Cloquet (MN) is asking residents to take broadband survey and speed test (Carlton County)

Pine Knot News reports…

Cloquet schools superintendent Michael Cary spoke about how important reliable and affordable high-speed internet is for today’s students. The Cloquet Broadband Committee is asking residents for a few minutes of their time to complete a survey about their internet service. Local business people and public officials gathered Wednesday morning to talk about the need for reliable high[1]speed internet in today’s world, and how the pandemic has exposed some of the deficits in the city of Cloquet

Here’s more info on the survey…

Thanks to the selection of the city of Cloquet as a Blandin Broadband community, the city has more resources now to evaluate needs and options to improve service within city limits. But they need more information from residents and businesses about their access to the internet: cost, reliability, speed and more. The information gained will help guide the city and community leaders on opportunities to explore ways to improve broadband services. That’s where the survey comes in. Through Jan. 31, the city is reopening its broadband survey at https://www.goctc.com/cloquet for individuals and businesses within the eastern Cloquet city limits. A map puts the borders of eastern Cloquet at Kinden and West St. Louis River roads to the north, Crosby Road to the east, Moorhead Road to the south and Pinewood Drive and the St. Louis River to the west. Scanlon is not included, nor is the Fond du Lac Reservation, which will be rolling out its broadband fiber to all residents within the FDL Reservation territory, including the western municipal city limits of Cloquet. Those without internet access can get assistance with completing the survey at the Cloquet Public Library. Anyone who completes the survey will be entered into a drawing to win an iPad. People can test upload speeds at this website: https://broadband.ramsmn.org/mn-rural-broadband-coallition%5B1%5Dinitiative.

OPPORTUNITY: In Cloquet MN, please take the broadband survey to help plan for better broadband (Carlton County)

Fox21 News reports

 A foundation is recognizing Cloquet as an area of rural Minnesota that could use some help boosting its access to broadband internet.

The Blandin Foundation offers $75,000 matching grants to help advance technology goals for communities that apply to be a part of the program, and Cloquet is one of the newest cities to receive funding from it.

Now, Cloquet is asking residents to fill out a survey so city leaders can better understand what the internet needs are in the area, so they can help more residents connect to broadband services.

Leaders say that these past two years have shown how reliant society is on internet access to be able to work or learn from home.

“We forget sometimes that there are people in our communities who don’t have that same access,” Dr. Michael Cary, the ISD 94 superintendent, said. “And it becomes extremely critical in situations where we have to deliver education or learning through that medium.”

Dr. Cary added that 25% of Cloquet students don’t have access to reliable high speed internet.

The survey runs until January 31st, and you’ll be entered to win an iPad if you take it.

BBC Cohort meeting – learning about what’s happening with broadband communities in Minnesota

Yesterday the Blandin Broadband Team met with incoming and outgoing Blandin Broadband Communities. The seasoned folks gave advice to the newbies, especially in how to make broadband planning possible in the pandemic world.

We also heard from each of the communities about some of their highlight projects for example, Ottertail spoke about their community smart room/zoom rooms and broadband availability mapping too, White Earth spoke about their elders initiative, Chisago Lakes talked about their community survey and broadband infrastructure work and the virtual manufacturing tours (for students looking at careers) and Le Sueur talked about their economic development summit and the Google Suite work.

Blandin takes a look at last two years with grantees such as White Earth Nation

Regularly the Blandin Foundation takes a look at the various communities they have been working with to promote, deploy and use better broadband. They use the Mountain of Accountability Framework as a tool to help learn from the past two years. The graphic to the right gives an overview of the pieces of the assessment.  You can check out the full report to find out how many YouTube subscribers the Blandin Broadband channel has or total amount of grants awarded. But my favorite part is checking in on each of the communities helped – and for sake of archive and brevity of post I’m going to share them each separately:

White Earth Nation is the largest reservation in Minnesota.
The broadband situation across the reservation is uneven.
While nearly 90% of residents have access to fixed, non-mobile broadband that meets the 2026 state speed goal of
100 MBPS download and 20 MBPS upload, there is a broad
swath across the middle of the reservation that is un- or
underserved (red in the figure to the left.) Cellular service is
also a concern across the reservation.
The Steering Team’s focus was increasing Wi-Fi access across the reservation and getting devices and internet connections to those who need it most, which they deemed to be families with students, and elders.
The team instituted an elder lending program to provide devices and mobile hotspot access to older residents on an as-needed basis, with recipients being allowed to check out the devices for several weeks at a time. Along with the device lending, digital navigation services are provided on topics such as telemedicine, online classes or meetings, and social engagement.
The lending program for students and families focuses primarily on internet hotspots rather than devices, since
younger people often have device access through schools or
cell phones. The hotspots allow students access for schoolwork. Families living in tribally owned and operated
housing units were given priority.
Public access projects include installing Wi-Fi hotspots in communities to provide safe and secure locations for
residents to access the internet and installing cell signal boosters in communities with poor cell service. They will also install televisions in White Earth Public Transit buses to improve communications across the reservation, including announcements, daily information, and marketing of community events.

Blandin takes a look at last two years with grantees such as Otter Tail County

Regularly the Blandin Foundation takes a look at the various communities they have been working with to promote, deploy and use better broadband. They use the Mountain of Accountability Framework as a tool to help learn from the past two years. The graphic to the right gives an overview of the pieces of the assessment.  You can check out the full report to find out how many YouTube subscribers the Blandin Broadband channel has or total amount of grants awarded. But my favorite part is checking in on each of the communities helped – and for sake of archive and brevity of post I’m going to share them each separately:

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

Blandin takes a look at last two years with grantees such as Le Sueur

Regularly the Blandin Foundation takes a look at the various communities they have been working with to promote, deploy and use better broadband. They use the Mountain of Accountability Framework as a tool to help learn from the past two years. The graphic to the right gives an overview of the pieces of the assessment.  You can check out the full report to find out how many YouTube subscribers the Blandin Broadband channel has or total amount of grants awarded. But my favorite part is checking in on each of the communities helped – and for sake of archive and brevity of post I’m going to share them each separately:

Le Sueur County has been working with the Foundation on broadband for several years, a connection first sparked in 2018 at a regional broadband summit Blandin helped facilitate for Region 9 Economic Development Commission.
Blandin’s initial support to Le Sueur included grant funding for a Robust Network Feasibility Study and staffing support to move projects forward. An early result of the study was a 2019 DEED Border-to-Border grant for almost $2 million (matched 1:1 locally) to upgrade service to 417 households, 88 farms, 59 businesses, and four anchor institutions (all unserved) in rural areas around the communities of Montgomery, Heidelberg, and New Prague.
This work positioned county broadband champions for a successful BBC effort, focused mainly on communications, public access and training, and addressing broadband-enabled economic development opportunities. The Steering Committee has remained focused on their goal to increase broadband access/adoption/use by implementing projects designed to increase the technical capacity of residents through training and through better high-speed access through public hotspots, loaner devices and advocating more highspeed internet throughout the county.
Le Sueur County maximized the impact of their BBC resources by utilizing CARES funding to implement projects identified through the BBC process. The first project funded in part with the help of CARES dollars sought to improve access to technology throughout the county by increasing the number of public access sites and offering new training
opportunities, with an emphasis on Zoom and similar applications that support community connectivity.
Two other CARES-funded projects were communications focused. One amplified the work of the Le Sueur County Broadband Initiative (LCBI) through enhanced
communication and marketing, including improving access to county-wide calendars, and offering integrated community education classes. A fun component of this project was a Broadband booth at the 2020 Le Sueur County Fair. The booth’s materials, signage, survey, and volunteers generated much discussion and interest in broadband planning efforts around the county. Fair-goers noted and appreciated the brand-new free Wi-Fi on the
fairgrounds, which greatly enhanced their fair-going experience. The second communications-focused project was the purchase of Google Suites for Business for LCBI,
including training for all team members.
In an effort to explain how and why the county spent CARES Act dollars, the impacts of the investments — and assure residents that the County is committed to making
broadband available to all — the team created a video: Le Sueur County: the County that CARES about Broadband. The video premiered in October and so far has been shown at county board and department meetings. It will be posted on the county’s website and shown to townships. Additional segments with emergency services and human services
focuses will be available soon.
Another project addressed the lack of economic development at the county-level. LCBI, in partnership with Southern Minnesota Initiative Fund, hosted a community asset mapping workshop to identify opportunities
for collaboration, and spur innovative ideas across the county – not just in cities – on how to best utilize the unprecedented levels of federal funding expected in the coming months.
The meeting was timely and fruitful, involving over sixty people, including county and township officials, staff from cities across the county, regional intermediary agencies,
business leaders, and educators. Meetings between LCBI and city administrators and elected officials to discuss their capacity for economic development work followed. They
learned that only two cities in the county have full time staff dedicated to economic development. All supported the concept of the county stepping in to support their
economic development work. This culminated with a presentation to the Le Sueur County board in October with a recommendation to hire a county-wide economic development director. The board unanimously supported moving in this direction.
Another project to increase staff support for LCBI fizzled, through no fault of the team.
They had planned to welcome a Lead for Minnesota Fellow to work on broadband in partnership with Tri City School District, but the identified fellow dropped out of the
program. The team continues to work on alternatives.
Between CARES funding and the Fellow not working out, at the time of this writing Le Sueur County has around $50,000 Blandin funds left to allocate. The team is planning a “relaunch” event in December 2021 including a revamp of the steering committee due to changes in personnel in the schools and at the county, bringing in new voices. They anticipate communications continuing to be a major focus moving ahead. They anticipate completing their BBC work in 2022.

Side bar:
Impact of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF)
The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is an FCC program designed to bring high-speed fixed broadband service to rural homes and small businesses that lack it. The Phase
I reverse auction ended on November 25, 2020 and winners committed to bring broadband to over five million homes and businesses in census blocks that were entirely unserved by voice and broadband with download speeds of at least 25 Mbps. The FCC is currently in the process of going through long-form applications and making final award decisions. Once formally awarded, winning providers have
six years to complete the projects.
One wireless provider won over three quarters of the over $400 million awarded to Minnesota in the auction phase. The FCC is still considering whether to approve their long-form application.
This has left large swaths of the state in a holding pattern, including Le Sueur County. LCBI team leader Barbara Dröher Kline has been a vocal advocate for communities affected by the uncertainty of the RDOF auction. She spoke with MinnPost in January 2021:
Barbara Dröher Kline, a broadband consultant working with Le Sueur County, said the county had applications rejected by the state for two broadband projects for
roughly 500 homes in areas that could potentially be served by LTD. Both are next to parts of the county where the county and other partners built fiber infrastructure with $547,000 from the federal stimulus CARES Act.
Dröher Kline said about two-thirds of eligible areas in Le Sueur County are now covered by LTD’s winning bids, which means they may get broadband, but it also
may take years. She suggested the state ask the feds to withdraw RDOF funding in areas where the state program can build infrastructure quickly. “It would have been a drop in the bucket (for LTD) and we’d have fiber in the ground this spring,” Droher Kline said.
As of November 2021, the final award decision has still not been made, and communities wait. Barbara laments, “If feels like we’re going backward.”

Lincoln County becomes a Blandin Broadband Community to continue broadband increase

The Marshall Independent reports…

Residents of Lincoln County have already done a lot of work to improve their Internet access. But there’s still plenty of work to do to catch up to present-day needs, said speakers at a virtual meeting this week.

It is true, the last county profiles indicted that they went from 40 percent access to broadband at 100 Mbps down and 20 up to 99 percent access! They are looking to do more with the broadband by becoming a Blandin Broadband Community (BBC)…

This year, Lincoln County was named one of six new Blandin Broadband Communities. The Blandin Broadband Community (BBC) program is a two-year partnership between rural Minnesota communities and the Blandin Foundation. The communities chosen for the program work with the foundation to develop local broadband projects. Lincoln County will need to allocate and spend up to $100,000 in funding.

“We’re so happy to have been chosen by Blandin,” Robinson said. “They’ve been a partner with Lincoln County for quite some time in our broadband goals.”

Over the past few years, fiber networks have been expanded in Lincoln County, and the city of Ivanhoe is now the only part of the county without fiber optic cable running to homes and businesses, Robinson said.

At this point, Lincoln County has done a good job of getting broadband, but there are still gaps in whether people can access and afford it, Robinson said.

“I do think we need to spend some time researching why they’re being left behind,” he said.

I suspect we’ll hear more later…

The next step in the process for Lincoln County will be an online brainstorming meeting on Tuesday. The meeting will be a chance for residents to talk about projects they would like to implement with BBC grant funds. The meeting will also talk about voting and volunteering for teams that will put projects into action, said Mary Magnuson of the Blandin Foundation.

Blandin, Northland, IRRRB helps Arrowhead leaders focus on broadband

Grand Rapids Herald Review reports

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, local leaders throughout Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region (Aitkin, Cook, Carlton, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis Counties) came together to assess their communities’ strengths and challenges in building and sustaining broadband-powered economies. Based on what they learned, eight projects emerged and will be supported through regional grants.

“Arrowhead Regional leaders had the courage and tenacity to dedicate time during a pandemic to look deeply at how broadband was propelling or, because of the lack of it, preventing community growth,” said Tuleah Palmer, president and CEO at Blandin Foundation. “These small grants will kindle the real power of this initiative – the collaborative, innovative spirit living within our rural communities.”

Here are some of the grants that were funded…

  • With an $8,000 grant, St. Louis County School District 2142 will map students’ homes within the St. Louis County School District (including Nett Lake, NorthWoods, Tower, Babbitt, Cherry and SouthRidge) to determine existing broadband speeds and plan for a wireless broadband network to encompass the 3,850 square miles of the district. Leading the project, Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) is working in partnership with the Northeast Service Cooperative on a proposed wireless network build off their middle mile fiber network that runs throughout the service area. Ultimately, the project hopes to serve many of the district’s 2,200 students at the lowest possible cost.
  • Iron Range Tourism Bureau will develop a co-working space and expand their outreach and recruitment of remote workers. This project builds on their Hello Iron Range initiative, a talent attraction initiative that promotes the region’s workforce opportunities and connects incoming and existing residents to local networking events and resources.
  • Minnesota’s Children’s Press will create a new youth-, knowledge- and tech-driven genre of literature with help from a $35,000 grant. Through this project, youth will collect and map locations of litter in Grand Marais and on the shores of Lake Superior using ArcGIS Mapping software. Following data analysis, youth will write, illustrate, and publish a book about their findings and solutions. An outreach campaign will focus on both the findings of the project as well as the process and it will include presentations to local leaders, workshop offerings, a website housing free civic digital journalism resources and a social media series.
  • Smart North will plan for and implement a pilot project for smart streetlights and mobility hubs in the City of Grand Rapids through the support of a $50,000 grant. This infrastructure will allow city departments to access and share data, enable robust 5G connectivity throughout the city and provide municipal WiFi access. In partnership with The Grand Iron Range CAV Initiative, this effort will support the test of the country’s first autonomous shuttle vehicle in a rural, all-season community.
  • Northspan seeks to strengthen equitable digital access across the Arrowhead region through their Welcoming Community initiative with the support of a $50,000 grant. Through this project, Northspan will gather regional broadband data to create a baseline for fair, equal access to broadband and technology and explore how it impacts people of various race/ethnicities, income, education and ages within the Arrowhead region. This data will inform a series of conversations and engagements on why digital equity gaps exist and inform programming to address gaps.

Checking in with MN community broadband leaders around Minnesota

It’s always fun to check in with the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) participating community leaders. Today the Blandin Broadband team checked in with a few of the communities. It was a look back at what I’ll optimistically call the tail end of the pandemic and a helpful look at what everyone is expecting moving forward.

We started with a list of how we are all going to use broadband to celebrate summer. But the conversation also well more work-focused practical. Turns out that we have mixed feelings about the transition from online meetings to live-only or hybrids. It seems like we landed on hybrids are good when the expectations are honestly set. The conversation also got into practicalities of dealing with state versus federal funding and how those don’t always play well together and how folks are going to handle training in the real-virtual world.

If you’re a community leader and you’re wondering yourself how to handle the role of technology and balancing the transition to “normal” life, this may be an instructive conversation to hear.

Chisago Lakes surveys show that more than 60 percent not happy with broadband speed or reliability

Thank you to Chisago Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce for sharing their recent survey of broadband access and use in the community. They had 726 respondents, which is pretty darned good. They ask, is your broadband enough – for school and/or work? And they ask about broadband satisfaction with broadband reliability and speed – turns out in both categories, more than 60 percent of respondents said their satisfaction was poor or fair.

Chisago Lakes is part of the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) program, which means funding from Blandin and coaching from Bill Coleman helped get this done.

Chisago Lakes Strut Your Stuff: manufacturing tours, new website, getting seniors connected

Today we met up with the Chisago Lakes BBC team. Like the other BBC communities, Chisago has been dealing with the COVID challenges of the last year. They have been focus on a few areas:

  • Getting older folks connected with computers and training (computers going out now)
  • Getting better broadband in the area, including a survey, push to get people to take the speed tests
  • Working with businesses – specifically doing video tours of manufacturing plants for students
  • Building a new website for the Chamber – to be unveiled very soon

All of the efforts are off the ground, a few are just about ready for prime time. I am particularly looking forward to some of the stories they have collected from folks who are happy and unhappy with their home broadband.

Le Sueur County Strut Your Stuff: great innovation – luckily because they have access challenges

Today we met up with the Le Sueur County BBC team. It was a reminder of how lucky some counties are that they have broadband because they have providers who are/were interested in deploying it. The Le Sueur team is engaged and innovative. They have had some great projects happening in the area but also, they need to work on getting better broadband. They have done surveys and mapping and even got some strong applications in for Broder to Border state funding but that was thwarted when LTD Broadband was awarded federal funding that disqualifies the county state proposals.

Even with all of that – the meeting was inspirational. The team is excitement about getting a Fellow from the Lead for America/ American Connection Corps over the next two years to help them with existing and future projects. You can learn more in the recording of the session and the PowerPoint below.

Otter Tail County Strut Your Stuff: zoom rooms, tech packs – getting people connecting during COVID

Today we met up with the Otter Tail County BBC team. They updated us with how their broadband adoption programs are going. A quick reminder, BBC is a Blandin program that has been helping communities use technology wisely for years through focused grant opportunities and broadband coaching with Bill Coleman. Otter Tail started their journey in 2020, which means they were one of the inaugural all-online communities. So it was even more inspiring to hear what they accomplished and how they did it.

One presenter really summed up the program in the last year, “During this last year especially, broadband has meant connection. And connection is essential right now.”

Here’s a list of the Projects:

  1. Free Wi-Fi in selected locations around county: deploy Wi-Fi hotspots around the county
  2. Zoom rooms at libraries, community centers, etc: deploy several rooms throughout the county where people can participate in meetings or interview for jobs, and more.
  3. Tech packs: Free laptops and hotspots for individuals who qualify, with an emphasis on those seeking employment.
  4. Youth exposure to technology: collaboration between local schools and MState to increase youth access to coding and provide exposure to tech careers.
  5. Marketing to recruit high-tech companies and teleworkers: diversify the local economy by recruiting tech companies and teleworkers to the County.

You can check out the video and PPT below:

New projects on the Iron Range help increase broadband use

Hometown Focus reports

New broadband initiatives were launched in the Chisholm-Balkan area through the Iron Range Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) program. A collaboration of community partners included: Balkan Township, City of Chisholm, Chisholm Economic Development Authority (CEDA), Chisholm Chamber of Commerce and Chisholm Independent School District #695. Each organization led one or more of the following projects: [list is abbreviated]

  • A new website for Balkan Township that includes a community calendar, recycling and municipal services, township government news and automated reservations for the community center.
  • Marketing videos to promote life in Chisholm.
  • A new website for the city of Chisholm
  • Public Wifi improvements at the Chisholm Public Library.
  • 10 mobile internet hotspots available to check out
  • A scavenger hunt app for Chisholm’s community events.
  • Free digital marketing assistance to 10 Chisholm small businesses
  • Public Wifi access on Chisholm ISD school buses.
  • 100 mobile internet hotspots
  • Improved public wifi at Minnesota Discovery Center
  • A distance learning project by Minnesota Discovery Center

The Institute for Local Self Reliance highlights the work of Le Sueur County

The Institute for Local Self Reliance highlights the work of Le Sueur County on their road to getting better broadband…

Over the last three years, Le Sueur County, Minnesota has assembled a task force of citizens, local officials, and business leaders which have succeeded in dramatically improving broadband for thousands of residents who previously had poor or no connectivity. In doing so, they’ve also forged relationships, inventoried local resources, and created a model which is likely to see the landscape go from one where nearly all residents in the county were under- or unserved by basic broadband at the beginning of 2018 to one where the vast majority of the community will have access at 100/20 Mbps in the next couple years. And if efforts continue to succeed, it’s possible we might see full fiber coverage in Le Sueur by the end of the decade, making it one of the most connected counties in the state.

They follow the story from start…

Until the middle of the last decade, residents were largely on their own to find solutions. Starting about five years ago, however, things began to change. One Le Sueur resident who had paid individually to bring better Internet access to her home so she could run her small business took the initiative to bring up issue to the county board. Shortly thereafter, a diverse and energetic group came together to form the local broadband task force, including community residents, the IT director for a collection of the town school districts, IT Manager for Le Sueur County Jeff Niesen, local business leaders, the county board, and the county administrator. All agreed that there was a case for better broadband for homes as to drive economic development.

Le Sueur worked on a feasibility study…

Work to improve local connectivity began in 2017, when the county helped secure a $50,000 from the Blandin Foundation to do a feasibility study and look for solutions. At the same time, in 2018 the county put out a broadband survey to get a handle on where service was and wasn’t (for reasons we’ll reiterate until we’re blue in the face or it’s fixed), illustrated in the map to the left where red areas of the county are unserved, purple areas underserved with connections between 25/3 Mbps and 100/20 Mbps, and green areas served by wireline broadband of at least 100/20 Mbps. By 2019 these preliminary endeavors were done, but the county — realizing that tackling the entirety of the $14 million project consisting of 800 miles of fiber in one attempt was unrealistic — approached expanding broadband in a targeted and incremental fashion instead.

That led to a successful MN Border to Border broadband grant…

The first move was to use the feasibility study as the basis for issuing an RFP to partner with local ISPs to apply for a Border to Border Broadband grant operated under the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) program, which in 2019 led to a successful partnership with a local telephone company for a project covering 225-250 homes using 100 miles of fiber in Derrynane (pop. 525) and Lanesburg (pop. 2,100) Townships on the northern end of the county, along with a handful of homes in nearby Montgomery and Lexington townships.

Then reaction to the pandemic…

Le Sueur had no more warning than did any other community in forecasting the current pandemic, but when it hit the local broadband task force kicked into high gear. Three projects were realized to bring better connectivity to the region.

  • The first of these is a partnership with ISP MetroNet using CARES Act funds for a fiber network expansion which has connected about 420 homes (including 59 completely unserved) using 49 miles of fiber in Waterville, Kilkenny, Montgomery, Cordova, Sharon, Lexington, and Kasota.

  • The second project is a partnership with NetWave Broadband to add wireless hardware to seven towers throughout the county in Cleveland, Cordova Township, Kasota Township, Le Center, Montgomery, Tyrone Township, and Waterbill with a rough range of seven to ten miles each to bring service up to 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds out to the remaining 80% of the unconnected.

  • Third and finally, the county has installed free public Wi-Fi access to seven areas around the county, including boat landings, community parks, and campgrounds.

Blandin gets a nod…

You can see the gains made in te last two years in the map to the left, where red areas (unserved) turned purple and purple areas (underserved at <100/20 Mbps) turned green. Le Sueur is a Blandin Broadband Community for 2020-2021, and the county attributes its success over the last three years to the energy brought by local residents and county officials. It seems from the outside that part of their success, also, has been in finding and forging relationships with local and regional ISPs to the benefit of both residents and those companies.