virtual reality headsets to check out at the library especially for senior living centers and students. And they are busy getting tools for COVID-19-strength cleaning between users.

The shared a list of prjects and budgets:

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects in Swift County

Part of becoming a Blandin Broadband Community (BBC), is the opportunity to show off what you’ve been doing related to broadband in your community. It was great to hear from folks from Swift County.

They talk about how they have used broadband to set up camping reservations, a resource that will likely see more action after COVID-19 restrictions. They worked with PCs for People that they are able to distribute and they were able to access, which offsets the story of the families who try to do everything during the quarantine using one computer.

STEM camp was a big hit for kids last summer; they’re just waiting to hear if that will be an option this year. And they have been working with local businesses to help them make the best use of digital marketing.

May 26 Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable Discussion Summary:

I was happy that on the Tuesday morning after the Memorial Day holiday we had a dozen folks discussing community efforts to spur broadband adoption and user sophistication.  Using the Intelligent Community framework as a guide, I showcased some of the projects that our Blandin Broadband Communities have implemented over the past several years.

For the broadband pillar, I highlighted public wi-fi offered at the Chisholm Pocket Park, Rock County campgrounds, wi-fi on school buses and improved wi-fi at libraries.  For knowledge workforce, I talked about Leech Lake’s computer training tied to their workforce program, Swift County’s online welding program, and Red Wing’s Coder Dojo after-school program and Fond du Lac’s summer app camp for kids.  Digital Equality efforts highlighted PCs for People, Hibbing HRA’s broadband project in housing that they operate and Winona’s longstanding to connect new Americans with college students for computer training.  Innovation projects included multiple efforts at one-to-one business technology audits and counselling, Access North’s installation of Smart Home technology for older adults and those with disabilities and Hibbing’s use of iPads in health care.  Finally, in advocacy/marketing, I talked about Red Wing’s community calendar and web portal and Cannon Falls “Cannon Roots” branding campaign.

There was active discussion among participants about the implementation strategies for these projects as well as talk about the challenging task about how to make them sustainable once grant funds expire.  Participants also spoke about how the COVID-19 pandemic has multiplied the benefits of these projects and accelerated adoption.

Great thanks to Robin Weiss of Southwest MN RDC for discussion about the new funds available through the federal Department of Commerce EDA program which can support new infrastructure and adoption and use.  The Blandin blog has a nice post on this program with all of the links.

Join us June 2nd at  9 am for our next roundtable discussion when we will focus on this EDA program and generate some ideas and strategies for applications.

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects with the GRIZZLIES (Cook, Orr and Bois Forte)

Part of becoming a Blandin Broadband Community (BBC), is the opportunity to show off what you’ve been doing related to broadband in your community. It was great to hear from folks from the GRIZZLIES today. (Grizzlies is the mascot for North Woods School, which was opened in 2012 when the schools in Cook, Orr and Bois Forte were consolidated.)

It’s great to see how well the three communities work together. Really great.

And they provides a handy list of all of their projects:

  1. QuickBooks Online (Lisa Hyppa)
    The Grizzly’s continue to work with Lisa Hyppa to provide QuickBooks online education and program development to local business throughout our region. The intake of this program has given multiple local businesses the opportunity to manage their business online and educate themselves in basic accounting practices provided through Lisa.
  2. Cook Library WIFI Hotspots (Crystal Phillips)
    The Cook Library continues to Provide WIFI access points and computer access to Members of the Cook Library. During the Covid-19 crisis, the WIFI hotspots are in high demand. The success of this program has led to the procurement and disbursement of WIFI hotspots to all elementary students of the Nett Lake Elementary school in order to provide a means of communication between school children and teachers in areas where broadband is limited.
  3. Orr Center Wireless Buildout (Wendy Purdy)
    The Orr Center (Old Orr High School) was in need of new wireless equipment. Since the closing of the school, the original Cisco access points were in dire need of replacing. Local Tech guys Lou Pliml, and Evertt Huismann completed a wireless implementation of the school providing coverage to all areas of the building. Lou and Evertt donated a considerable amount of time chasing old cut out wiring and replacement of cabling to make this project a success.
  4. Wireless to Ball Fields Grizzly’s school (John Vukemanich, Lou Pliml, Evertt Huismann)
    The Grizzly’s school had a request to enhance its WIFI access to the ball fields surrounding the school. The school teachers and athletic programs utilize this WIFI to provide program access to the school children and athletic game broadcasting via you tube. This project got highly technical as it required fiber optic cabling to be installed within the school to the roof of the school. One directional Wireless bridge was installed on top of the school and the other on top of the Football field broadcasting house to make the wireless connection. An outdoor access point was then installed at the football broadcasting house connecting the teachers, students and media broadcasters to the school network. Local Tech guys Lou Pliml and Evertt Huismann installed and setup the equipment. Bois Forte Purchased and donated the fiber optic cabling and bridging equipment needed to provide the equipment between the school and Football field clubhouse.
  1. Art Unlimited- Website Design training
    Our original intention of this program was to develop a specific website tailored to all sports activities of the Grizzly’s school and have it built solely by Art Unlimited out of Cook. Throughout this website would be various content on games and activities with links for community members to watch local games being broadcasted via broadband through computer, iPads, iPhones etc.  Once we progressed, we revisited our intention and realized it was not in the best intention of the school nor the students. We then retailored the program such that Art Unlimited would train and teach various students on how to build and develop websites, gather information and how to manage sites properly. This project did not go unnoticed from the school district. In due diligence we notified the school district of our intention on providing school activity content via this newly created website and after a few short meetings they were ok with the project. This project has been indivertibly affected by the Covid-19 epidemic, but will still manage to go Live in June prior to the start of the upcoming years athletic programs.
  1. Zup’s Online Ordering Process
    Due to Covid-19, various community members reached out to us for assistance on how best to provide social distancing when forced to enter small community-based grocery stores. We decided that a web-based ordering system for food from the local Zup’s IGA would best satisfy the community’s needs and provide the protection necessary to safeguard a lot of the elderly and at-risk community members within our area. The website has been up and running and handling several requests per day. We are anticipating early June for completion as each item throughout the store must be accounted for and maintained throughout the website in a specific database. Local Web Designer Art Unlimited and Local tech guy Lou Pliml were influential on integration and implementation of this project. Zup’s IGA expressed their appreciation recently on the project and how it has aided their business throughout this epidemic.
  1. Nett Lake Fiber to the Home Project
    Due to the implementation of various broadband activities and projects throughout our region provided through the Blandin Foundation, the Bois Forte Reservation was successful in applying for DEED Fiber to the home funding to build out a complete fiber optic to the premise buildout. Other contributing sources of funding came through the IRRRB and Shakopee Reservation. No funding through the Blandin Foundation was used to acquire this grant funding, but was considered one of the primary sources of community-based involvement needed to prove that such a buildout is necessary and financially stable to implement within this region. Bois Forte is now researching funding opportunities to provide engineering costs and estimates to the communities that have close ties to the reservation. These community include the City of Orr, Cook, Tower, Soudan and the Greenwood Township area.

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable Summary: selecting private sector broadband partners

On Tuesday May 19, Blandin Foundation hosted a Broadband Leadership Roundtable discussion focused on selecting private sector broadband partners.  I started the conversation by asking participants to list some of the characteristics that they want to see in a broadband partner.  Responsiveness, transparency, community engagement, longevity and established reputation.  Several people indicated that they were looking for a provider who put “people over profit.”

That list alone demonstrated that it is important for communities to create a shared perspective on what makes a good partner.  “People over profits” may point to the need for a public sector entity or a cooperative.  It is interesting to note that “fast speeds” or “cheap prices” did not make this list.

Blandin Foundation has published a list of principles for partner selection and partnership development.  They are:

  • Complementary mission, values, and culture
  • Commitment to inclusion
  • Mutual trust and respect
  • Balance of power and sharing of resources
  • Clear, open, and accessible communication
  • Continuous partnership improvement
  • Established partnership roles, norms, and processes
  • Reality-based and action-oriented
  • Willingness to share credit
  • Long-term and flexible perspective

Two providers on the call indicated that they look for community engagement as a key indicator of a good community partner.  If communities can fill a room for a community meeting or if they can get a good turnout for a community broadband survey, that is a good sign.  If a community can provide even a small financial contribution to a project, even as little as one percent, that is a great sign.  One provider indicated that communities should seek to include multiple providers in coming up with their connectivity solution when possible.

We shifted topics to talk about an exciting new digital inclusion effort under development to ensure that kids have devices and connectivity when school starts in the fall.  Look for more information on this project soon.

Next Tuesday, May 26, we will talk about best practices in community broadband adoption.  In other words, once you have a network, what is your community going to do with it!  Learn about what some communities are doing through the Blandin Broadband Communities program.  A key lesson – most projects don’t take much money to be successful and to positively change your community!

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects in Aitkin

Part of becoming a Blandin Broadband Community (BBC), is the opportunity to show off what you’ve been doing related to broadband in your community. It was great to hear from folks in Aitkin today.

Like all of the latest BBCs, COVID played a big role in both preparing the community for the pandemic quarantine and stopped projects in their tracks. In Aitkin we heard a lot about healthcare. Turns out they were able to serve 900 patients online in the first few weeks of the quarantine because they were prepared – but also because policy, especially around reimbursement made it financially possible. In fact, the health care folks were somehow able to expedite a plan scheduled really through the end of the year to deploy measures in weeks. Wow!

There were also some projects like the fancy new super-efficient conference room at the Birch Street Center where at first were put on hold as communities meetings were cancelled but now it back in play as they are planning to use it to stream Tai Chi classes for local seniors.

Aitkin is still working on getting broadband and it was good to hear about their short term plans to get it to people immediately but also long term goals to make sure they got what they needed.

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects in MN East Range

Part of becoming a Blandin Broadband Community (BBC), is the opportunity to show off what you’ve been doing related to broadband in your community. It was great to hear from folks in East Range (Iron Range) today. Here’s the video – in progress…

The community is working on making devices and broadband available to a wider group – like Wi-Fi on buses and ambulances, computers in schools. It was really fun to hear some of the robotics-related devices (STEM kits) they are getting at the library. Super fun! And those items should be available for checkout (or maybe in library use!) this summer.

They are also doing training and consulting with local businesses, starting with tech audits. Especially given the time we’re in, it was interesting to hear about upgrades of technology with EMT. What a difference that can make!