Laurentian Chamber Strut Your Strut Tour: working on access building a taste for innovation

Yesterday we met with the Laurentian Chamber of Commerce to talk about their broadband projects. This group represents the cities of Eveleth, Gilbert, Mountain Iron, Virginia and surrounding northern Minnesota business communities. They came up with a scoring system to make sure that communities understood expectation of grant applications. We had some questions about some applications but the project funding has gone through.

To generate proposals, they visited with all communities and talked to them about the opportunity. We sent out a request form. We set a deadline and were pleased with responses. Here are some of the projects and project ideas:

  • There’s a charter school that’s working on a tech program. Many at risk students are there so we’re trying to work on improved broadband access for the students and families.
  • We want everyone to contribute to the feasibility study and we have raised most of it. We need only $1500 more. We have two communities that have yet to contribute.
  • We’re working on a Small Business Saturday app – that will be a tool that they can use beyond the launch day.
  • Right now the education-based grants are more for equipment and access than curriculum. They are hoping for more curriculum focused grants in the next round. This has opened the door to greater collaboration in several areas. A new school is opening in 3-5 years.
  • There might be a fun project working with the Humane Society
  • Working on public wifi access – there is limited to no public access now.
  • Could look at collaboration through centralizing management of multiple public access locations
  • Providing wifi in outdoor spaces is more difficult than you might think. You need someone to own it.
  • They are looking info emergency stations off the bike trails
  • There are some projects with the workforce centers. They are going to build a remote location for interviews. (So Delta or BCBS could interview candidates remotely.)
  • PCs for People – they will provide transportation to folks who need computers
  • Chamber will do tech updates – mostly improving the conference room with improved laptops, projector, phone system. They started with a tech audit.
  • Doing technology and digital marketing project so businesses can improve their sales. We hope to work with 15 businesses in the first round. They will promote through the Chamber.
  • We’re starting to look at a coworking space.
  • A TEDx event is still on the wish list

It’s important to make sure that the people who are charged with doing the project, really want to do it. And we know that once the projects hit the ground that will build a greater interest.

East Range Communities of Aurora, Biwabik, Hoyt Lakes and Town of White: Strut your Stuff Tour

Yesterday we met with IRBC community East Range Communities including Aurora, Biwabik, Hoyt Lakes and Town of White to talk about their broadband projects. There is one school district in the area. In 1984, the towns starting working together. The IRRB was involved with the collaboration. (In fact the website they have been working on as part of this project has been an opportunity to remember their collaborative history.)

Mobile Training Lab

Just getting going. They’ll be working together in use soon – once start of school rush dies down. The libraries will offer training – such as library resources, coding, finance training. The mobile lab, includes a project and other equipment that make it easier to do on site training.

Public WiFI

Includes access in Bikwabik (city center), and libraries in Hoyt Lakes and Aurora. This has also led to some work in the libraries in terms of choosing best options for wifi and library network and computer placement. The equipment has been ordered based on library needs. They plan to let the wifi bleed outside the walls. (Which can mean 24/7 access.)


  • Does Frontier hold a trump card for extending wireless in the area? Not true.
  • Recent Council meeting – people thought no one needed to work on broadband here because Zeto is here. That’s not true. Also heard that we should be working on 5G – not fiber. We don’t think that’s right.
  • DO you think you’ll do more wifi networks? Yes, community center, campgrounds, school athletic facilities

Community Website:

A website about who the East Range is and what’s going on in the area. It’s about 70 percent done. It used to be focused on broadband only – not it’s much broader and broadband is a small section.

They are looking for community-wide calendar events.

Business Retention and Expansion Visits

Currently surveying existing businesses. We’re talking about broadband and more – what are their business needs how invested are they in the area. They have visited with some of the larger employers. (It’s easier to schedule with the larger businesses.

We might look at working with Chambers and other aggregate businesses to at least sent a survey (not conversation) to gauge how they feel.

People like living in a small town, people like to ride an ATV in the town.

We are seeing that as a Credit Union we can’t offer services that other Chambers, in better served communities, can offer.

Businesses are running into problems with Frontier. It can be more than a week before they can schedule repairs – despite the fact that they get CAF II funding to make improvements.

PCs for People

  • 7 computers given theo libraries
  • 43 computers given to families

LTE Feasibility Study

Meeting monthly. Raised $45,000. We are equal opportunity in our approach to getting funding. We don’t want to leave anyone out.

We are getting excited both in learning about the demand in the area and the dark fiber that already exists.

It turns out in many ways the market survey is maybe even more important than detailed engineering because if/when you start to work with a broadband provider, they will want to do their own engineering.

Educating people about broadband can be difficult.

Intelligent Community Regional Workshops – notes

Pleased to share notes from the Intelligent Community Regional Workshops. They met to go over how to apply to become an Intelligent Community. Here’s more info on the ICF…

ICF publishes research based on the data provided by communities like yours around the world. The goal is to provide cities, towns and regions of all sizes with evidence-based guidance on achieving economic, social and cultural growth in the challenging digital age.

By completing this questionnaire, you will:

  • Receive a free Snapshot Report offering six insights into your community’s global competitiveness.
  • Be considered for one of ICF’s By the Numbers public rankings of Inteligent Communities.
  • Become eligible – with your permission – to compete in the Intelligent Community Awards.
  • Have the opportunity to purchase an Analytics Report that provides in-depth analysis of strengths and weaknesses as well as recommendations for change.

There is no cost to submit a questionnaire. If you wish to be considered for the 2020 Intelligent Community Awards, the deadline to submit a questionnaire is September 23, 2019. Click here to learn more and submit your questionnaire. Nominees for the Intelligent Community Awards are evaluated based on ICF’s six indicators that make up the ICF Method. Click here to learn more.

You can check out the questions you need to answer. And info from the presentation…

Nelson Communications gets NTCA award for digital outreach programming for seniors

Broadband Communities reports on Nelson Communications, a vendor that has worked with BBCs (Blandin Broadband Communities) in the past…

Telecommunications provider Nelson Communications Cooperative announced that they have been awarded the NTCA Smart Rural Community Collaboration Challenge Grant to connect remote seniors, using remote monitoring and socialization technology GrandCare Systems.

This grant is part of NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association’s (NTCA) initiative to highlight and support efforts that make rural communities vibrant places to live and do business. The grant promotes broadband-enabled solutions for communities and supports collaborative efforts in economic development, education, energy, health care, and public safety.

Providing Broadband Enabled Elder Care Services

Nelson Communications Cooperative, located in Durand, Wisconsin, plans to use GrandCare technology to provide broadband-enabled elder care services to seniors in rural Wisconsin. GrandCare is a large touchscreen system designed to help seniors easily stay connected with their families. It also provides telehealth, activity monitoring, and many socialization features.

“Nelson Communications is proud of our longstanding commitment to our customers and the communities we serve,” said Christy Berger, general manager of Nelson Communications Cooperative (DBA Ntec). “We also recognize that our broadband is a powerful tool for positive change and improving quality of life. In partnership with GrandCare and WSTA, we hope to demonstrate the role broadband can play to connect lonely and socially isolated senior citizens.”

Nelson Communications will leverage their connectivity and GrandCare’s communication, remote health, and activity monitoring to help engage, connect and empower seniors living in rural and remote communities.

Tower area to join Blandin broadband initiative

The Timberjay reports

The Tower-Soudan area is the newest member of the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) on the Iron Range program. The program is an intensive, two-year partnership between rural Minnesota communities and the foundation.

The Tower Economic Development Association submitted the successful application to be one of the four new communities in this year’s program. They are hoping to attract other area communities to be part of the process, including surrounding townships, Bois Forte, area schools, medical providers and assisted living facilities, DNR offices, and the state park.

“Our area has been anxiously awaiting more technological growth for quite some time,” wrote Joan Broten, TEDA Vice-Chair. “To be able to entice more businesses, families and tourism with world-class internet access would give us the edge we need to grow and sustain our local economies.”

“We have some amazing, well-educated, hard-working, fun-loving individuals ready to help with promoting and developing our area,” she wrote. “The Iron Range BBC would provide us with the stepping stone we have needed to promote our area.”

Selected communities work through a proven process to define their technology goals, measure current levels of broadband access and use, and seek technical assistance and resources to meet their goals.


Welcoming the latest cohort of Blandin Broadband Communities – a peek at how the sausage is made

Last week the Blandin Broadband Team met up with the newest BBC cohort – Swift County, Cannon Falls and Rock County. I don’t always share notes from these meetings – but the crowd was just the right size for capturing parts of the day and sharing a little bit about what it’s like to be part of the BBC.

Communities apply to the BBC program. Once in, they commit to work on broadband adoption for 18 months. Broadband coach (and economic developer) Bill Coleman walks them through visioning sessions, choosing priorities, building partnerships. They create a plan for the future and then are invited to submit proposals to the Blandin Foundation. As a BBC community, they will generally get $75,000 for these projects. What I think it awesome is that they get a ton done with many relatively small grants.

Last week we got started. Each member of the cohort talked about what success would look like to them…

Then they got a presentation from Bill (and me – on digital inclusion) …

The also heard from Bernadine Joselyn on the high level hopes and Mary Magnuson on the nitty gritty of expectations. We were also joined by Sam Drong of PCs for People. Each community gets 50 refurbished computers to distribute to the community. Some heartwarming stories come from those computer distribution parties!

Here’s a little clip of some of the group work Each community worked to consider their strengths and weakness in terms of the Intelligent Community Framework.

So now they are off. Next step – a series of meetings with Bill and the planning begins.

Ely business broadband survey – selling is top benefit now

Recently we heard from Ely about their participation in the IRBC program. Incredible Ely mentioned their business broadband survey. Incredible Ely works with local entrepreneurs – and as they work they will be tracking progress with future survey. Pam was kind enough to share the results – with a generous offer to talk with anyone about their program (

I’m excited to share the results today. This is a baseline survey. They spoke with 60 local businesses and asked them basic questions about their business and broadband use. It’s interesting to see how local businesses are currently using the internet.

As you can see – top “most important use” is selling.

They also asked what businesses could do differently with quality internet. Here’s an abridged list (I removed suggestions that were similar):

  • Could research things faster
  • Develop an online retail presence
  • Greater internet efficiency = greater profits
  • Internet would be faster at work and at home
  • Develop website – advertise store products
  • It would give us the ability to increase online applications and fishing/camping trips
  • It will benefit our business if our individual clients have broadband. This will increase their ability to contact us because their outages will be decreased and they will have greater bandwidth to enable them to utilize some of our company’s services
  • Selling online retail (both in and outside the Ely area), now only sell wholesale
  • Could increase business by being able to get back to customers on a timely basis – Frontier goes down
  • Paying for only one internet service would be nice, now we have two services in case one goes down
  • We would have reliable music through the internet for customers
  • Not known at this point, too new
  • It would help with access to ATM
  • If we had better internet we would look at our marketing differently, internet speed impacts how we market
  • Internet reliability is important. If the internet is down we can’t check-in guests