Cloquet (MN) is asking residents to take broadband survey and speed test (Carlton County)

Pine Knot News reports…

Cloquet schools superintendent Michael Cary spoke about how important reliable and affordable high-speed internet is for today’s students. The Cloquet Broadband Committee is asking residents for a few minutes of their time to complete a survey about their internet service. Local business people and public officials gathered Wednesday morning to talk about the need for reliable high[1]speed internet in today’s world, and how the pandemic has exposed some of the deficits in the city of Cloquet

Here’s more info on the survey…

Thanks to the selection of the city of Cloquet as a Blandin Broadband community, the city has more resources now to evaluate needs and options to improve service within city limits. But they need more information from residents and businesses about their access to the internet: cost, reliability, speed and more. The information gained will help guide the city and community leaders on opportunities to explore ways to improve broadband services. That’s where the survey comes in. Through Jan. 31, the city is reopening its broadband survey at https://www.goctc.com/cloquet for individuals and businesses within the eastern Cloquet city limits. A map puts the borders of eastern Cloquet at Kinden and West St. Louis River roads to the north, Crosby Road to the east, Moorhead Road to the south and Pinewood Drive and the St. Louis River to the west. Scanlon is not included, nor is the Fond du Lac Reservation, which will be rolling out its broadband fiber to all residents within the FDL Reservation territory, including the western municipal city limits of Cloquet. Those without internet access can get assistance with completing the survey at the Cloquet Public Library. Anyone who completes the survey will be entered into a drawing to win an iPad. People can test upload speeds at this website: https://broadband.ramsmn.org/mn-rural-broadband-coallition%5B1%5Dinitiative.

BBC Cohort meeting – learning about what’s happening with broadband communities in Minnesota

Yesterday the Blandin Broadband Team met with incoming and outgoing Blandin Broadband Communities. The seasoned folks gave advice to the newbies, especially in how to make broadband planning possible in the pandemic world.

We also heard from each of the communities about some of their highlight projects for example, Ottertail spoke about their community smart room/zoom rooms and broadband availability mapping too, White Earth spoke about their elders initiative, Chisago Lakes talked about their community survey and broadband infrastructure work and the virtual manufacturing tours (for students looking at careers) and Le Sueur talked about their economic development summit and the Google Suite work.

Blandin takes a look at last two years with grantees such as White Earth Nation

Regularly the Blandin Foundation takes a look at the various communities they have been working with to promote, deploy and use better broadband. They use the Mountain of Accountability Framework as a tool to help learn from the past two years. The graphic to the right gives an overview of the pieces of the assessment.  You can check out the full report to find out how many YouTube subscribers the Blandin Broadband channel has or total amount of grants awarded. But my favorite part is checking in on each of the communities helped – and for sake of archive and brevity of post I’m going to share them each separately:

White Earth Nation is the largest reservation in Minnesota.
The broadband situation across the reservation is uneven.
While nearly 90% of residents have access to fixed, non-mobile broadband that meets the 2026 state speed goal of
100 MBPS download and 20 MBPS upload, there is a broad
swath across the middle of the reservation that is un- or
underserved (red in the figure to the left.) Cellular service is
also a concern across the reservation.
The Steering Team’s focus was increasing Wi-Fi access across the reservation and getting devices and internet connections to those who need it most, which they deemed to be families with students, and elders.
The team instituted an elder lending program to provide devices and mobile hotspot access to older residents on an as-needed basis, with recipients being allowed to check out the devices for several weeks at a time. Along with the device lending, digital navigation services are provided on topics such as telemedicine, online classes or meetings, and social engagement.
The lending program for students and families focuses primarily on internet hotspots rather than devices, since
younger people often have device access through schools or
cell phones. The hotspots allow students access for schoolwork. Families living in tribally owned and operated
housing units were given priority.
Public access projects include installing Wi-Fi hotspots in communities to provide safe and secure locations for
residents to access the internet and installing cell signal boosters in communities with poor cell service. They will also install televisions in White Earth Public Transit buses to improve communications across the reservation, including announcements, daily information, and marketing of community events.

Blandin takes a look at last two years with grantees such as Otter Tail County

Regularly the Blandin Foundation takes a look at the various communities they have been working with to promote, deploy and use better broadband. They use the Mountain of Accountability Framework as a tool to help learn from the past two years. The graphic to the right gives an overview of the pieces of the assessment.  You can check out the full report to find out how many YouTube subscribers the Blandin Broadband channel has or total amount of grants awarded. But my favorite part is checking in on each of the communities helped – and for sake of archive and brevity of post I’m going to share them each separately:

Erin Smith, Otter Tail County BBC team member and Director of the Viking Library System, had this to say about her BBC experience during a meeting with Foundation staff in April 2021:
“During this past year broadband and these tools are how people have stayed connected. It’s so imperative that everyone has that opportunity – [both] during the pandemic and going forward too. I just think there’s a lot of purpose and meaning to the work… it’s been a bright spot!”
Indeed, as the pandemic took hold in 2020, participants in the county’s visioning process identified as priorities getting broadband access to families and individuals without
(through subsidized services, public Wi-Fi), enhancements to help kids be successful in the distant-learning environment imposed due to COVID, and public education around why broadband is important to everyone in the county – for schools, healthcare, attracting and retaining businesses, and more.
The Otter Tail County team implemented a number of projects to redress equity issues that came to light due to the COVID pandemic. For example, the county distributed one hundred Tech Packs to residents impacted by the pandemic. The packs contained a laptop computer, wireless hotspot device with six months of prepaid internet service, and digital resources for jobseekers from CareerForce. This
project was identified through the BBC visioning process, but the County primarily used CARES funding to pay for it, extending the reach of the overall BBC effort. Of the tech-pack recipients, 54% reported not having internet access at home.
Two other projects were identified through the BBC program but funded by CARES. The first was Smart Rooms – six indoor public meeting spaces with audiovisual equipment for use for job interviews, virtual meetings, distance learning, and more. The rooms are located at four public libraries, the Battle Lake City Hall, and the City of Vergas Event Center. More spaces may be identified and funded with Blandin dollars.
New public Wi-Fi access was made available in four locations: Battle Lake Public School parking lots, Underwood School activity buses, Kirkbride Park in Fergus Falls, and downtown New York Milles. More locations are being explored.
Two projects implemented address knowledge workforce. The first was a Virtual Career Fair and additional STEAM offerings in summer childcare programs. In previous years Greater Fergus Falls and the School District hosted in-person career fair to introduce students to local career opportunities. Shifting the fair to a virtual format actually allowed them to expand to six businesses outside the Fergus Falls area and expanded marketing efforts county-wide. The STEAM element allowed Fergus Falls YMCA to expand coding education and other technology education offerings. Also, Perham Boys & Girls Club added coding robots to their programming, and they explored digital media and arts in other kids’ programming. Another project focused on improving business resilience through technology by offering technology audits to local small businesses, and then using what they learned to provide specialized learning opportunities for participating businesses.
The Otter Tail County team made good use of the fifty PCs for People computers provided by Blandin Foundation. They targeted senior citizens and families receiving human
services assistance. They purchased webcams to complement the computers and offered tech support and digital literacy resources.

Blandin takes a look at last two years with grantees such as Le Sueur

Regularly the Blandin Foundation takes a look at the various communities they have been working with to promote, deploy and use better broadband. They use the Mountain of Accountability Framework as a tool to help learn from the past two years. The graphic to the right gives an overview of the pieces of the assessment.  You can check out the full report to find out how many YouTube subscribers the Blandin Broadband channel has or total amount of grants awarded. But my favorite part is checking in on each of the communities helped – and for sake of archive and brevity of post I’m going to share them each separately:

Le Sueur County has been working with the Foundation on broadband for several years, a connection first sparked in 2018 at a regional broadband summit Blandin helped facilitate for Region 9 Economic Development Commission.
Blandin’s initial support to Le Sueur included grant funding for a Robust Network Feasibility Study and staffing support to move projects forward. An early result of the study was a 2019 DEED Border-to-Border grant for almost $2 million (matched 1:1 locally) to upgrade service to 417 households, 88 farms, 59 businesses, and four anchor institutions (all unserved) in rural areas around the communities of Montgomery, Heidelberg, and New Prague.
This work positioned county broadband champions for a successful BBC effort, focused mainly on communications, public access and training, and addressing broadband-enabled economic development opportunities. The Steering Committee has remained focused on their goal to increase broadband access/adoption/use by implementing projects designed to increase the technical capacity of residents through training and through better high-speed access through public hotspots, loaner devices and advocating more highspeed internet throughout the county.
Le Sueur County maximized the impact of their BBC resources by utilizing CARES funding to implement projects identified through the BBC process. The first project funded in part with the help of CARES dollars sought to improve access to technology throughout the county by increasing the number of public access sites and offering new training
opportunities, with an emphasis on Zoom and similar applications that support community connectivity.
Two other CARES-funded projects were communications focused. One amplified the work of the Le Sueur County Broadband Initiative (LCBI) through enhanced
communication and marketing, including improving access to county-wide calendars, and offering integrated community education classes. A fun component of this project was a Broadband booth at the 2020 Le Sueur County Fair. The booth’s materials, signage, survey, and volunteers generated much discussion and interest in broadband planning efforts around the county. Fair-goers noted and appreciated the brand-new free Wi-Fi on the
fairgrounds, which greatly enhanced their fair-going experience. The second communications-focused project was the purchase of Google Suites for Business for LCBI,
including training for all team members.
In an effort to explain how and why the county spent CARES Act dollars, the impacts of the investments — and assure residents that the County is committed to making
broadband available to all — the team created a video: Le Sueur County: the County that CARES about Broadband. The video premiered in October and so far has been shown at county board and department meetings. It will be posted on the county’s website and shown to townships. Additional segments with emergency services and human services
focuses will be available soon.
Another project addressed the lack of economic development at the county-level. LCBI, in partnership with Southern Minnesota Initiative Fund, hosted a community asset mapping workshop to identify opportunities
for collaboration, and spur innovative ideas across the county – not just in cities – on how to best utilize the unprecedented levels of federal funding expected in the coming months.
The meeting was timely and fruitful, involving over sixty people, including county and township officials, staff from cities across the county, regional intermediary agencies,
business leaders, and educators. Meetings between LCBI and city administrators and elected officials to discuss their capacity for economic development work followed. They
learned that only two cities in the county have full time staff dedicated to economic development. All supported the concept of the county stepping in to support their
economic development work. This culminated with a presentation to the Le Sueur County board in October with a recommendation to hire a county-wide economic development director. The board unanimously supported moving in this direction.
Another project to increase staff support for LCBI fizzled, through no fault of the team.
They had planned to welcome a Lead for Minnesota Fellow to work on broadband in partnership with Tri City School District, but the identified fellow dropped out of the
program. The team continues to work on alternatives.
Between CARES funding and the Fellow not working out, at the time of this writing Le Sueur County has around $50,000 Blandin funds left to allocate. The team is planning a “relaunch” event in December 2021 including a revamp of the steering committee due to changes in personnel in the schools and at the county, bringing in new voices. They anticipate communications continuing to be a major focus moving ahead. They anticipate completing their BBC work in 2022.

Side bar:
Impact of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF)
The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund is an FCC program designed to bring high-speed fixed broadband service to rural homes and small businesses that lack it. The Phase
I reverse auction ended on November 25, 2020 and winners committed to bring broadband to over five million homes and businesses in census blocks that were entirely unserved by voice and broadband with download speeds of at least 25 Mbps. The FCC is currently in the process of going through long-form applications and making final award decisions. Once formally awarded, winning providers have
six years to complete the projects.
One wireless provider won over three quarters of the over $400 million awarded to Minnesota in the auction phase. The FCC is still considering whether to approve their long-form application.
This has left large swaths of the state in a holding pattern, including Le Sueur County. LCBI team leader Barbara Dröher Kline has been a vocal advocate for communities affected by the uncertainty of the RDOF auction. She spoke with MinnPost in January 2021:
Barbara Dröher Kline, a broadband consultant working with Le Sueur County, said the county had applications rejected by the state for two broadband projects for
roughly 500 homes in areas that could potentially be served by LTD. Both are next to parts of the county where the county and other partners built fiber infrastructure with $547,000 from the federal stimulus CARES Act.
Dröher Kline said about two-thirds of eligible areas in Le Sueur County are now covered by LTD’s winning bids, which means they may get broadband, but it also
may take years. She suggested the state ask the feds to withdraw RDOF funding in areas where the state program can build infrastructure quickly. “It would have been a drop in the bucket (for LTD) and we’d have fiber in the ground this spring,” Droher Kline said.
As of November 2021, the final award decision has still not been made, and communities wait. Barbara laments, “If feels like we’re going backward.”

Blandin takes a look at last two years with grantees such as Chisago Lakes Area

  • Regularly the Blandin Foundation takes a look at the various communities they have been working with to promote, deploy and use better broadband. They use the Mountain of Accountability Framework as a tool to help learn from the past two years. The graphic to the right gives an overview of the pieces of the assessment.  You can check out the full report to find out how many YouTube subscribers the Blandin Broadband channel has or total amount of grants awarded. But my favorite part is checking in on each of the communities helped – and for sake of archive and brevity of post I’m going to share them each separately:

The Chisago Lakes Initiative (CLI) is a partnership formed in 2017 under the Initiative Foundation focused on supporting economic revitalization and quality of life in the
area, which is defined by the Chisago Lakes School District boundary in the southern part of the county. It serves as a cohesive voice for the five main municipalities located along
the Hwy 8 corridor: Chisago City, Lindstrom, Center City, Shafer, and Taylors Falls. Internet connectivity is a particular challenge to the area, and limits opportunity.
Two of the BBC projects implemented by the CLI team directly address the region’s limited broadband access. They purchased forty-five mobile cellular hotspots with unlimited data for community use. The hotspots were offered first to Chisago Lakes School District students who lacked adequate broadband to succeed in at-home learning. Remaining hotspots will be lent to community
members through the East Central Regional Library.
The Chisago Lakes team also conducted a community survey to gather data on current internet satisfaction levels and unmet needs; and promoted the Minnesota Speed Test
initiative. They will use this data to l help them talk with providers, community leaders, and legislators about broadband infrastructure needs across the region.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit seniors especially hard, greatly limiting social interactions.
Another project sought to provide devices and training to older adults, so they have a comfortable and safe way to learn and socialize.
Classes covered a variety of topics such as videoconference platforms, email, google and iCloud, social media, and more.
The school district, HRA-EDA, cable commission, and local manufacturers teamed up to produce virtual manufacturing tours to expand students’ exposure to technology and manufacturing as a career choice in the time of COVID. In-person tours have been offered to students for several years, but that isn’t as feasible now. Students will be able to the videos in school and then
connected with the business via videoconference
to ask questions and get a feel for the culture of
the workplace. Originally the team had hoped to
produce eight video tours, but because of scheduling difficulties and greater than anticipated production time they have narrowed it down to five – of which three are complete. All will be available for viewing on the Chamber’s
website.
Finally, the Chisago Lakes Area sought to showcase local businesses with a new website for the Chisago Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. The new website is easier to navigate and includes a data management system to provide higher value to the membership and community at large.

Sidebar: “This Blandin grant has given us is an opportunity to move and to do big, cool things for our community, despite all the noise and all the nonsense that’s happening outside of our doors. I am so appreciative for that because I feel right now is a time people are leaning into desperation in a lot of ways…We’ve been able to move forward, be unstuck in a very stuck time…which has made coming to work a lot of fun… thank you… you gave us the WD-40 we needed this past year.”
– Katie Malchow
Executive Director
Chisago Lakes Area
Chamber of Commerce

eNews: MN Monthly Recap Dec 2021: MN tribal broadband reports, funding and draft MN broadband report

MN Broadband Task Force reviews draft of annual report
The MN Broadband Task Force reviewed the latest draft of the annual report in their last meeting. They decided not to change the speed goals and talked about lowering broadband grant speed requirements or lowering match requirement for hard to serve areas.

Blandin Foundation called out as Best Practice in white paper
Blandin’s broadband work has been called out as best practice in the Bridge to Everywhere: Practical Considerations for Philanthropy for Expanding Broadband Access in Rural Communities.

Timeline (known and expected) for Federal Funding Opportunities
The Benton Institute for Broadband and Society has put together a nice list of funding expectations for 2022 and some forecasts for 2023-24.

OPPORTUNITY: I’m thankful for broadband because…
The Blandin Foundation is creating, collecting and sharing content throughout the holidays season making the point that with great broadband, you can live anywhere – so why not here? We’re inviting folks to send (or post) a video or picture online and tag (#MNthanks2broadband). These are images we can share while people are one for the holiday or use come Legislative Season.

2021 MN Tribal Nation Broadband Profiles

Below are profiles of the tribal communities that have maps followed by percent of households with access to 100 Mbps down and 20 up.

State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

Aitkin
Aitkin County gets $4.8 million block grant to expand broadband

Austin
Austin MN Leadership team working with Blandin Foundation to get better broadband

Bemidji
A closer look at telework recruitment efforts such as Bemidji’s 218 Relocate
Innovate 218 supports Innovation in Northeast Minnesota

Benton, Chisago and Isanti Counties
Senator Klobuchar holds call with Benton, Chisago, Isanti County Officials on how Infrastructure Bill will Expand Rural Broadband

Chanhassen
MetroNet to make Chanhassen Minnesota’s Next Gigabit City (Carver County)

Chippewa County
Chippewa County looks at broadband options from RDOF-LTD lens

Dakota County
President Biden visits MN and encourages investment in infrastructure that will make us a leader

Faribault (Rice County)
New FirstNet Cell Site Launches South of Faribault 
Faribault County one step closer to using CARES money for better broadband

Fillmore County
Fillmore County gets pitches from several broadband providers to invest ARPA funds

Hibbing
Libraries without Borders work with Hibbing MN on Health and Wellness curriculum

Jackson County
Jackson County looking at state broadband grant – outside of potential LTD-claimed RDOF areas

Le Sueur County
Le Sueur County is working on better broadband with local champion Barbara Dröher Kline

Lichen Lake (Cook County)
New FirstNet Cell Sites Launch along Gunflint Trail and near Lichen Lake

Lincoln County
Lincoln County becomes a Blandin Broadband Community to continue broadband increase

Montevideo
Montevideo tops the list of most affordable towns to work remotely from in Minnesota

Prinsburg (Kandiyohi County)
City of Prinsburg Takes Next Step for Broadband Project – $330,000 in ARPA funding (Kandiyohi County)

St Paul
MN Hospitals receive funding from FCC for telehealth

Togo (Itasca County
New FirstNet Cell Site Launches in Togo

Upcoming Events, Opportunities and Resources

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

With ARPA dollars in hand and Infrastructure dollars coming, I have been receiving many calls from communities and counties wondering how best to start broadband problem solving using the ARPA funds and the how to acquire the remaining dollars to finish the job.  The task of community broadband planning has never been more complicated, requiring a knowledge of a whole host of program acronyms and program rules.  Uncertainty over RDOF, Department of Treasury guidance, state broadband grant strategies, and provider interest is then multiplied by supply chain issues.

It has never been more important for communities to understand their vision for broadband.  Our new cohort of Accelerate communities is now struggling to put words to paper.  They are considering technical capabilities, future-proofing, qualities of desired provider partners, ownership and operations models, risk-reward factors and timeframe.  The new Accelerate communities learned from the previous cohort that no matter what you write down early in the process, be prepared to amend that vision as choices become more clear.  The words written in a vision statement, if taken seriously, matter.

Infrastructure spending has long-term consequences.  Some would prefer to just jump ahead with an RFP asking “who wants some broadband money?”  The speed and simplicity of this approach is appealing.  Please know that just as RDOF has had consequences on the next steps, so too will hurried, unguided local broadband spending.  The choices that your community makes in the near future will impact your community’s ability to finish the job over the long term.  Please do the necessary work up front to understand the choices that you are making.  In five years, you will want to look back and see the wisdom of your decisions.  Good luck!

EVENT Nov 23: Lunch Bunch to create videos on why we’re thankful for broadband

I hope you’ll join us for the Special Lunch Bunch on Tuesday November 23 at noon – via Zoom to catch up and create powerful tools to let community leaders, policymakers and providers know how thankful we are for the broadband we have – where we have it.

I got the ball rolling below. It took exactly 2 minutes to do. I recorded myself on a Zoom and uploaded to YouTube. But you could also do a selfie video or have a friend record you, post it on YouTube and send me the link OR send me the video and I’ll post on the BlandinonBroadband channel.

Or join us for the Special Lunch Bunch tomorrow at noon and we can record some then. Not in the mood for video? A snapshot works too – post and tag #MNthanks2broadband – or just send to me at atreacy@treacyinfo.com! Thanks!

 

Austin MN Leadership team working with Blandin Foundation to get better broadband

The Austin Daily Herald reports

An effort to bring stronger broadband internet service to Austin and the surrounding area is gaining momentum following a meeting Thursday, led by the Blandin Foundation.

Featuring leaders and citizens throughout the area, the effort is working toward the end result of improving internet infrastructure using grant funding from the new Blandin Broadband Community Vision program. Austin is one of six Minnesota communities taking part.

The grant funding maxs out at $100,000, and while not enough to answer every question, it is enough to get the wheels rolling on a process that once in motion can feed itself and help grow the community and answer a common question.

“Expanding access to technology, whether it’s the internet connectivity, whether it’s the devices, whether it’s digital literacy,” said Jayne Gibson, executive director of Austin Aspires, to the over 40 people taking part over Zoom Thursday. “It’s not a new conversation in our community.”

The meeting took participants through key areas important in reaching this goal, and included city leaders speaking directly to some of the smaller goals as well as many of the challenges.

The time was followed by breakout sessions where people looked at current resources, challenges and opportunities.

Increasing broadband access to the area has been a goal for a number of years, dating back to the 10-year period of Vision 2020. But it’s also been at the core of funding challenges.

Blandin Foundation called out as Best Practice in Hull Fellows Capstone white paper

Blandin’s broadband work has been called out as best practice (page 5) in White Paper from Hull Fellows Capstone: Bridge to Everywhere: Practical Considerations for Philanthropy for Expanding Broadband Access in Rural Communities  – a guide for philanthropic organizations interested in narrowing the digital divide, or the gap between those with internet access and those without, in rural communities…

Several positive examples of philanthropic organizations doing highly effective work to help close the digital divide in rural communities stand out. The Blandin Foundation and the Benedum Foundation have funded notable work in rural Minnesota and West Virginia, respectively. Because broadband infrastructure is so expensive and ISPs require federal subsidies, the core of both foundations’ approach is helping communities access federal funding for locally driven initiatives. There are many potential options philanthropic organizations can pursue:

  • Convening support for community stakeholders – Creating and executing locally driven initiatives at the community level. Helping communities pull the right people and groups together to come up with a plan is often the right starting point. Providing funding for a community or region to hire a broadband coordinator is another opportunity for support.

  • Funding for feasibility studies, engineering assessments and creating accurate coverage maps – These are all necessary steps that must be taken prior to accessing federal funding for broadband and they can often carry significant costs.

  • Support for grant writing and other technical assistance – Federal funding is spread across multiple agencies and application processes are extremely complicated. Foundations can provide assistance by hiring grant writers experienced with federal broadband funding if that capacity doesn’t exist locally.

  • Matching funds – Many federal grant opportunities require a cash match of up to 20 percent of the total project cost. Funds committed prior to an application being submitted are especially valuable as they make the applicant seeking federal funding more attractive to reviewers.

  • Policy & advocacy – Even with unprecedented funding proposed through a federal infrastructure bill, strong advocacy is needed to ensure resources reach rural places. Likewise, advocacy efforts at the state level can ensure that funds appropriated are deployed effectively and equitably.

In addition to funds, philanthropic organizations have social capital that can assist communities as they develop their approaches to expanding broadband access. Funders can host regional meetings to integrate local communities, governments and key stakeholders to learn about and identify potentially synergistic opportunities. Funders can also leverage their extensive networks to make connections to people or organizations with technical expertise (engineering, mapping etc.), grant writers experienced with federal broadband funding mechanisms, ISPs that could participate in public/private partnerships, other private funders, and authorities able to combine local, state, federal and private resources.

Bernadine Joselyn is also quoted…

“It’s not about broadband. It’s about what broadband can do. Broadband is the means to the end… internet access is fundamental to everything philanthropy cares about.”

Le Sueur County is working on better broadband with local champion Barbara Dröher Kline

After a broadband provider that will meet the needs, the strongest tool for a community that needs better broadband is a local champion. It was fun to see the New Prague Times give a nod to a strong champion in Le Sueur County – Barbara Dröher Kline…

“If you’re looking for a silver lining in this pandemic, improved broadband service in Le Sueur County is one.”
– Barbara Dröher Kline

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Le Sueur County has spent $1.7 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to improve the speed and reliability of internet service throughout the county.

It might seem like a cause-and-effect situation, as stay-at-home orders and mandated distance learning highlighted the need—or lack of—good, quality internet access. However, the groundwork, which made the county’s large-scale improvement projects possible during 2020, was laid by a small citizen task force, years prior to the pandemic.

The movement began in early 2018 when Barbara Dröher Kline of Union Hill was running for the Minnesota House of Representatives District 20A seat. She and her husband had moved to the area in 2016 and were frustrated with their slow, unreliable internet service. Their frustration grew after learning their neighbor had a fiber internet connection (built with a state grant), which allows for better, more reliable internet service—a service the Dröher Kline household was not eligible for because of the telephone area in which it is located.

After attending a regional summit on broadband, Dröher Kline met with her county commissioner, John King, and County Administrator Darrell Pettis about the opportunity to work with the Blandin Foundation, a rural foundation that supports local broadband planning.

The article goes on to give a brief history of broadband in Le Sueur, which Barbara is still working on.

Lincoln County becomes a Blandin Broadband Community to continue broadband increase

The Marshall Independent reports…

Residents of Lincoln County have already done a lot of work to improve their Internet access. But there’s still plenty of work to do to catch up to present-day needs, said speakers at a virtual meeting this week.

It is true, the last county profiles indicted that they went from 40 percent access to broadband at 100 Mbps down and 20 up to 99 percent access! They are looking to do more with the broadband by becoming a Blandin Broadband Community (BBC)…

This year, Lincoln County was named one of six new Blandin Broadband Communities. The Blandin Broadband Community (BBC) program is a two-year partnership between rural Minnesota communities and the Blandin Foundation. The communities chosen for the program work with the foundation to develop local broadband projects. Lincoln County will need to allocate and spend up to $100,000 in funding.

“We’re so happy to have been chosen by Blandin,” Robinson said. “They’ve been a partner with Lincoln County for quite some time in our broadband goals.”

Over the past few years, fiber networks have been expanded in Lincoln County, and the city of Ivanhoe is now the only part of the county without fiber optic cable running to homes and businesses, Robinson said.

At this point, Lincoln County has done a good job of getting broadband, but there are still gaps in whether people can access and afford it, Robinson said.

“I do think we need to spend some time researching why they’re being left behind,” he said.

I suspect we’ll hear more later…

The next step in the process for Lincoln County will be an online brainstorming meeting on Tuesday. The meeting will be a chance for residents to talk about projects they would like to implement with BBC grant funds. The meeting will also talk about voting and volunteering for teams that will put projects into action, said Mary Magnuson of the Blandin Foundation.

eNews: MN Monthly Recap Nov 2021: Broadband Conference and County Profiles

October was a big month because the annual broadband conference and release of the 87 MN Broadband County Profiles; subsequently we are reformatting eNews to capture those big events. We’ll be back to usual format next month!

2021 MN Broadband Conference: Final notes, inspiration and links to all sessions

Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Regional Meetings

2021 Minnesota Broadband County Profiles – from Aitkin to Yellow Medicine

Here are links to each county

Lunch Bunch ADA and digital accessibility with Belo Cipriani: Notes and Video

Big thanks to Belo Cipriani, owner of Oleb Media for joining us today for the Lunch Bunch. We had a great conversation on the need to bring people and communities with disabilities into the wider community and into broadband and digital equity conversations. Belo comes to us as a noted disability advocate and someone who has overcome barriers of blindness – through technology and by improving technology.

Here is the original description of the event:

On October 27 we will have Belo Cipriani, owner of Oleb Media, a digital access firm that helps companies ensure their products and services meet ADA accessibility requirements. Belo is on the Minnesota Council on Disability and is an author of a blog on accessibility (recent post on How to Improve the Digital Accessibility of Your Business may be of interest) and several books. I’ve asked Belo to join us to chat about accessibility and hope he might tell us a little about his interesting life. I’m also hoping people will bring their questions and thoughts.

And a few notes – although I think it’s worth a listen because technology can be a tool to unite your community, or divide it. It can be an opportunity to draw new residents to your community or it can leave you on shelf. Belo talked about:

How he approaches an accessibility plan:

  • Testing
  • Connectivity
  • Training

How he approaches digital equity training:

  • Engage
  • Study
  • Activate

And types of tech users:

  • Novices
  • Specialized users
  • Power users

A lot of what people can do in their workplace or community to support people with disabilities starts with procurement. Choose tools that will accommodate differing abilities and then know how to use those tools and accommodations.

One lesson I walked away with is remembering while that I may be a specialized power user that doesn’t mean my way couldn’t be improved to make it more accessible to others. And I can probably re-learn to become a power user with a new special software or solution.

Arrowhead Intelligent Region shares Blandin-funded broadband projects

Grand Rapids Herald Review reports

People living in Northeast Minnesota will have new opportunities to connect and strengthen their communities with the help of eight Arrowhead Intelligent Region (AIR) initiative grants. Nearly a half million dollars have been granted this year through the AIR program to propel community aspirations around digital access and use.

“Despite this stressful, uncertain year, rural leaders in the Arrowhead Region continue to roll up their sleeves, creating more opportunities for community connection and growth,” said Tuleah Palmer, Blandin Foundation president and CEO. “Their tenacity and courage to forge new, digitally-connected paths for all people living in the region is inspiring.”

They offer a sampling of projects that have been funded…

Itasca Economic Development Corporation is creating a new space in Itasca County for job training, developing career pathways for youth and supporting budding entrepreneurs with the help of a $50,000 AIR grant. Working with regional partners, new programming in manufacturing, trades and engineering will be available to community members. Future training will be developed to build the skills of local people needed for digital-based careers.

With support from a $50,000 AIR grant, The Lighthouse Center for Vital Living will help alleviate loneliness and isolation among Arrowhead seniors by increasing access to, and use of, technology. Engagement groups will be created in collaboration with organizations regionwide to offer new ways for seniors to connect.

Sixty to eighty small businesses in the Arrowhead Region will work with the Small Business Development Center to find ways to better use technology to increase revenue or simplify processes. A $50,000 grant will give participating businesses access to funds to make changes that grow their business.

A full list of AIR funded projects can be found at https://blandinfoundation.org/programs/broadband/arrowhead-intelligent-region/.