Catching up with broadband projects in Hibbing MN: digital marketing, connectivity through the libraries and community center

Spent the morning in HIbbing talking with people about their broadband projects.  They have been part of a project (IRBC) with the Blandin Foundation and IRRRB focused on increasing use of broadband in the area. I’ll include full notes below – but a couple of highlights…

  • Working on fiber to community building
  • Digital marketing consulting with local businesses
  • Connectivity through the libraries
  • Tech fair for kids
  • PCS for people

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Catching up with broadband projects in Ely MN: Feasibility study, digital marketing, coworking and Elyite website

Spent yesterday afternoon in Ely talking with people about their broadband projects. (It is actually cool up  here – so very nice!) They have been part of a project (IRBC) with the Blandin Foundation and IRRRB focused on increasing use of broadband in the area. I’ll include full notes below – but a couple of highlights…

  • The have made a big push with digital marketing – classes and consulting
  • Their feasibility study has raised some opportunities and options for partnership
  • They have a new website to recruit new Elyites – filled with fun videos.
  • They have a new coworking space – open only a month and they have 12 members!

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Catching up with broadband projects in Cook MN: classes, hotspot checkout and library programming

There were 15 people in the room this morning in Cook where it seems like building an ark would make as much sense as talking about broadband. They have been part of a project (IRBC) with the Blandin Foundation and IRRRB focused on increasing use of broadband in the area. I’ll include full notes below – but a couple of highlights…

  • The library has a point system for teens that engage in the library (volunteer, check out books…). If you get enough points you get to an overnight at the library – taking advantage of broadband there.
  • The town halls are connected and offer wifi. People take advantage of it.
  • They are looking at classes on broadband as a home security tool.

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Rock County selected as a Blandin Broadband Community

The Worthington Globe reports…

Blandin Foundation announced Friday that Rock County leaders were successful in their application to become a Blandin Broadband Community, one of four selected in the state.

The Blandin Broadband Communities program is an intensive, two-year partnership between Blandin Foundation and selected rural Minnesota communities. The program provides planning, technical and financial support to communities that are determined to design and drive digital technology initiatives that position their communities and every resident for greater success.

Rock County will join Swift County, Cannon Falls and Koochiching Technology Initiative in the 2018-20 cohort of Blandin Broadband Communities.

“High-speed Internet access — and the skills to use it — is essential to vibrant rural communities,” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement.  “We’re excited to partner with Rock County to imagine new possibilities that come with enhanced Internet access and use.”

Koochiching County considers becoming a Blandin Broadband Community

According to the International Falls Journal

Background: Koochiching County officials will consider taking part in the Blandin Broadband Communities, or BBC, Program. The Blandin Foundation seeks four rural Minnesota communities to participate in the program. Selected through an application process, BBCs will define the technology goal, receive planning and technical assistance. They will also have access to resources to implement projects designed to make progress on their broadband and community technology enhancement goals.

Once selected, there is the opportunity to apply for up to $75,000 in grants over a two-year period, including feasibility studies or implementation of additions desired by the community.

An orientation with presenter Bill Coleman was held Thursday to discuss what the program is and strategic goals for a realistic application to the BBC.

The application deadline is May 31, with the grant application deadline in August, said Jim Yount, co-owner of Small Town Tech.

“We still have un-served and under-served areas within the county,” said Nevanen. “Although some strides have been made, it is an ongoing issue.”

BorealCorps – a digital-savvy youth group in Grand Marais MN

Blandin just got the notes on this very fun project they funded in Grand Marais and I’m excited to share the details. The community has created a youth-driven, civic, digital news service called BorealCorps for elementary and middle school children throughout Cook County. The goal was to use immersive, hands-on learning in both in-school enrichment sessions and after-school club meetings to create a child-authored and maintained web site as a means of closing the rural opportunity gap in 21st century technology and its applications.

BorealCorps results have far-surpassed the initial proposal to Blandin, and can be seen on the website. Not only have they formed a sustainable, reliable and increasingly-recognized youth group of able civic connectors and communicators, the children have made BorealCorps self-supporting — in less than one year.

They have a steady enrollment of 12-15 child staff members (~10% of the county cohort) and parental support in grades 4-8 from all school communities throughout Cook County, and have taught as many as 30 in one day of serial classes.

BorealCorps youth have proven themselves to the community to be able, helpful communication collaborators. Here are some of their projects:

  • Sawtooth Clinic turned to BorealCorps for help with health reporting key messages on youth nutrition
  • The Lions Club has invited child representatives to present a proposal for the Fisherman’s Picnic event in August 2018
  • The YMCA engages BorealCorps reporters to help publicize events
  • Great Expectations Charter School worked with BorealCorps to develop a winter-long community reading advocacy program called “A Long Winter’s Read.”
  • Oshki Ogimaag Ojibway Charter School has invited BorealCorps to coach teachers how to work with its students to author an Ojibway-language children’s book in spring 2018.

And one surprise project: In December 2017 BorealCorps was hired by the American Lung Association in Minnesota to provide 15 weeks of social media health messaging on Facebook( @borealcorps ) as a demonstration curriculum for other schools on dangers of e-cigarettes and nicotine addiction to youth, who are targeted by advertisers. BorealCorps did such an impressive job that 8 members and 4 parents were sponsored by the Lung Association on March 21-22, 2018 to present in St. Paul an artistic interpretation of lung cancer. They created it from primary source photographs of lung cancer victims, and through felt sculptures of lung sections, calling it “Beautiful Lungs.” It was displayed in the Minnesota History Center. At the Capitol, BorealCorps members also lobbied Sen. Tom Back and Rep. Ron Ecklund to pass Tobacco 21 legislation to protect youth health. They have recently been hired to do even more!

Great broadband digital inclusion project ideas from Minnesota

The Blandin Foundation works with communities to help them better use better broadband. They’ve been doing it for years and sometimes I get lucky enough to be a part of the projects. Each community works with a community broadband coach (Bill Coleman – another consultant on the Blandin Broadband Team); he helps them figure out their community priorities and where broadband fits in.

Then each community submits broadband proposals (to the community team, then Blandin) for potential funding. These projects are well thought out, vetted and most are well executed. (As my kids say – sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. Sometimes the projects are good learning opportunities and those lessons get shared.)

Today I’m pleased to share a matrix of the most recent projects. It’s a great list of ideas you could try in your own community. I suspect the layout of the projects will not be perfect – you can get a nicer, printable version too.)

Also – it’s a gentle reminder that Blandin is looking for future communities – deadline is May 31, 2018. (You can learn a lot more about the program in this archive of a recent webinar on it.)

 Community Project Owner Project Name Project Description
Aitkin County Aitkin County Aitkin County Community Calendar Create a county-wide landing page for events sponsored by Aitkin County Chambers, Schools and other organizations.
Aitkin County Aitkin County Community Conference Centers Provide three small communities with conference/meeting suites, including a mobile computer lab, smart boards, other digital equipment, and Wi-Fi hotspots for use by residents, community education and others.
Aitkin County Aitkin County Wi-Fi Network for Small Cities Provide Wi-Fi for the central hub of Palisade to attract commercial growth, promote connectivity, enhance education, and promote telehealth. This project will serve as a pilot for Wi-Fi networks in other small cities.
Aitkin County Aitkin County Wi-Fi at Berglund Park Provide Wi-Fi at the Palisade city park campground – a main entry point for the Northwoods ATV Trail and important source of economic activity. Park usage is anticipated to increase with Wi-Fi availability.
Aitkin County East Central Regional Library Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspots The East Central Regional Library will obtain 14 mobile hotspots and make them available to patrons at the Aitkin Library and other outreach locations in Aitkin County, providing internet access to county residents who don’t have broadband.
Aitkin County ISD 1 Aitkin Public Schools Wi-Fi Enabled Buses Install Wi-Fi on four school buses so students will be able to work on homework while traveling to and from home, and on longer trips.
Aitkin County Long Lake Conservation Center Wi-Fi and Increased Bandwidth at Long Lake Conservation Center Increase the Internet bandwidth to the LLCC campus, and improve the Wi-Fi network. This will improve working conditions for the staff, increase the effectiveness of programming offered, and make the center a more desirable event venue.
Chisholm Chisholm Community Education Community Training Sessions Training sessions on internet use (social media, security, Facebook) to be offered free of charge to the community. CHS students will be on hand to help class participants as they utilize the training.
Chisholm Chisholm EDA Community Website/Portal Develop a community portal and calendar for community information and events, including marketing, tourism, school events, city and chamber.
Chisholm Chisholm EDA Community Hot Spots Provide Wi-Fi hotspots at the Chisholm Public Library, Lake Street Pocket Park, Balkan Community Center, and HRA Apartment Complex.
Chisholm Chisholm EDA The “Business Perks” Building Develop a technology center with rental space/incubator space available for businesses. Broadband/Internet/website/social media training opportunities for businesses will be offered.
Chisholm Chisholm Public Library Hot Spot Check-Out System Provide fifteen hotspots with mobile data plans for check out at the Chisholm Public Library.
Chisholm ISD 695 Chisholm Public Schools Wi-Fi on Buses Install Wi-Fi on two school buses, allowing students taking longer bus trips to have access to the internet. Bus Wi-Fi may be used for community events as well.
Chisholm Minnesota Discovery Center Minnesota Discovery Center Broadband Connection Upgrade Wi-Fi throughout the Minnesota Discovery Center, allowing for better access during meetings, for events, and for patron/staff use.
Chisholm / Hibbing / Mt. Iron-Buhl Chisholm EDA Central Range Area Feasibility Study Hire a consultant to conduct a feasibility study to better understand options for improving broadband infrastructure and services within the designated area, present the resulting plan and funding options to city councils, townships, school boards and the St. Louis County Board, and assist with grant writing as requested.
Ely City of Ely – Ely EDA Homegrown Ely Website ( Create a website to showcase Ely to prospective residents, businesses, and visitors. The site will include information on the cost of living, the arts, restaurants, churches, business opportunities, infrastructure, etc.
Ely Entrepreneur Fund Digital Marketing for Small Businesses Engage seven small business owners (selected through an application process) in hands-on consulting to build brand awareness and increase revenue by developing and implementing affordable website and social media strategies.
Ely Incredible Ely Ely Technology Center Utilize current space in the downtown business district to provide a shared office space with high-speed Internet for local telecommuters, entrepreneurs, and visitors.
Ely Entrepreneur Fund Ely Small Business Workshop Series Provide three structured workshops on timely topics for small business owners. Local facilitators will share practical tools and ideas on topics such as digital marketing, employee recruitment, and QuickBooks.
Ely City of Ely Ely Area Broadband Feasibility Study Conduct a feasibility study that will provide factual information about market demand, technology alternatives, deployment and maintenance costs, network operation and marketing. It will include installation of fiber within the City of Ely, and extending throughout the entire school district area. Project partners will use the data generated to develop a plan for service delivery.
Ely Incredible Ely Business Development/Broadband Survey Conduct a survey on business development and internet usage data as well as projected broadband usage information, with the goal of bringing broadband to Ely and making it an economic success.

(Bois Forte, Cook, Orr)

Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Indians Business Training and Community Education Design and provide community technology education programs at Bois Forte, Orr Center, Cook Library and Community Center, and North Woods High School. Topics will be determined based on community feedback.