Aitkin County is moving forward with broadband in some areas – get the low down

Thank you to Ross Wagner and Aitken Age for making my job so easy today with a editorial from Ross…

The one thing I get the most questions, comments and complaints on is the broadband situation in Aitkin County. And understandably so, we are nearly at the point where the internet affects every aspect of our lives. Folks in rural communities sometimes wonder if the world will pass them by if they are not connected to the internet with broadband. Broadband is actually more of a concept with no set measures. The State of Minnesota defines broadband as minimum download speeds of at least 25 megabits/second and minimum upload speeds of at least 3 megabits/ second. Broadband is delivered through fiber optic lines. Aitkin County is not in the business of being an Internet Provider. However, we have initiated the Aitkin County Broadband Grant Program, with $450,000 from the economic development fund. We feel the most effective long-term solution is to work with existing internet providers by providing the financial assistance needed to bring broadband to Aitkin County.

Here’s what they are working on…

Aitkin County is very fortunate to have local providers who are willing to invest in Aitkin County, they operate here and are willing to look long term. They are Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC), SCI Broadband (SCI) and Emily Cooperative Telephone Company (ECTC). All received State Border to Border grants in 2019 and $5,000 from Aitkin County as a local contributing partner to the grants. In 2020 the State of Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Grant will again be offered. Aitkin County is currently soliciting proposals for two $75,000 grants from the Aitkin County Grant fund and will be offering $15,000 for local contributing partner matches for local providers applying for the State Grant. Both MLEC and SCI have previously received Aitkin County grants.

And here’s what they hope to see soon, thanks what they were working on last year…

So just which areas of Aitkin County have been awarded grants to internet providers for 2020? Esquagamah and Round Lake areas will see broadband brought to approximately 242 unserved and 103 underserved locations by ECTC. The MLEC has a grant that will serve 282 unserved and 225 underserved households in areas of Farm Island and Nordland Townships. MLEC was awarded a Community Connect Grant from the USDA, for a project in Rice River and Spaulding Townships and areas of the East Lake Community. The project will pass 235 homes and businesses. SCI has a project that will serve 269 unserved homes, in areas of Glen Township. In addition to the Glen Township area, SCI will be finishing up previous project areas around Big Sandy Lake and Clear Lake.

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable:Social Media for Community Broadband

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five public safety broadband projects led by East Range Iron Range Blandin Broadband Communities program

Hometown Focus (in Virginia MN) write about public safety projects deployed by the local Iron Range Blandin Broadband Communities program (BBC)…

The East Range Joint Powers Board recently implemented five new broadband projects that improved public safety and essential emergency services as part of the Iron Range Blandin Broadband Communities program (BBC). The Joint Powers Board encompasses the communities of Aurora, Biwabik, Hoyt Lakes and Town of White.

Police squad car laptops: East Range law enforcement received upgraded laptops in each squad car. With all squad cars operating on the same system, the police increased their efficiency, communication and response time serving the East Range communities.

Ambulance laptops: Hoyt Lakes Ambulance Service updated its technology to keep communication connections with St. Louis County’s new Computer Automated Dispatch (CAD) system. This ensures timely and efficient response times by Hoyt Lakes EMS, and it provides them with information about patients, call locations and safety of the scene.

EMS training laptop: Hoyt Lakes Fire & Ambulance Service received a laptop to conduct training for their staff and first responders. Trainings include: Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Advanced Medical Life Support, Prehospital Trauma Life Support and Pediatric Advanced Life Support.

Public safety building SMART board: Hoyt Lakes Fire & EMS departments received an interactive whiteboard to use for mandatory emergency response and public safety training.

Fire department iPads and hotspots: Palo Volunteer Fire Department received new iPads and hotspots to assist with locating homes when responding to residential fires.

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

The next Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable will feature a presentation by Matt Fulton of Polco.  According to their website, “Polco’s civic engagement platform makes meaningful communication between community leaders and the people they serve not only possible, but enjoyable.”    See more at www.polco.us .  Be prepared to share how your community is using online tools to engage citizens and the benefits and challenges of that engagement.  The Blandin broadband team will share its experience of moving it Blandin Broadband Communities project development process online.  Join us Tuesday, June 9 at 9 am by registering here: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJwoc-2qrDotHNMilSss2LwHaw92XEhj3fqi .

Please share your ideas for future discussion topics to broadband@blandinfoundation.org

Jacobson Community Center get creative with WiFi

The best introductin to community wifi goes to Jacobson Community Center newsletter in Jacobson MN…

A stellar member of our community (who is a Star Trek fan) reported the following dream/vision that occurred to him during his afternoon siesta. He found himself on the Star Ship Enterprise. Dr. Spock was addressing Captain Kirk: “Captain I detect a WI-FI signal from the JCC Farmers Hall. Beam me down to determine if lifeforms exist! “ The good Dr. Spock was transported down to the hall and indeed observed a newly installed WI-FI system!! He was transported back to the Enterprise and enthusiastically reported to the captain “these are not just ordinary life forms. But lifeforms of extreme intelligence, they have WI-FI !!!” I personally don’t know how much credibility should be assigned to our member’s vision? He vehemently insists that Dr. Spock was indeed in our building and left clues behind as prove of his visit. Fact or Fiction? I dont know.

BUT… The one fact I KNOW is it is true the hall does have WI-FI available, In the building and west parking lot. Password is: manpowersyrup530 Thanks to Aitkin County and especially Ross Wagner who acquired the grant and arranged installation of equipment.

What would the founding Fathers of the Hall think ?

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects with Iron Range Tourism Bureau

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 with Iron Range Tourism Bureau.

It was great to hear about all of the projects happening in the area. I loved the focus on art. Here’s a list of their “mini” porjects – with a special nod to their online artist map.

  • Eveleth Heritage Society partnership with Minnesota Historical Society to scan 1,332 pages of the Eveleth Mining News.
  • Iron Range Historical Society connect Instagram and Facebook, add newsletters to website, add Online Donation button with new PayPal account
  • Hibbing Historical Society new website
  • Embarrass Township Printer, website improvements, Facebook account addition
  • Virginia Area Historical Society digital photo frame, printer/copier, light table, scanner
  • Camp Vermilion office laptops
  • Lyric Center for the Arts  desktop and laptop
  • SISU Heritage laptop and internet access

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects in Laurentian communities

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 Laurentian communities, inclduing Quad Cities of Eveleth, Gilbert, Mountain Iron, and Virginia, Minnesota, as well as surrounding business communities on the Iron Range

It was great to hear how broadband and e-makreting trianing had helped to prepare businesses to recalibrate during the COVID-19 pandemic. One local business used her brand new website to sell 600 tshirts online to support businesses in her area. She made $6000 for everyone and learned how to perfect selling online. Also they were able to promote local businesses with a shop local app, which has been getting nice attention.

EVENT: June 11 Blandin Broadband Communities vision meeting with Le Sueur County

Le Sueur County News reports…

Le Sueur County is inviting the public to help develop broadband projects in the county at Blandin Broadband Community Vision and Brainstorm meetings.  At these meetings, priorities will be determined and projects developed to improve Internet access and use in Le Sueur.

Le Sueur County was named one of five new Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) in January 2020. The BBC program provides planning, technical and financial support to communities that demonstrate the determination to bring the benefits of a broadband-enabled economy to their communities. The new communities will each have access to a $75,000 grant, but projects will have to meet Blandin Foundation standards in order to be funded. Successful projects in other communities have focused business technology websites and incubators, technology camps for school kids, online job training, and community marketing.

Due to COVID-19, Blandin Foundation has revised this program to be completely online. The process will use a combination of surveys and Zoom meetings to set goals and develop projects rather than the more traditional on-site process that Blandin Foundation has used in 40 other communities over the years. To participate, residents should go online to: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/QJKS9JY to complete an initial community survey. They can then choose to register for one or both of the two online interactive meetings. The Vision meeting will be June 11 at 1pm with the follow-up Brainstorm meeting on June 17 at 10am. Following the online meetings, community members will have a chance through a follow-up community survey to vote for and even volunteer for project teams to be led by various community organizations.

The Le Sueur County Blandin Broadband Community project is sponsored by Le Sueur County. Le Sueur County has been working for the past three years to advocate for improved broadband access across the county. Last year Bevcomm was awarded $1.8 million from State of Minnesota Border to Border grant program for improved internet access in Le Sueur County and planning is underway for 2020 grant funds. A community survey at https://www.co.le-sueur.mn.us/386/Le-Sueur-County-Broadband-Initiative has had over 700 responses about the need improved access.

EVENT June 2: Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable: State broadband funding

Join a group of community broadband advocates for their weekly broadband discussion. Next week, we will start the discussion with information on the federal Department of Commerce’s available broadband funding.  This program was covered in the Blandin on Broadband blog recently.  The dollars are available on a rolling basis so haste is required to get it.  We will talk about program rules and processes and possible strategies for consideration.  Maybe some opportunities for collaboration!

Once we wear out the above topic, we can shift to any other topics that attendees want to talk about.  Bring your ideas and questions.  Click here for to join us – or register in advance.

 

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects in Ely

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 Ely.

It was fun to hear about what’s happening in Ely. The local businesses are learning all abotu social media. They have a new website that’s (Elyite) that’s really getting traction and they’re excited about what they can do moving forward.

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. (Get the slides.)

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.