Four MN communities launch into better broadband with the IRBC

A couple weeks ago, I shared the announcement of the four new IRBC (Iron Range Broadband Communities). They will be working with the Blandin Foundation broadband team to better use broadband locally to help build demand and build the communities. Today they met to launch the programs and I was on hand. The day is an introduction to the program – they will create a team, vision and plan over the next few months. That will culminate into grant proposals and they will spend 18 months deploying, assessing and iterating plans.

They also talk about what success of the program would mean to them. I was lucky enough to attend the session and record those goals. My favorite line (a little misquoted) is – our community is at a crossroad. We could be terrible or great. Broadband will make us great.

And one community was kind enough to meet for a follow up:

It will be fun to watch their projects progress.

Four Iron Range communities selected for Blandin Foundation Broadband Communities Program

Fun news to share…

Blandin Foundation announced today that it has selected four Iron Range entities for intensive, two-year partnerships with the Foundation to advance local broadband initiatives.

East Range Joint Powers Board, Iron Range Tourism Bureau, Laurentian Chamber of Commerce and Tower Economic Development Authority all were successful in their bids to become Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC).

Made possible with funding support from the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation (IRRR) and St. Louis County, this selection is unique in that all organizations are located in Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation’s northeastern Minnesota service area.

“We’re pleased that our agency can play a role in helping these northeastern Minnesota communities receive assistance in how to develop and use broadband,” said Commissioner Mark Phillips. “Developing high-speed broadband is critical to economic development, education, healthcare, and quality of life.”

“We are thankful for the leadership and support from Blandin Foundation and Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation, and are happy to partner in the Broadband Communities Program in St. Louis County,” said Barbara Hayden, St. Louis County Planning and Economic Development Director. “With so many rural areas in our county, there’s a great need for improved broadband options, certainly for our citizens, but also to boost economic development to attract and grow businesses.”

Communities were selected based on demonstrated commitment to work together across sectors to set and meet information technology goals and bridge digital divides.

Blandin Foundation staff and consultants will work with the four communities to provide planning, technical and financial support as diverse, local leadership teams design and drive digital technology initiatives that position their communities and every resident for greater success.

“High-speed Internet access – and the skills to use it – is fundamental to vibrant rural communities,” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement at Blandin Foundation. “We’re excited to partner with Iron Range communities to imagine new possibilities that come with enhanced Internet access and use.”

This Iron Range cohort joins 36 rural Minnesota communities that have gone through the BBC program.

“Our experience tells us that, especially in broadband work, leadership matters,” said Dr. Kathy Annette, Blandin Foundation president and CEO. “To have commitment both at the local level and from IRRRB says something about the Iron Range. We look forward to standing with leaders in these four communities as they design and claim vibrant, connected futures.”

Next steps for each community include assessing the community’s current broadband access and use and, in early 2019, holding a series of public planning meetings.

Blandin Broadband eNews: Broadband activity throughout Minnesota Monthly Recap

Border to Border Broadband: Transforming Minnesota Oct 23-24
The broadband conference was a big hit. You can get video and notes on all of the sessions:

Office of Broadband Development Launches Speed Test
The Minnesota Office of Broadband Development launched a new tool that will allow Minnesotans to test, map and report various broadband internet speeds across the state. https://wp.me/p3if7-4QL

Broadband in the Elections

Local Broadband News

In October, the Blandin on Broadband blog posted broadband profiles for each county in Minnesota:

  1. Aitkin County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Kq
  2. Anoka County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Kt
  3. Becker County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Kw
  4. Beltrami County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Kz
  5. Benton County https://wp.me/p3if7-4KC
  6. Big Stone County https://wp.me/p3if7-4KF
  7. Blue Earth County https://wp.me/p3if7-4KI
  8. Brown County https://wp.me/p3if7-4KL
  9. Carlton County https://wp.me/p3if7-4KP
  10. Carver County https://wp.me/p3if7-4KS
  11. Cass County https://wp.me/p3if7-4KV
  12. Chippewa County https://wp.me/p3if7-4KY
  13. Chisago County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ld
  14. Clay County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Lg
  15. Clearwater County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Lj
  16. Cook County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Lm
  17. Cottonwood County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Lp
  18. Crow Wing County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ls
  19. Dakota County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Lv
  20. Dodge County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ly
  21. Douglas County https://wp.me/p3if7-4LB
  22. Faribault County https://wp.me/p3if7-4LE
  23. Fillmore County https://wp.me/p3if7-4LH
  24. Freeborn County https://wp.me/p3if7-4LK
  25. Goodhue County https://wp.me/p3if7-4LN
  26. Grant County https://wp.me/p3if7-4LQ
  27. Hennepin County https://wp.me/p3if7-4LT
  28. Houston County https://wp.me/p3if7-4LW
  29. Hubbard County https://wp.me/p3if7-4LZ
  30. Isanti County https://wp.me/p3if7-4M5
  31. Itasca County https://wp.me/p3if7-4M8
  32. Jackson County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Mb
  33. Kanabec County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Me
  34. Kandiyohi County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Mh
  35. Kittson County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Mk
  36. Koochiching County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Mn
  37. Lac qui Parle County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Mq
  38. Lake County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Mt
  39. Lake of the Woods County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Mw
  40. Le Sueur County https://wp.me/p3if7-4MB
  41. Lincoln County https://wp.me/p3if7-4ME
  42. Lyon County https://wp.me/p3if7-4MH
  43. Mahnomen County https://wp.me/p3if7-4MK
  44. Marshall County https://wp.me/p3if7-4MN
  45. Martin County https://wp.me/p3if7-4MQ
  46. McLeod County https://wp.me/p3if7-4MT
  47. Meeker County https://wp.me/p3if7-4MW
  48. Mille Lacs County https://wp.me/p3if7-4MZ
  49. Morrison County https://wp.me/p3if7-4N2
  50. Mower County https://wp.me/p3if7-4N5
  51. Murray County https://wp.me/p3if7-4N8
  52. Nicollet County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Nb
  53. Nobles County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ne
  54. Norman County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Nh
  55. Olmsted County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Nk
  56. Otter Tail County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Nn
  57. Pennington County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Nq
  58. Pine County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Nt
  59. Pipestone County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Nw
  60. Polk County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Nz
  61. Pope County https://wp.me/p3if7-4NC
  62. Ramsey County https://wp.me/p3if7-4NF
  63. Red Lake County https://wp.me/p3if7-4NI
  64. Redwood County https://wp.me/p3if7-4NL
  65. Renville County https://wp.me/p3if7-4NO
  66. Rice County https://wp.me/p3if7-4NR
  67. Rock County https://wp.me/p3if7-4NU
  68. Roseau County https://wp.me/p3if7-4NX
  69. Saint Louis County https://wp.me/p3if7-4O0
  70. Scott County https://wp.me/p3if7-4O3
  71. Sherburne County https://wp.me/p3if7-4O6
  72. Sibley County https://wp.me/p3if7-4O9
  73. Stearns County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Oc
  74. Steele County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Of
  75. Stevens County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Oi
  76. Swift County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ol
  77. Todd County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Oo
  78. Traverse County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Or
  79. Wabasha County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ou
  80. Wadena County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ox
  81. Waseca County https://wp.me/p3if7-4OA
  82. Washington County https://wp.me/p3if7-4OD
  83. Watonwan County https://wp.me/p3if7-4OG
  84. Wilkin County https://wp.me/p3if7-4OJ
  85. Winona County https://wp.me/p3if7-4OM
  86. Wright County https://wp.me/p3if7-4OP
  87. Yellow Medicine County https://wp.me/p3if7-4OS

Upcoming Events & Opportunities

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. https://wp.me/P3if7-4yG If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to atreacy@treacyinfo.com

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Moving a community broadband initiative forward requires a mystical blend of community leadership and technical/financial knowledge meeting opportunity.  When I review the many successful broadband projects, I see that each project has a unique mix of these elements.  For me, community leadership is the most interesting facet.  Leadership can emerge from almost anywhere. My friend and former colleague Karl Samp used to say, “The great thing about being in a rural community leader is that you do not need a title, you just have to start doing things.”

Yet there is something essential about having elected officials strongly engaged in these broadband initiatives. Volunteers can gather and analyze information or put together an outline of a strategy or deal. Technical experts can define the best technology options.  But when it comes to actually making things happen, it usually takes a mayor, town supervisor or county commissioner to bring the legal and financial authority of the local government to the table. Convincing local officials to assume that role can be the most challenging task for the local broadband activists. For some leaders, hearing the broadband stories of woe is enough to convince them to act. Other leaders want hard facts  based on data to be convinced. Thankfully, there is a growing set of tools that can provide return on investment (ROI) data for community broadband initiatives.

At the recent Border to Border Broadband Conference, there were two examples of ROI analysis methodologies – one presented by Ann Treacy and Bernadine Joselyn and one created at Purdue University. Luckily, the former model is quite simple to calculate and easily understood. I encourage you to take a look at these session notes and complete the calculator found here.  https://wp.me/p3if7-4PR.  For those reading this with strong data skills, the Purdue model can be found here: https://wp.me/p3if7-4PL. Both models emphasize that the widespread community benefits to broadband investment far exceed the private sector business case for that investment, thus the need for public sector investment to deploy the necessary broadband investment.

For those pursuing improved broadband networks, please take a shot at using these tools with your broadband team.  I think that it will be enlightening for your group – both for the numbers created and possibly more importantly, the discussion that the analysis facilitates with local elected officials.  It would be great to hear your reports.

Assessing the Blandin Broadband Communities with the Mountain of Accountability Framework

The Blandin Foundation just released an assessment of the Blanidn Broadband Communities (BBC) initiative from January 2017 – June 2018, which is the period of one cohort experiencing the program. This cohort was a little different from past groups in that they were all from the Iron Range: Aitkin County, Chisholm, Ely, Grizzlies (Bois Forte, Cook, Orr), Hibbing and Mountain Iron-Buhl (in St Louis County).

The assessment of the 2017-18 cohort of six Iron Range Blandin Broadband Communities and associated broadband-related activities was written by staff as part of the foundation’s overall efforts to build an assessment system that answers the basic question: “What do we need to know to do better?” The report uses the foundation’s Mountain of Accountability framework to help discern and apply what they are learning.

You can check out the report from specifics and fun stories from each of the communities. Many of not most of the stories have already been shared in the blog, so I won’t repost here. Instead I think it’s interesting to look at their lessons learned. I am lucky to be a part of the broadband team. From inside the team I see how the frontlines, education and advocacy pieces fit in well together; there’s often a disconnect between those facets but when brought together I think they are most powerful…

Some lessons learned from bringing the lens of this Opportunity Statement to our work:

Building upon proven practices: Based on positive community feedback we continue to use an intense community engagement process that brings communities from goal setting to action within about 90 days, and likewise have retained the Intelligent Community Framework14 as a model for helping community leaders think holistically about technology-based economic and community development.

Leveraging Our Reputation and Relationships: We continue to recognize reputation and relationships as two of our program’s most valuable assets. Reputation for attracting additional resources (human, financial) and relationships as the force field that keeps people engaged.

Attracting Additional Passionate Partners: In adding these words to our statement, electric coops were top of mind. However, staff has had only modest success inspiring and supporting electric co-ops to play a bigger role in addressing Minnesota’s broadband needs. In looking ahead to 2019 we will revisit whether further investments in building relationships with electric co-ops is advisable, given limited progress made to date. One factor that argues against standing down, especially in light of the magnitude of the opportunity, is the simple notion of “if not us, who?”

Drive Collaborative Approaches: Where possible, Blandin staff seeks to fill a supporting rather than leading role in the work, understanding that everything we do is one more thing the community is not doing for itself (as in the regional policy meetings, where partners were conveners and hosts, and Blandin provided content expertise and gravitas).

Continue to influence and Inform Statewide Policy and Messaging: This element of the Opportunity Statement is key to Minnesota’s long-term success in meeting its broadband goals. Foundation staff are optimistic that the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition will step ever more competently into this role, so that Blandin can be part of the choir, rather than the leading voice.

 

 

 

Tower area to join Blandin broadband initiative

The Timberjay reports

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ely is looking at broadband as economic development tool with Blandin Foundation’s help

The Timberjay reports…

The city of Ely is continuing its efforts to spur smarter use of technology for improved and successful economic development and ultimately an improved quality of life throughout the community.

Clerk-Treasurer Harold Langowski told the Ely Economic Development Authority Tuesday night that the goal of establishing a reliable broadband network in the Ely area remains at the top of the list for many in the community and more funding is available to help reach that goal.

Similar to a program funded and facilitated two years ago by the Blandin Foundation, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and St. Louis County, Ely and five other communities in northern Minnesota will again share $50,000 in an effort to be more tech-savvy as better broadband is pursued and established throughout the Ely School District.

A Broadband Visioning Community Meeting will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 30, from 4-7 p.m. at Amici’s Events Center with the entire Ely community invited to join a coalition of local leaders to explore options and alternatives to improve broadband speed and availability. Representatives from the Blandin Foundation will again attend the meeting.

“Over the past two years we have enhanced Ely’s web presence, assisted businesses to be more tech-savvy, distributed refurbished computers to families and pursued better broadband throughout the area,” Langowski said. “If you have any project ideas or proposals, please bring them to this meeting,” Langowski said. “If Blandin approves them, they fund them, and small (community) groups carry the projects out. The last few projects went very well. This is a great program.”

Past projects of this initiative included the establishment of the “Elyite” website and the Ten Below co-working business development center. Project categories include, but are not limited to, broadband access, workforce innovation, digital equity and marketing. “The Ely Broadband Coalition continues to work toward completing these goal and needs community input to continue these efforts,” Langowski said.

“These projects, with leadership and support, can move forward to be considered for funding by our steering committee,” he added. New members are always welcome on the steering committee.

For more information, contact Langowski at elyod@ely.mn.us, or call 218-226-5449.

Will Morse township strike out on their own for broadband without Ely-Area Join Powers?

The Ely-area Community Economic Development Joint Powers Board met last month to discuss a numb of issues. The Joint Powers Board is a collection of local communities working together to expand economic opportunities in the area. But as a recent article in the Timberjay points out, there are times when the members have to balance community with regional goals and needs. That came up with broadband…

Morse Township representatives dropped a bombshell on the Joint Powers Board by announcing they could be stepping away from an area-wide broadband project and going with their own plan.

The recently-completed broadband feasibility study, partially funded through the Blandin Foundation, is moving into the next phase, according to Novak, to determine costs and coverage area.

“We are looking at getting this off the ground quickly and offering a basic core of fiber optic service tied to the Northeast Service Co-op, and run the fiber to some poles and provide wireless broadband across the lake to Burntside and within the school district, and later on, as revenues come in, to start reinvesting and running fiber all over,” he said.

“As we were all participants in that study, it is upon us as leaders to make a decision if you are going to continue to be in (the co-op) or not be in,” Novak said.

Morse Supervisor Len Cersine announced that the township is planning to move forward on broadband alone. “We are going to try and run some broadband into the township, because right now we have nothing, absolutely nothing,” he said.

“The whole feasibility study was completed to lay out the best way to put broadband in,” Novak said.

“They have it running from Babbitt to Ely,” Berrini said, “but it doesn’t go to anybody’s house.”

Novak clarified that the project Berrini was referring to was the defunct Lake Connections plan that ran out of funding several years ago. “This is a totally different project,” he said.

“So is ours,” Berrini shot back. “We have six different poles. We put in for a grant. It will cost about $36,000 per pole, and they cover something like two miles. We can make a circle completely around Ely with ours.”

Novak pushed for a confirmation that Morse Township is going with their own broadband plan.

“We’re going to check on it. We’ll see what happens. We can’t wait. We can’t just have one part and the rest get nothing,” Berrini said.

Cersine said the “high-speed” internet project under consideration by Morse officials is through Frontier Communications.

“I wouldn’t put any faith in Frontier,” Novak said.

Cersine asserted, “Chuck, we are not abandoning your project, but we are checking on what we can do.”