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:

Tower

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.

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects in Cannon Falls

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 nice to hear from Amy Dombeck and Laura Qualey about what’s happening.

I was about to say it was fun – but it wasn’t all fun today. We heard a lot about the impact of COVID-19 – especially on school families. Some families are in great shape in part due to the work of the BBC in the community. Some families are not. We heard about families with multiple children working off a single smart phone to do distance education. We heard about one teacher who got to learn all about Google and then how to teach using Google in the two-week prep period before classes went online.

It wasn’t all discouraging, we also got to hear about seniors in community housing who have been so glad to have virtual reality set up for adventures, especially now as family and friends are unable to visit them.

And we got to hear about a lot of resources in the area that are all working to making technology an asset for education, healthcare and economic development.

EVENT April 30: Broadband Leadership Webinar Series: Communicating to Achieve Your Community Broadband Vision

Community broadband advocates sometimes think that everyone shares their passion.  As a result, they may find their plans stymied due to lack of visible community support and/or reluctance by local officials to financially support a broadband project.  Join community broadband champions from across the state on Thursday, April 30 at 9 am CDT to learn about the strategic and timely use of communications strategies and tools from a communications specialist and from three community broadband leaders.

Alie McInerney of Blandin Foundation will illustrate how smart upfront thinking can prepare you to communicate most effectively throughout the broadband development process.  A consistent, but dynamic, message is required, but putting your communications emphasis on the right audience at the right time is essential.

Alie will host a panel discussion with Briana Mumme of Redwood County, Brenda Nyberg of Carlton County and Katie Malchow of the Chisago Lakes Chamber of Commerce.  All three are engaged in ongoing efforts to improve broadband in their area.  They will discuss critical issues of audience, message and outreach tools, such as newspapers, social media and key informants.  Our panelists will have done their homework to begin to create their messaging strategies using the available online worksheets that can be found below.

Register here This is the last of ten Blandin webinars on community broadband planning. Download worksheet.

Click here for more information on the Blandin Broadband Webinar Series including registration for upcoming webinars links to archived webinars.

EVENT April 28: Broadband Leadership Webinar Series: Local Broadband Finance Options

Join community broadband champions from across the state on Tuesday, April 28 at 9 am CDT to learn how local units of government – townships, cities and counties – can support broadband deployment projects with local tax dollars.  There is often a gap between the established community vision and the business case to support the required investment.  DEED’s broadband grant program incents the contribution of local tax dollars as it reviews projects and favors those applications that provide local match.

Rebecca Kurtz of Ehlers, a municipal advisory firm, will provide an overview of the local authority and process requirements to provide financing support – bonding, revolving loan fund and other tools.

Brent Olson, Big Stone County Commissioner, will share his county’s story of financing partnership with Acira, a rural broadband cooperative.  Through strong local upfront support and the use of long-term bonding, the county has achieved 100% fiber connectivity in its rural area.  Commissioner Olson said that this is the most important initiative that the county has undertaken in his time on the board.

Vince Robinson, economic developer for Lincoln County, will describe the incredible investment that Lincoln County is making to assist ITC, a broadband cooperative operating in South Dakota and Minnesota, expand their fiber optic service countywide.  The county board views broadband as an essential infrastructure necessary for modern life.

Andrea Nekowitsch, clerk for Chisago County’s Fish Lake Township, will describe the county’s financial partnership with CenturyLink to bring a fiber to the home network throughout the township.  Andrea will talk about the strong support of residents for this project even as it called for raising the local tax levy to support the project.

Register here This is the ninth of ten Blandin webinars on community broadband planning.

Materials:

Click here for more information on the Blandin Broadband Webinar Series including registration for upcoming webinars links to archived webinars.

Federal and State Broadband Finance Programs: Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar Archive

Thanks to the presenters and attendees for joining the latest Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar: Federal and State Broadband Finance Programs. Here we have the description, video archive, slides and chat transcript (get handouts)…

Jim Beattie and Stacy Cluff will provide the ISP’s perspective.  Jim Beattie will explain how BevComm identifies and pursues funding opportunities to serve very rural agricultural areas with fiber to the home services.  BevComm is an independent telecom provider in south central Minnesota that has been active upgrading their existing networks while expanding their footprint into unserved areas.  Stacy Cluff works for Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative in the woods and lakes of central Minnesota.   As the primary energy provider across a prime retirement and tourism area, Mille Lacs Energy has seen the unmet need for quality broadband across their service area, a requirement for economic growth and future sustainability.  Mille Lacs Energy has used both state and federal funding to move from providing wireless broadband services to deploying fiber to the home networks in a phased approach to meeting area needs.

From the funding side of the table, we will hear from Angie Dickison and Scott Woods.  Angie Dickison plays a key role with the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development in allocating the state’s border to border broadband grant program, including $20 million to be distributed this fall.  She will discuss how they work with providers and communities to improve broadband access across the state.  The federal government, via USDA, the FCC and other sources, are the primary funders of rural broadband.  Scott Woods, from the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunication and Information Agency (NTIA), will share insights as to the strategic targeting and use of these critical resources.  He will also provide information about the resources available via NTIA.

Handouts from NTIA

Chat log:

Feasibility Studies: Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar Archive

Thanks to the presenters and attendees for joining the latest Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar:  Feasibility Studies. Here we have the description, video archive, slides and chat transcript (get handouts)…

Learn about the feasibility study process can guide community leaders through the process of creating the best possible broadband development project for your community or county.  A feasibility study should be a decision-making funnel, based on a community’s vision, that clarifies choices around technology options, project partners and financial viability.

Mark Mrla of Finley Engineering will discuss the process that Finley uses to lead communities through the feasibility study process with an emphasis on achieving the desired positive outcome of improved broadband access.  Finley has been involved in many successful Border to Border grant applications, serving as a bridge between communities and broadband providers.

Le Sueur County participated in the 2019 Minnesota Broadband Conference’s planning charrette and followed up that exercise with a countywide feasibility study with Finley as the selected consultant.  Barbara Droher Kline, community broadband champion in Le Sueur County, will share her perspective and lessons learned through her county’s broadband journey that led to a significant state broadband grant last fall and continuing pursuit of 100 percent broadband coverage across the county.

Click to access le-sueur-6.pdf

Webinar chat:

EVENT April 23: Blandin Community Broadband Leadership Webinar – Federal and State Broadband Finance Programs

Communities want to ensure that federal and state broadband funds provide maximum, long-term benefit to their area.  Join community broadband champions from across the state on Tuesday, April 23 at 9 am CDT to learn about strategic use of federal and state broadband finance programs.  To deploy high quality, future proof networks in rural places requires financial subsidy.  Finding the right program for the right place at the right time is a huge challenge for community broadband advocates as well as broadband providers seeking deployment opportunities. We will hear from two broadband providers that have accessed both state and local funding and two public sector representatives.

Jim Beattie and Stacy Cluff will provide the ISP’s perspective.  Jim Beattie will explain how BevComm identifies and pursues funding opportunities to serve very rural agricultural areas with fiber to the home services.  BevComm is an independent telecom provider in south central Minnesota that has been active upgrading their existing networks while expanding their footprint into unserved areas.  Stacy Cluff works for Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative in the woods and lakes of central Minnesota.   As the primary energy provider across a prime retirement and tourism area, Mille Lacs Energy has seen the unmet need for quality broadband across their service area, a requirement for economic growth and future sustainability.  Mille Lacs Energy has used both state and federal funding to move from providing wireless broadband services to deploying fiber to the home networks in a phased approach to meeting area needs.

From the funding side of the table, we will hear from Angie Dickison and Scott Woods.  Angie Dickison plays a key role with the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development in allocating the state’s border to border broadband grant program, including $20 million to be distributed this fall.  She will discuss how they work with providers and communities to improve broadband access across the state.  The federal government, via USDA, the FCC and other sources, are the primary funders of rural broadband.  Scott Woods, from the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunication and Information Agency (NTIA), will share insights as to the strategic targeting and use of these critical resources.  He will also provide information about the resources available via NTIA.

Register here This is the eighth of ten Blandin webinars on community broadband planning.

Materials:

EVENT April 21: Blandin Community Broadband Leadership Webinar – Feasibility Studies

Join community broadband champions from across the state on Tuesday, April 21 at 9 am CDT to learn about the feasibility study process can guide community leaders through the process of creating the best possible broadband development project for your community or county.  A feasibility study should be a decision-making funnel, based on a community’s vision, that clarifies choices around technology options, project partners and financial viability.

Mark Mrla of Finley Engineering will discuss the process that Finley uses to lead communities through the feasibility study process with an emphasis on achieving the desired positive outcome of improved broadband access.  Finley has been involved in many successful Border to Border grant applications, serving as a bridge between communities and broadband providers.

Le Sueur County participated in the 2019 Minnesota Broadband Conference’s planning charrette and followed up that exercise with a countywide feasibility study with Finley as the selected consultant.  Barbara Droher Kline, community broadband champion in Le Sueur County, will share her perspective and lessons learned through her county’s broadband journey that led to a significant state broadband grant last fall and continuing pursuit of 100 percent broadband coverage across the county.

Register here This is the seventh of ten Blandin webinars on community broadband planning.

Materials:

Click here for more information on the Blandin Broadband Webinar Series including registration for upcoming webinars links to archived webinars.

Ownership Models and Provider Partnerships: Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar Archive

Thanks to the presenters and attendees for joining the latest Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar: Ownership Models and Provider Partnerships. Here we have the description, video archive, slides and chat transcript (get handouts)…

For many communities, turning a community broadband vision into a real project depends on their ability to determine if and how to partner with an existing broadband provider.  For many communities, identifying a quality partner speeds project deployment and reduces financial and political risk.  A partnership can range from active community endorsement, to financial contributions in the form of a grant or a loan, to actual community ownership of all or some of the network components with a lease agreement with the selected provider(s).

Community ownership of the physical network may provide long-term benefits that help a community achieve their vision.  Public network ownership can provide for enhanced choice of broadband providers, can enable deployment of Smart City applications around street lighting, public safety, and sewer and water utility operations as well as future 5G deployment.

CTC, a broadband cooperative in Brainerd, is active in multiple community broadband partnerships.  Joe Buttweiler, who leads CTC’s community partnership efforts, will showcase several public-private partnership examples joined by Rick Utecht of Todd County Development Corporation and Jon Rademacher of the City of Little Falls.  Each community has formed a unique partnership to bring fiber-based broadband to their communities.

CTC Lease Agreement & CTC Options

and chat:

Broadband Mapping: Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar Archive

Thanks to the presenters and attendees for joining the latest Blandin Broadband Leadership Webinar: Broadband Mapping. Here we have the description, video archive, slides and chat transcript (get handouts)…

Join community broadband champions from across the state on Tuesday, April 14 at 9 am CDT to learn how maps and mapping tools are essential to community broadband planning and project development.  Diane Wells of MN DEED’s Office of Broadband Development will show how to access standard maps and data from the DEED website.  She will also demonstrate the capacity to build your own customer broadband maps using the interactive mapping system.  Diane will also talk about how the OBD staff handle disputes regarding actual broadband service levels compared to the information displayed on the maps which is critically important to the eligibility and competitiveness of prospective grant applications.

Glenn Fishbine of Geospatial Engineering & Optimization (GEO) will showcase his company’s GIS capabilities for broadband deployment planning.  The dynamic system combines geographic data, broadband construction data and ISP operational data from many public and private sources to analyze prospective broadband deployment financial models.  Communities can work with GEO to quickly come to general findings about the need for financial incentives necessary to support various deployment schemes.  Glenn will also demonstrate their ability to quickly launch and map data obtained from widespread community Internet speed testing.

And the chat:

  • 00:43:47              Dave and Bert Klimas:     Does it show population data?
  • 00:46:03              Bill Coleman:      the state maps do not show population but they do show the population density of unserved areas
  • 00:48:38              George Phillips:  is this map open to the public?
  • 00:50:50              Mary Magnuson:              yes it is!
  • 00:51:12              Bill Coleman:      google deed old maps
  • 00:51:56              Bill Coleman:      Sorry – DEED OBD maps
  • 01:17:36              BERNADINE JOSELYN:     question for Glenn: What are the best strategies for getting residents to participate in your crowd sourcing efforts?
  • 01:22:49              Dave and Bert Klimas:     I’ve used several community Facebook pages to ask people to run speed tests — and I told them why I was interested in it.
  • 01:24:11              Mary Magnuson:              The St. Louis County survey link is traveling around Facebook – I’ve seen friends sharing the link daily!