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: 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 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.

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!

EVENT: May 19 Blandin Roundtable discussion on Finding the Right Provider Partner

Please join community broadband champions from across Minnesota on Tuesday, May 19 at 9 a.m. for another leadership roundtable discussion.  The topic this week is Finding the Right Provider Partner. Bill Coleman will set the stage with a short presentation followed by an open discussion of participant’s stories of success and/or frustration.

We will look over the Blandin Foundation’s general purpose partner checklist and examine how it applies to private-public broadband partnerships.   We welcome everyone and all perspectives to this conversation, expert or on the learning curve, community leader or broadband provider.  Our last roundtable benefited greatly from our the participation of providers and consultants; we hope that this continues.  The more that prospective partners know about each other, the stronger the partnership can become.  Likewise, some of the best partnerships are those that never come to fruition, especially if there is a serious mismatch in both long and short term goals.

Following this conversation, we will move to whatever broadband topic is on your mind.  So bring your questions!

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects in Hibbing MN

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 Hibbing today.

They have been doing a lot of great work getting iPads to seniors, doing training, WiFi in public housing but there was one application that really struck me. Lots of communities are putting projects on hold during the pandemic or changing them – it’s what we’re doing.

Hibbing got iPads for the ambulances. It was a good way to get a visual connection between the ambulance and the hospital. Well those iPads have been repurposed. Patients use them in the hospital for pre-screening. That saves on PPE for healthcare workers. And patients with (or suspected to have) COVID-19. That reduces the contact (but not care) with healthcare professionals. Also, and this is the part I love, it allows patients to connect with loved ones outside. Technology makes life better.

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects in Tower MN

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. Tower is the smallest community that has been a Blandin Broadband Community. It’s fun to hear about what they are doing and how they are building greater demand for broadband.

The local public school has a slick new computer lab. Public buildings have computers for public use. Great ideas and they have done a lot to help education local residents to the need. Unfortunately, the pandemic has clearly had an impact on access to those computers. WiFi hotspots in the campgrounds are being used more than usual – as people are able to get access there, which helps them work and learn.

People are feeling the pain without access at home. There was a gentleman who couldn’t access telehealth with his connection at home so he had to go into the hospital for a dermatology appointment. Another opted to use a smartphone and cell access over home broadband for Zoom calls because it was unreliable. And reports on kids unable to learn online from home.

Partial transcript added May 27:


May 14, 2020

44:54 – “It’s exciting, we’ve had the St. Louis County Community Dev. Dir. step in last time and for them to be in touch with the process and understand the direction we’re going…how this work can help us leverage other State and Fed funding…really clicked for St. Louis Co. I think we’re going in a good direction.”

52.36 minutes – “Working with PCs for people…they’re a great bunch. Fun to work with and they fill the need. It was a really positive experience.”

54.19 – “…now that it’s out there (broadband), there is a lot more understanding of it and a need for it.”  “We had no idea how you even go about this, and what a wonderful learning experience it’s been for us. I will not hesitate to take on another project on like this.”

55:11 – “…it’s been very positive all the way around. We had those hurdles at the beginning…we’ll keep at it!”

57:56 – “…we couldn’t have done it without the whole steering committee….Richard has been a great asset, and Pastor Doug, too…And it goes without saying, Kate and John!”

1:02:17: “I’ve seen four of them now (Leadership Webinars). I follow Ann’s blog regularly…It’s great work. She keeps you abreast of everything as far as state government and grant possibilities. She does a great job.”

1:11:40 “We are so lucky to have you guys come into our lives!”

” We don’t really have an ability to get any other internet here right now.”

1:14:39 “Mine would be way back in November of 2018 when Bill first came to Tower and put a presentation on there. From then forward, there was so many people I’ve met that said they’d move here but they don’t have the connectivity. I met a fishing guy that has a website…that said he’d move here permanently, and so would a couple of his friends, if there was connectivity. I met an architect, who is semi-retired who lives in the cities; he won’t move here because he can’t get connectivity. But he would if he could. The other day a friend of mine had to go to the dermatologist and it was going to be virtual, but he couldn’t connect. So, they had to cancel the appointment and he had to go down during COVID to the hospital, and he didn’t like that too much. But he went down and had to have it done there.”

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects in Rock 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. My favorite part of the talk with Rock County is when they said they felt prepared (as anyone could be) for the pandemic because they had adequate broadband.

And since the Governor spoke about loosening of stay at home rules, it was interesting to hear how they are planning to meet the needs this summer wrestling essential worker childcare needs with childcare and distraction needs from others. They have shifted to providing a lot of services online – from mental health resources (hope to post more on that later), school lessons and community education. They have even moved county commission meetings online, which led to some interested discussion of at-home business casual dress.

Rock County really is in a good position with broadband. They are working on devices for all (students) and again just wrestling with the new world.

Added May 27

Rock County

May 14, 2020

12:53 – Kyle Oldre’s statement: “You know what we’re going through with distance learning…such a heart-felt “thank you” to Alliance and what they have done. And the entire team at the school and trying to deliver this distance learning. We couldn’t have done it but for Alliance, but we also couldn’t have done it but for Blandin and PCs for People. When you think of what we were collectively tasked to do…during this pandemic, to make sure every student had the opportunity to learn…we got to the point in Luverne where they reached out to me that there was one student that didn’t have some type of connectivity, and that was because they were transitioning and moving, and the library bailed them out with trying to help them with a hotspot, which was also a Blandin-funded item…Both school districts that are located in Rock County, HBC and Luverne, were able to do this because of broadband and because of the team that was put together with the assistance of Blandin. So, hats off to Blandin. Hats off to Alliance. Our students are collectively better for being involved with you.”

19:59 –  Kyle Oldre On Magnolia Campground:

“We’ve had some essential workers that’ve moved in this spring…one is a traveling nurse living out of their camper while remote working. They log on every night through that Wi-Fi and…she’s able to conduct that (tele-health) in a campground…because of the backbone that’s provided…That was a Blandin-coined tool (the tele-health, distance learning, tele-commerce) certainly that’s one of the stools that’s being provided by the Wi-Fi in the campground…They’re conducting essential work out of the campground because they’re able to travel down and do those things.”

59:09 – Kyle Oldre: “I think as a society we are learning from this event. You’re seeing that by businesses moving to remote (work) where they can. We’re going to have smaller office complexes because they’ll have 25-50% of their workforce always working from home…Social Services already told 25% of their staff they’re staying home until the end of December because they found that they’re as efficient, or more efficient, working from home. They’re engaged and there’s no reason…they’re doing their follow-ups, just like this…what we’re all learning is that we can survive in this technology world, regardless of age, and it actually works quite well if used properly. The tools, whether it’s PowerPoints and shared screens…I never dreamt I’d be doing this stuff. But you’re able to do it. I could talk to someone in Biwabik today and we could have a great conversation for $16/month on my Zoom account…What I’m finding is that it works.”

1:46:17 – Kyle Oldre: “Last week I finished my 27th year with the county. When I started one of the department heads came in and said, “I want to buy a computer.” And I’m like, “Well, what do you want to buy?” And he wanted a gigabyte of memory. I told him he’d lost his mind. I said, “You could put every record produced in Rock County on that machine, there’s no reason to buy a gigabyte.” And I say that story because in 27 years I’m realizing how wrong I was, and how valuable this technology is, and how important it is, whether we’re in government or the private sector to continue to say, “Look, you can do more. It’s better. You’ve got to continue to capitalize on the assets that you have.” This is truly a bedrock asset for this county…and I offer this to Blandin: you have been so generous to the county. Now and previously with the number of cohorts that have gone through, and the training, and now with this grant…that if there’s anything we can do to assist you, whether it’s training in other communities, or whether it’s advocating at the capitol, whatever you need from us don’t hesitate to ask because you have been so good to us. And I want to make sure you realize how valuable we see this partnership. It really is more than just the money. The money helps, don’t get me wrong, but it is more than the money. And we just need to continue to educate and continue to advocate and do what we do in the positions we’re in.