Blandin on Broadband eNews: MN Monthly Recap (Dec 2019)

People need better broadband
Inc Magazine recently reported that entrepreneurs need better broadband. While the Chronilce of High Education reports that students need broadband too.

State Policy Issues

Federal Policy Issues

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

Cloquet Valley
Jan Keough receives Blandin Foundation Courageous Broadband Leader Award

Fillmore County
MiBroadband launches fixed wireless service in Fountain, Peterson, Spring Valley

Southwest MN Broadband Services looks at closed meetings in the future

Southwest MN Broadband Services receives Courageous Leadership Award

USI fiber unveils expansion areas for 2020

New device makes home-based telehealth easier in MD, SD, ND and IA

MN’s CentraCare Health gets $234K to improve telehealth

Tekne Awards recognizes award-winning MN companies

Pipestone County
CenturyLink upgrades broadband services around Pipestone County

Red Wing
Neela Mollgaard focuses on capital, culture and talent at Launch Minnesota

Renville & Sibley Counties
RS Fiber gets an international shout out for publicly supported broadband

Mayo Clinic implements telehealth approach for neonatologists

Swift County, Rock County, and Cannon Falls
Swift County, Rock County, and Cannon Falls talk about their Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) activities

White Earth Reservation
New FirstNet Cell site will  support public safety in Northwestern Minnesota near White Earth Reservation

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

In this season of gratitude, I am grateful to be able to work with the great team at Blandin Foundation and the many community leaders working to improve broadband across greater Minnesota.  The Leadership Awards presented at the fall broadband conference recognized only the tip of the iceberg of rural broadband leaders.  In almost every successful local initiative, there are multiple leaders working together to bring positive change to their community.  Sometimes one person is honored as the leader, but all good leaders know that this is a limited view of reality.

It takes multiple leaders and many followers to build the momentum necessary to overcome fears, objections and interference from both inside and outside the community.  At a recent meeting of current Blandin Broadband Communities, we heard all the good things happening in these communities, with some credit to the momentum created via the BBC program.  Isaac Newton’s theories in action!  These communities are moving in the right direction led by many cooperating leaders.

If you are looking for a fun way to illustrate this concept at your next broadband meeting, check out one of my favorite TED Talks:

If you want to start a movement in your community, get organized, and apply to be a Blandin Broadband Community.  Look for that application soon.  Call us for assistance!

Blandin Foundation is looking for 4 communities to expand local broadband innovation

Good news, Blandin Foundation will very soon be looking for 4 partner communities for the next round of BBC (Blandin Broadband Communities)…

C. K. Blandin Foundation seeks four rural Minnesota communities to participate in the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) Program. Selected through an application process, BBCs will define their community technology goals, receive planning and technical assistance and have the opportunity to apply for resources to implement resulting projects.
The definition of “community” is flexible and based on local definition. Application can be submitted by an individual city or a group of cities, a county or tribal government, or a self-defined region or community of interest. Applicants should be a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization or unit of government. Preference will be given to applications that demonstrate established or emerging partnerships between multiple organizations and entities, including economic development, education, housing authorities, and health care.

If you’re reading the blog, you might already be well versed in the world of BBCs. IN short, it’s a great opportunity for your community to gather around a desire for better broadband access or use. Here’s a little more info…

Once selected, Blandin Broadband Community teams will receive planning and facilitation support, and the opportunity to apply for a $75,000 program grant to fund multiple locally developed projects that address identified community technology needs. Most funded projects require a minimum cash and in-kind match of 25% (1:3) of total project cost; projects funding primarily equipment require 1:1 cash match. Communities must meet a minimum standard of active, cross-sector community participation to be invited to apply for funds.
In addition, participating communities with significant shortcomings in existing broadband services will receive priority to apply for up to $25,000 to conduct a Robust Network Feasibility Study; this program requires a 1:1 cash match. This study is an optional component of the overall program.  More information on Feasibility Studies can be found here: 
Significant commitment on the part of the Blandin Broadband Communities will be expected and required throughout the 18-24 month project period. 

The application isn’t yet available – but soon it will be and Blandin wanted to give a heads up. It’s a great time to contact your local partners about potential interest. The deadline will likely be early 2020 -and luck favor the prepared. With any luck, I’ll be posting more info and a link to the application in a week or so. In the meantime, starting those minds to thinking!

Blandin Broadband Communities: Strut Your Stuff Gathering Notes

November 14, 2019
South Central Service Cooperative

Recently Bill Coleman and I had the pleasure of meeting up folks from three of our current Blandin Broadband Communities – Swift County, Rock County, and Cannon Falls –  to talk about their broadband projects.  To compare notes we used the Intelligent Community Framework: Broadband Infrastructure; Workforce; Innovation; Digital Equity; Marketing & Advertising; and Sustainability.

The Cannon Fall’s team told us, “We had projects that touched our whole community – all different points across our community.”  Swift and Rock County also reported on projects across multiple ICF pillars.

Here below is a summary of some of the broadband work currently underway in these communities. These efforts inspire me.


Cannon Falls

Water tower and water storage facility is now 20 years old and needs attention.  The city needs help understanding what’s up there. The city does have the money to hire someone to do this.

Families are paying too much for Internet in our area.  We have online learning days now – that saved our school district last year.  Some providers responded that “it’s too cold” for the Internet to work.

Rock County 

Hot spots 

The library has five portable hot-spots for check-out. Each hotspot can support 15 devices. “Incredibly popular.”  They check out for two weeks. We have had some problem with people who repeatedly want to use the equipment.  Folks paid the late fee instead of returning the equipment.  Late fee raised from $1/day to $25/day.

More hotspots?  We want to keep the hotspots after the grant runs out.  It’s $200/mo for the five of them.  We have demand for ten, but couldn’t support the subscription cost for that many. Also – now wifi available in many county parks and camp sites – could impact demand for the library’s hot spot?

Wifi on school buses 

Two transferable units are now installed and working well. They are used on activity buses as appropriate.  School will pay for these hotspots going forward.  $900/for two hotspots/yr.  These devices can support 50/60 students.

Wifi at Campgrounds 

In partnership with Alliance Communications, free public wifi has been installed at four campgrounds, including a state park and a ball field.  Delivering 100 MG symmetrical. Included 12 months of subscriptions – after that, each city has agreed to pay for ongoing costs.  Parks are allowed to suspend over the winter.  Also installed cameras for the City of Hills to help monitor their unstaffed camp ground.  Cities were very receptive to this project.  They will add a bit to their camping fees to cover ongoing costs.  There is a campground in Jasper, MN, county line goes through the town.  The campground is privately owned by the quarry.  Paperwork for the donation has never been recorded. Goal was to put one in publicly-held property – Jasper is a hold-up, because of the ownership question.

Swift County

We don’t have a champion for hotspot check-outs in our libraries.  Swift County is looking to bring wifi public access to city parks and county parks. Hearing these examples will help me.

Co working space had been a topic.  Looking at new options for an empty building in Benson for some departments – allowing the court house to be a “justice center.”


Swift County

Case IH; biggest employer in the county, worked with Ridgewater College to design and deliver a welding course, “Tooling U.”  Students got computers if they needed them.  Full practicum welding training.  16 fully passed the test in 5 weeks, now qualified to get a job as a welder. They had a waiting list. Pay $18-22 hour.  Case provided all the equipment, materials.  People had to agree to come to the classes and wear steel toe shoes.  ~$1000/person cost.  Students kept gloves/helmet.  Innovative program….. first we thought we’d train high school students. Next steps?   Would we do it again? Yes.  But it’s expensive.  We need grant funds for this.  Can DEED fund this for $20,000?  They tend to offer training for folks who already are employed.  Great instructor. That made a difference.  A lot of the success is thanks to great people involved.

Rock County

Community Ed led a project to host an Ag event in mid-August.  70 attendees; fewer than hoped. Good age range. Three speakers: Chip Florry, Ag marketer; a Luverne native who is an Ag precision lecturer; and speaker on security on the farms.  Local Ag groups were very involved.  Lots of vendors.  Alliance. SDSU; Extension. Hyper local presenters was an element of success.  Targeted to farmer/producer.  Banks helped to market.  Folks who attended said they found it very valuable.  No fee to attend.  Instead of 9 – noon, 7 to 10 with beer.  Beer instead of coffee.   Community Ed (Karen) would like to do this again and could take the lead on doing it next time.  Could add vendors – that would help the event be self-sufficient.  As an alternative format, disaggregate the content and offer it once/wk over coffee in a coffee shop?


Cannon Falls

Business Education

Grow Cannon Falls has hosted chamber breakfasts on using social media and has created a “Discovery application.”  Helps companies do self-assessments of their tech needs/opportunities and then connect with marketing resources to create/improve on-line presence.  Chamber is a one-man show. Looking at how to help modernize the chamber’s connectivity.  Have the chamber be the hub for the community.

Online HS newspaper “The Lantern”

Interested teachers want to help students publish an on-line newspaper are now partnering with Anna Braataas, whom they met at the broadband conference.  About 30-40 students are contributing content.  Also exploring the idea of “relighting” the middle school’s “Candle” newspaper in an online version.

VR Head-sets for memory care residents 

Inspired by a presentation at the broadband conference, four VR head-sets have been purchased for two memory care facilities in Cannon Falls.  Facilities staff received three-hours of training on using the equipment; they are excited.  Headsets are fully loaded with content, plus they get a year of subscription use. $16/mo going forward (per set).  $1,000 per head set fully loaded plus subscription for a year.

Swift County


KMS schools organized a full-day summer STEM day camp curriculum for 80 elementary grade students. Based on positive feed-back from students and families, Community Ed hopes to continue this next year, but funding is a challenge; the curriculum is expensive.  Maybe expand to Benson, if funding allows.  $5,000 of Blandin investment.

Digital Marketing/Consulting

Ten businesses have received digital marketing assessments and marketing consulting in two rounds of the program. Examples: general hardware store/grocery store dealing with a Dollar General coming to town; a local newspaper that doesn’t have a website; a realtor.  People love her services.  Used a competition format to identify served businesses. Marketing: mailed personalized letters with brochures to business owners.

County Fair App

Our goal: get more youth involved in 4H in our county.  Found someone in Extension in Iowa to help us create and set up an app to server our 4-Hers and their families. It cost us $500/for two years’ subscription.  The app has a spot to sign up, registration forms, calendar of (local) events, registering your fair projects, link to fair campground reservations, links to University site; to training opportunities; options to do push notifications.  Uploaded show books onto the app. First in the state to have an app like this. Helpful during the fair.   Served as a pilot for 4H for the university; U trying to develop something like this for 4H across the state. Was tried out during the fair.  The internet in Appleton is not great. It took four months to build the app.  Marketing through word of mouth, newsletter.  100 out of 300 youth have downloaded it after three months.

There is a need to improve connectivity at the fair: Possible action: county could reach out to Verizon, copy state representative.


Rock County

Library programming

We’ve had lots of fun programming at the library, including scary story reading at a Haunted Halloween patch, and very successful Monthly Trivia nights at the local brewery. It was so much fun.  Monthly Trivia night at the brewery.  Last month: 96 attendees!  29 teams! 16 – 80 years old.  PBS came to film the event.  It’s very easy to do.  Winners get a gift card.  Trophy.  Use FB and Instagram to promote the event.  1200 followers on Instagram.

Blue Mound Towers

Two computers with internet access were installed in the Blue Mound Towers low-income housing complex in Luverne.  Many residents have mobility issues.  The building’s manager is on the broadband steering committee. When looking for PCs for People recipients, they got involved.  There is public wifi downtown… but it doesn’t reach this housing complex.    Some individual residents also got PCs from PCfP.

Generations Senior Center

The Center lost its partner at ACE (the new version of RSVP)…. and is now beginning a building project that is to include a computer lab with six computers.  So far, three have been set up in a temporary configuration.

Computer Education Videos 

Alliance Communications is producing educational videos to help with wifi problem-solving and posting them on their website and YouTube.  Five have been completed so far: two on equipment trouble-shooting; two on email – trouble testing email issues; one on top ten issues why your wifi isn’t working.  4700 views on one of the first videos.  Customers like the local content/local origin.  16 topics developed so far.  Purchased some equipment and editing software.  Otherwise, not a high cost activity.

Adobe primer editing software. SDN provided advice on camera equipment purchase.

PCs for People

Worked successfully with schools, including a school in Nobles county that serves families that live in Rock county.  Preschool families were solicited.  Distributed a total of 60 PCs in response to demand.

We staffed a presence at the Rock County Fair.  We learned that you need free stuff to get folks to come to your table.

Computer classes at Community Ed 

Classes offered: Tech for Seniors. Some of them were one-on-one classes, including in the library. Google and Google Sheets.  Cyber Security.  E-book. Marketed through community ed.  Community ed charges.  Library does not.  Library does not charge for classes offered at the library.


Cannon Falls 

PC for People

We worked with social workers in the schools to identify recipients, and also with retirement homes.  30 families received computers in a distribution event on Sept 22.  Possible partnership with Three Rivers, an affordable housing developer nonprofit.  Hope to give one to local food shelf, but she won’t take them.


Swift County

PC for People

The process of working with the schools was really hard.  One school didn’t care – they have laptops for their kids.  Other schools wouldn’t share data.  We managed to give away 30 of 50 computers.  We will work with HRA to continue to distribute the rest.  Want to add an instructional piece on community engagement (census, library access).



Cannon Falls

Branding:  Local foods has been identified as an economic development opportunity for Cannon Falls and the Use of Cannon Roots is gaining some momentum.

Swift County

Six out of eight communities in Swift County have created community websites.  Some Mayors have told their clerks not to be involved.  Half of communities had no website at all. Golden Shovel is the gateway/host. The committee has tried to promote the regional brand: “Enterprising by Nature.”  People don’t search by counties, they search by cities.  ADA compliance issues have required attention.

Rock County/Luverne 

We are working on social and media marketing optimization. Using a local business for this training.  Meeting with businesses one-on-one for up to six hours/org.  each organization had to pay $100.  Blandin paying for the rest. E-commerce is a big need.  Goal of serving 20 businesses.

Blandin Broadband Initiative Celebrating 15 Years of Community Partnerships

I wanted to share a PDF that just came across my email about Blandin Foundation’s 15 years of broadband work. I’m sure it comes from the Fall broadband conference. It’s a nice recap of work that includes many readers…

Blandin Broadband Initiative Celebrating 15 Years of Community Partnerships

Since 2004, Blandin Foundation has worked with rural communities across Minnesota to improve broadband access, adoption and use. Original program goals:

1. Generate awareness about the importance of broadband for rural community vitality.

2. Increase rural business and residential use of broadband.

3. Catalyze increased public and private investment in rural broadband.

Since 2004, Blandin Foundation has:

• Formally partnered with 71 communities across rural Minnesota and provided technical assistant to a total of 138 communities in 58 (out of 87) Minnesota counties;

• Invested $4,352,148 in 292 projects;

• Raised nearly $12 million in public and private matching grant dollars;

• Funded feasibility studies in 42 communities;

• Hosted 15 annual statewide broadband conferences; and

• Published, the Blandin on Broadband blog, now with over 2,000+ subscribers.

Major Impacts

• Access

o Of the 45 network feasibility studies funded by Blandin Foundation to date, 18 have been either fully or partially built, and four have been used to develop applications to the state’s broadband grant program.

o Participating communities have dramatically increased the presence of free, publicly-available Internet access in libraries, public parks, downtown areas, and township halls.

• Adoption

o In partnership with PCs for People, Blandin Broadband Communities have distributed over 2,300 refurbished computers to income qualifying residents in participating rural communities across Minnesota.

o Communities also have implemented a variety of digital literacy programs for local residents and businesses.

• Use

o Blandin Broadband Communities have spurred more sophisticated use of technology through education, training, community events, learning circles and innovative partnerships – a total of 292 projects that address community technology goals.

Minnesota’s Broadband Vision

First articulated at a Blandin Broadband Conference in 2015, and endorsed and adopted since by local governments and other entities across the state, our Broadband Vision for Minnesota has been central to our success:

Everyone in Minnesota will be able to use convenient, affordable world-class broadband networks that enable us to survive and thrive in our communities and across the globe.

The vision inspired the creation of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition – that unites dozens of broadband champions from across the state to sustain broad, bi-partisan support for Minnesota’s broadband grant program.
Broadband Access in Rural Minnesota: 2004/2019

In 2002, dialup access was the norm; 77 percent of surveyed rural Minnesotans reported access to dialup, while only 21 percent has access to broadband. By 2019 in rural:

• 83.7 percent of rural households have access to 25/3 wireline broadband;

• 68.43 percent have access to 100/20 and

• 22.42 percent have access to gig access.

What our partners say:
“Our elected officials now see the importance of broadband for economic development and community vitality.”
– County Economic Development Director
“This framework brings people together that have not always worked together.” – County IT director
“This program has helped us develop wonderful community connections.
– High School Principal

Blandin on Broadband eNews: MN Monthly Recap (Nov 2019): Notes from Fall Broadband Conference and more

MN Fall BB Conference – Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work
The Fall Broadband was a success. Attendees came to learn about economic development strategies, digital inclusion, local broadband leaders and more. Below are links to specific sessions:

ILSR Muninetworks’ Video Broadband Primer
Muninetworks is creating a multi-part series of videos to help community leaders and policymakers better understand broadband.

State Policy Issues

Federal Policy Issues


Local Broadband News

Broadband struggles in Greater Minnesota featured on TPT’s Almanac

Aitkin County
Aitkin Age recommends funding broadband to support seniors

Info on Aitkin County’s $1.9 million in USDA funding for broadband

Broadband a hot topic at Aitkin County Legislative Lunch

Over 4,000 attend 2019 GigaZone Gaming Championship in Bemidji

Chisago County
Chisago County broadband advocate Nancy Hoffman receives Courageous Leadership Award

Granite Falls
Senator Smith talks about broadband in Granite Falls and Montevideo

Greenwood Township
Feasibility study is first step to better broadband in Greenwood MN (St Louis County)

Lincoln County
Lincoln County Board renews their membership in the MN Broadband Coalition

Meeker County (and others)
Meeker Coop deploys Vibrant Broadband Meeker and parts of McLeod, Kandiyohi, Stearns, Wright and Renville counties

Senator Smith talks about broadband in Granite Falls and Montevideo

Monticello receives prestigious award for broadband leadership from Blandin Foundation

Morcom Township
Morcom Township (St Louis County) hopes for a MN broadband grant

New Ulm
New Ulm Medical Center’s birth center is simulating telehealth procedures

Prairie Island Indian Community
Prairie Island Indian Community now enjoys Gig access through HBC

MiEnergy Cooperative hosts legislative discuss in Rushford on topics including broadband

St Cloud
Google brings workshops for entrepreneurs to St. Cloud

St Joseph
Gigabit service now offered in St. Joseph (Stearns County)

Windomnet gets Courageous Broadband Leadership Award from Blandin Foundation

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Maine and Minnesota share many characteristics, including water and ice and rocks and trees.  While attending the Maine Broadband Summit, I learned that Maine also has a unique organization leading on rural broadband promotion.  The Island Institute has been active in helping rural Maine communities implement broadband solutions.  They have created some nice materials that can be found at The primary constituency of the Institute are island-based communities of which Maine has many.

I also learned about Maine’s rather unique form of local government.  Towns include both urbanized and the surrounding rural areas while county government is limited.  Most local government decisions, including the annual budget, are made at annual town meetings through direct democracy similar to Minnesota’s townships.  The State of Maine has only a small broadband funding program that can only close small funding gaps. Because Maine looks a lot like northeastern Minnesota, last mile wireless is not an effective solution in most towns, so aerial FTTH is the primary infrastructure of choice.  For Maine’s islands, wireless is often used as the middle mile backbone solution as an affordable option to undersea cable.

The lack of state funding puts the onus on Maine’s towns to be more self-reliant and be the primary source of rural broadband government funding.  Because the towns include both urbanized and rural geography, most projects cover the entire town, including overbuilding any existing ISPs that may just be serving the urbanized area.  Most projects involve a private sector partner that operates the network with network ownership varying by community.  Most communities were just folding the bond payments into their existing property tax levy though the examples ran the gamut of possibilities, including funding raised by a small group of private citizens. The general result is ubiquitous quality broadband with some enhanced competition.  Community broadband partners include both privately-held independent telephone companies and entrepreneurial small ISPs.  The projects that I heard about had been approved overwhelmingly at the annual town meetings.

I think that Minnesota communities could learn from these Mainers that broadband is something that local communities can accomplish using local resources.  We know that most Border to Border applications will be rejected since there is only $20 million available for projects totaling $70 million.  Knowing that there is another $20 million in 2020 is not reassuring as even more projects emerge.

Time is now the enemy for unconnected places. They are already paying a harsh penalty measured in jobs, education, health care and quality of life.  Like interest on unpaid debts, this penalty will continue to compound.  Don’t wait!

Feasibility study is first step to better broadband in Greenwood MN (St Louis County)

The Timber Jay does a nice job detailing a recent (Oct 29) meeting in Greenwood Township to discuss bringing better broadband to the community. I wasn’t there but it sounds like meetings I have attended in the past. If you live in an area with good broadband and you have any interest in knowing how the other half lives and/or if you’re a policymaker, this article strikes me as a good example of what people deal with in some rural areas….

[From Frontier] Bohler was one of over a half dozen local elected officials and representatives of telecommunications companies and state agencies who came to speak at a roundtable-style meeting here on Tuesday to discuss telephone and internet issues in the township. About 50 area residents filled the town hall at the Oct. 29 meeting.
Frontier currently supplies DSL level service in many areas of the township. “Most homes can get 10 mbps service,” said Bohler, “or a little higher if they are near a terminal node.”
For rural telecommunications providers, it comes down to numbers.
“Folks here are spread out,” said Bohler, noting that raises the cost per household for providing upgraded service. “State funding is vital in making the projects economically viable,” he said.
Fiber optic cable has already been installed in several of the more populated areas of the township, but at present, only the town hall has been connected to the broadband-level service. This fiber, installed by the Northeast Service Coop, stretches down Echo Point as far as the Bois Forte Reservation, down Birch Point, Moccasin Point, and toward Frazer Bay. But whether that fiber could be used to connect to individual homes and businesses in those areas is still an open question.
Audience members stressed the need for reliable service at speeds that would allow residents to work from home, having the township apply for state or federal grant funding to get a project started, and making sure the quality of internet service is sufficient for the needs of area businesses.

So much to unpack here – and I do this for readers who don’t live in these areas. First, he says “most homes can get 10 Mbps service” – I assume this means 10 Mbps down and likely 1 Mbps up. For federal funding that 10/1 speed is a benchmark. For comparison, the MN state speed goal for 2026 is 100/20.

Second, “State funding is vital in making the projects economically viable” – no explanation required but worth highlighting.

Third, “Fiber optic cable has already been installed in several of the more populated areas of the township, but at present, only the town hall has been connected to the broadband-level service.” How can a community thrive when they are looking at 10/1 access and their neighbors have fiber? Where do you buy a house, start a business or plan your vacation? Rural broadband may be expensive but the cost of not getting it may be higher in the long run.

In Greenwood, the commitment to move forward has been made…

Speakers all agreed that conducting a feasibility study was the most important first step. That study helps to determine how many residences and businesses desire high-speed service, how much they can afford to pay, and exactly where they are all located in the township. The study is also a prerequisite for any request for any kind of funding application.
Such a study is about to begin, thanks to the efforts of the local Blandin Broadband Committee, which is being led in large part by Greenwood residents Joanne, John, and Kate Bassing. The township has committed to help fund the feasibility study, which ensures that data on Greenwood’s needs and residents will be part of the study. The Blandin Foundation is providing matching funds for this study and will host a kickoff event for the feasibility study on Nov. 8 in Aurora.

The article goes on to detail potential pricing or at least factors that might impact pricing and talks about what broadband leaders are doing in communities in the area to make this happen. The costs are staggering (“$20,000 – $25,000 per mile to bury fiber optic cable, but that cost could double if the ground has bedrock”) and the volunteer hours are long. But the plan moves forward!