EVENT May 12: Lunch Bunch: State Policy Update

Just a reminder for folks that this conversation is happening on Wednesday. Should be a good one…

State Policy Update (May 12 noon to 1pm CST)
Join us on May 12 for our lunch bunch update from Minnesota Broadband Coalition on what’s happening with the Minnesota Legislature.  Join us ready to contribute!
Register here 

Chisago Lakes surveys show that more than 60 percent not happy with broadband speed or reliability

Thank you to Chisago Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce for sharing their recent survey of broadband access and use in the community. They had 726 respondents, which is pretty darned good. They ask, is your broadband enough – for school and/or work? And they ask about broadband satisfaction with broadband reliability and speed – turns out in both categories, more than 60 percent of respondents said their satisfaction was poor or fair.

Chisago Lakes is part of the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) program, which means funding from Blandin and coaching from Bill Coleman helped get this done.

Chisago Lakes Strut Your Stuff: manufacturing tours, new website, getting seniors connected

Today we met up with the Chisago Lakes BBC team. Like the other BBC communities, Chisago has been dealing with the COVID challenges of the last year. They have been focus on a few areas:

  • Getting older folks connected with computers and training (computers going out now)
  • Getting better broadband in the area, including a survey, push to get people to take the speed tests
  • Working with businesses – specifically doing video tours of manufacturing plants for students
  • Building a new website for the Chamber – to be unveiled very soon

All of the efforts are off the ground, a few are just about ready for prime time. I am particularly looking forward to some of the stories they have collected from folks who are happy and unhappy with their home broadband.

eNews: MN Monthly Recap: Federal, state local funding for broadband

GigaZone Gaming CosPlay Co-Winner

Minnesota adoption rates by generation
Minnesota has one of the largest gaps in broadband adoption by age. Under 65, adoption rate in Minnesota is 76.6 percent; over 65 it’s 56.0 percent. That gap will impact telehealth adoption and policy decisions at the local level, especially when county commissioners and city council are over 65.

Land O’Lakes unveils American Connection Corps
Land O’Lakes created a new program for young leaders aimed at a boots-on-the-ground effort to boost local internet connectivity and the benefits it provides. The program, the American Connection Corps, will be led in conjunction with Lead for America (LFA) and funded through the support of Heartland Forward and 19 additional partner organizations. Applications are open now for a two-year, full-time paid fellowship.

Funding is greater but more confusing
The good news is that there is unprecedented funding focused or potentially focused on broadband from the federal level, and continued funding from the State. The bad news is that funding is becoming more complicated in terms of what they fund and how they make choices. There are some places to get more information. The Institute for Self Reliance has created a Community Guide to Current Broadband Funding. The National Association of Counties is keeping a list of American Rescue Plan Funds distributed in MN and by County (in MN).

Broadband maps are integral to funding
Current broadband maps indicate that there’s no broadband at Vikings Practice Facility. That’s why the FCC asks you to take their Speed Test and the Minnesota Broadband Coalition is asking you to take theirs. (A related topic, you can check out Digitunity’s map of computer ownership.)

Minnesota Women and Broadband
100 Rural Women hosted a conversation between Bernadine Joselyn, Director of Policy and Engagement at the Blandin Foundation and Tina May, Chief of Staff and Vice President at Land O’Lakes moderated by Benya Kraus from Lead for America.


State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Impact of COVID-19

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

Aitkin County
Increased access to telehealth is patient-centered care

Blandin Foundation helps Aitkin County expand and use broadband

Alexandria
Waiting for broadband in Alexandria MN

Barnum
Another reason for ubiquitous broadband: adherence to Open Meeting Laws

Bemidji
Hunter Branson Wins Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Tournament for 2nd time in a row at GigaZone Gaming Championship 5

Team YES wins Overwatch 6v6 Tournament at GigaZone Gaming Championship 5

Roselynn Jones from Cass Lake took 1st place in the online cosplay contest with her “High Inquisitor of the Scarlet Crusade” costume.

Smart Rural Community: Paul Bunyan Communications Video

Duluth
Comparing Duluth’s market-based broadband solution to Superior’s Municipal open access model

Doctor in Duluth asks policymakers to make COVID telehealth changes permanent

Ely
CTC brings FTTH to Ely MN

Broadband is happening around Ely with CTC, Midco and Treehouse Broadband expansions

Grand Rapids
Future leader in Autonomous Vehicles? Grand Rapids MN! (For more info, check out MN Report on Automated Vehicles that mentions 10 year investment in fiber.)

Kandiyohi County
Kandiyohi County is poising to use American Rescue Plan funding for broadband

Koochiching County
Koochiching joins MN Broadband Coalition

Le Sueur County
Le Sueur County Strut Your Stuff show great innovation to meet local access challenges

Nobles County
Libraries Without Borders US and Blandin are working to bring the library to patrons in rural MN

Northwest MN
The Health Variant gives an up close look at telehealth in NW MN

Otter Tail County
Otter Tail County Strut Your Stuff: zoom rooms, tech packs – getting people connecting during COVID

Rock County
Free internet coming to Jasper’s campground 

Southeast MN
Senator Klobuchar appreciates FTTH network in SE Minnesota built by Harmony and MiEnergy Coop

White Earth Reservation
White Earth Strut Your Stuff: plan in place, ready for action

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Everyone is now certifiably bonkers for broadband.  Prior to the pandemic, the need for broadband everywhere was increasingly evident and many communities were working on solutions.  Even then, the “homework gap” was seen as an inconvenient symptom of a larger problem.  It was not a big enough problem to actually spur action, but an easy to understand hindrance that typically spurred policy makers to say “we have to do something about that…sometime.”  Through the pandemic, we’ve spent millions of emergency funding on cellular hot spots to connect kids and Internet Essentials-type subscriptions applying a very expensive and short-term band-aid to connectivity shortcomings.  That money is now spent and we are right back to square one.

Long term solutions for your community may emerge from the flood of money from the FCC RDOF program, the American Rescue Plan via the US Treasury,  MN DEED SCDG program, and possible MN DEED OBD appropriations and American Jobs Act. Each program has a unique set of rules, eligibility, non-duplication requirements, timeframes, etc.  As someone who has been around the confluence of broadband and economic development for twenty years, I can safely say that the broadband world has never been more confusing.  The community role in deploying these funds ranges from absolute control to zero. There is tremendous opportunity within this chaos.

Communities must rise to this opportunity in spite of all its challenges and be prepared to positively influence the broadband deployments from this funding blizzard.  Dedicate staff resources to obtain knowledge, build desirable partnerships and pursue your broadband vision.  Find and empower local broadband champions.  Gather market data, build your local and expert broadband team, select preferred partners and be ready for opportunities.  DEED’s SCDG program has a short 40-day application window and other emerging funding programs may be similar.  Be ready!

One sure way to be ready is build the capacity of your team by taking advantage of the archived webinars on the Blandin site.  Many past conference sessions are also available there.

Good luck!

White Earth Strut Your Stuff: plan in place, ready for action

Today we met up with the White Earth Reservation BBC team. White Earth has seen a lot of changes in the last year, which has made staffing difficult but we met with two stalwarts who have been holding tight while waiting for new folks to join.

They have an enthusiastic community, new staff is coming soon and they have plans in place for:

  • Hotspots
  • Hotspots Buses
  • TVs on buses
  • Computers for elders & families
  • Cell boosters for areas with limited broadband

EVENTS: May Lunch Bunch: State funding (May 12) & Digital Use (May 26)

Each month the Blandin Foundation hosts two conversation or lunch bunch sessions; on the second Wednesday of the month the focus is Infrastructure and on the fourth the focus is Digital Inclusion and Use. Here are the topics for May:

  • Join us on May 12 for our lunch bunch update from Minnesota Broadband Coalition on what’s happening with the Minnesota Legislature.  Join us ready to contribute!
    Register here 
  • Join us May 26 for our lunch bunch on Digital Use and adoption. The specific are still in the cooker, but we’re working on something related to get help to lead a community broadband strategy. Register here.

 

Future leader in Autonomous Vehicles? Grand Rapids MN!

Grand Rapids in on the cusp of being the first cold weather, rural community to deploy autonomous vehicles (AV) – maybe in the world! That’s pretty exciting but I feel like I’m burying the lead because there are so many good things included in this pilot project. Their focus is on access, especially for folks who cannot get driver’s licenses and becoming a hub for autonomous vehicles, starting with getting kids interested in trained in the schools.

I spoke with Myrna Peterson about the project. Originally from Iowa, Myrna moved to the area many years ago; she is a former teacher. She has been in a wheelchair since a serious car accident in the 1990s. She has unique experience understanding the need for accessibility and understanding the need (and how!) to get kids involved in educational opportunities that will lead to jobs. But of course she’s not doing the work alone. There are a host of project partners, including the Blandin Foundation, Mobility Mania, several economic development leaders, research and academic partners and private sector partners, such as May Mobility, the AV experts.

The plan is to create a 12-mile route to local hotspots, such as the grocery store, church, schools and communal living settings. The AV goes about 25 mph, so the path will stick to slower roads. (So smart to avoid annoying other vehicles driving on 169!) Broadband plays a role both in helping the AV’s with offloading (a lot) of data and connecting that data to the back office. It also allows riders to connect to the AV app to make reservations and otherwise communicate. The AV collects data in the environment and uses Multi-Policy Decision-Making system to as a brain to drive. (Learn more on the May Mobility site.)

The need for AV to collect data has opened a door to looking other use of sensors and spurred discussions with Smart North. Now the community is looking at smart street lights and tech hubs. The community is also making sure that the AV experience meets the needs of all riders, which means wheel-chair accessible, accommodating visual and hearing impairments and more. They are looking to not only be ADA compliant but to be comfort-forward and welcoming for everyone, which is how you get people to use the AV. There will be an attendant on the AV to make sure everything is going smoothly.

But as I mentioned, this goes beyond a ride. They are working with the schools to create programming and opportunities for students to learn more about AV, starting with a STEM camp this summer. They are working with the K12 schools, local colleges and are working to create apprenticeships. They are also planning to leverage the shuttle project to showcase the region’s innovative mobility program through Smart Rural Mobility seminars where the Grand Rapids community members will have an information sharing forum, and they will be empowered to share their mobility stories with other government leaders and technology companies.  So, not only will Grand Rapids be the first cold weather, rural AV community but the people in and from the area will be leading experts. It’s an opportunity for a whole new industry cluster.

Le Sueur County Strut Your Stuff: great innovation – luckily because they have access challenges

Today we met up with the Le Sueur County BBC team. It was a reminder of how lucky some counties are that they have broadband because they have providers who are/were interested in deploying it. The Le Sueur team is engaged and innovative. They have had some great projects happening in the area but also, they need to work on getting better broadband. They have done surveys and mapping and even got some strong applications in for Broder to Border state funding but that was thwarted when LTD Broadband was awarded federal funding that disqualifies the county state proposals.

Even with all of that – the meeting was inspirational. The team is excitement about getting a Fellow from the Lead for America/ American Connection Corps over the next two years to help them with existing and future projects. You can learn more in the recording of the session and the PowerPoint below.

Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch Digital Ready Communities Notes and Video

Thanks so much to everyone who came to the Lunch Bunch today and especially to Annie Cruz-Porter, Calla Jarvie and Emily Del Real for coming to talk about the Digital Ready Communities program. One fun offshoot of the Fall Broadband conference was that three Minnesota communities were able to work as pilots with the program at Purdue University. Today we got to loop back with the program and partners.

This is a fascinating program that helps communities focus on how folks in a community are connecting with each other and the outside world, especially online. It includes a assessment, a survey and creating a team to be more purposeful about building local, trusted channels for communication as well as creating a message that promotes the community to the outside world.

Register for future Lunches: Upcoming May 12 and May 26

And here’s the chat Continue reading

EVENT April 28: Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch Digital Ready Communities

Just a reminder for folks that this conversation is happening on Wednesday. Should be a good one…

Digital Ready Communities (Apr 28 noon to 1pm CST)

Join us April 28 for our lunch bunch on Digital Ready Communities. As part of the Fall Broadband Conference, three MN communities participated in Purdue University Center for Regional Development’s Digital Ready Community program that helps communities assess the local digital environment and create a community-wide plan for better local digital communication. (Learn more.) We will be hearing from participants (Calla Bjorklund Jarvie from Rock County) and Annie Cruz-Porter from Purdue. Please come with questions and prepare to learn from their learning. Register here.

Otter Tail County Strut Your Stuff: zoom rooms, tech packs – getting people connecting during COVID

Today we met up with the Otter Tail County BBC team. They updated us with how their broadband adoption programs are going. A quick reminder, BBC is a Blandin program that has been helping communities use technology wisely for years through focused grant opportunities and broadband coaching with Bill Coleman. Otter Tail started their journey in 2020, which means they were one of the inaugural all-online communities. So it was even more inspiring to hear what they accomplished and how they did it.

One presenter really summed up the program in the last year, “During this last year especially, broadband has meant connection. And connection is essential right now.”

Here’s a list of the Projects:

  1. Free Wi-Fi in selected locations around county: deploy Wi-Fi hotspots around the county
  2. Zoom rooms at libraries, community centers, etc: deploy several rooms throughout the county where people can participate in meetings or interview for jobs, and more.
  3. Tech packs: Free laptops and hotspots for individuals who qualify, with an emphasis on those seeking employment.
  4. Youth exposure to technology: collaboration between local schools and MState to increase youth access to coding and provide exposure to tech careers.
  5. Marketing to recruit high-tech companies and teleworkers: diversify the local economy by recruiting tech companies and teleworkers to the County.

You can check out the video and PPT below:

EVENT April 14: Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch Federal Broadband Funding Programs

Just a reminder for folks that this conversation is happening on Wednesday. Should be a good one…

Broadband Funding Programs (Apr 14 noon to 1pm CST)
Join us on April 14th for our lunch bunch discussion on emerging federal programs to fund broadband expansion in your community.  Believe us, it is getting complicated!  Each of the programs seem to have its own unique philosophy around ownership, partnership, technology and timing.  Plus, there is wide latitude to spend direct federal aid to communities and counties on broadband.  Are you ready for those discussions?  There are plenty of webinars to be had with folks reading bullet points about the various programs; our lunch bunch won’t be that!  It will be a vibrant discussion powered by your thoughts on how Minnesota communities are planning to maximize the pursuit and use of funds.  Join us ready to contribute!
Register here 

Free internet coming to Jasper’s campground (Rock County)

The Pipestone Star reports

The campground at Marilyn DeBates Park in Jasper will soon offer campers a new amenity — free wifi.
The wireless internet access was made possible by a $75,000 Blandin Broadband Communities grant that Rock County received in 2018.
“We completed a number of projects with this grant money, including installing wifi in every campground in Rock County,” said Rock County Community Library Director Calla Bjorklund Jarvie, who was the administrator for the grant.
Tim Totman, of TNT Services in Pipestone, have the fiber lines that will provide the internet to the Jasper campground in by the end of the day on Tuesday, April 6.

Libraries Without Borders US and Blandin working to bring the library to patrons in rural MN

The last year of pandemic has shone a light on the need for better access to technology at the very local level. By access, I’m talking about that three-legged stool: broadband, device and the skills to use both. Those of us who have them take it for granted; those who don’t are in danger of falling farther behind especially as work, school and healthcare move online. This move didn’t start with the pandemic, but the pandemic accelerated it and exacerbated the divide between those to have and those who don’t.

The library has always helped level the playing fields for the have-nots. Libraries Without Borders US (LWB US) and Blandin Foundation are working on some ways to extend the reach of the library beyond the ways – to meet people where they are literally and in terms of where they are with their needs. (Do they need broadband, a device or training.) As LWB US reports on a project in Nobles County… 

So how can rural communities be connected to critical resources, considering obstacles that span from a lack of connectivity to finding a way to get to a local library? Our answer: by bringing library resources directly to these communities. LWB US, the Blandin Foundation, and local partners have teamed up to design and implement digital literacy labs and pop-up libraries, equipped with digital resources and programming ranging from monthly story time and ESL classes to workforce training and digital literacy workshops. 

Both organizations focus on creating solutions with the local organization, not for, and that’s the special sauce here. LWB US and Blandin have expertise and experience but the people on the ground know the needs and trusted places. LWB US spoke to participants working to develop the digital pop-ups. 

Andrea Duarte-Alonso, Lead for America Hometown Fellow at the Southwest Initiative Foundation commented…

The [Southwest Initiative Foundation’s] interest came from wanting a creative and innovative idea that would support community members through resources that are often not accessible to them. This support also encourages closing the technological and educational gap for families. It provides literacy to families without transportation or other needed amenities to access books and technology. 

 Katherine Craun, board member and past president of the Nobles County Library and alum of the Blandin Leadership program noted… 

Access, Access Access.  All citizens need to be connected and involved in community activities. First individuals and families need the hardware and software to connect.  Second, they need a location to connect.  Pop-ups would be a great way to meet needs of isolated housing units, small towns/villages, and rural farms. 

The project is shifting from design to deployment. I look forward to finding out how, where and when the digital labs pop up and about the difference they are able to make to the patrons! (For more details and more on participant interviews, please check out the original article from LWB US.)

Blandin Foundation helping Aitkin County expand and use broadband

Aitkin Age reports

Now, with the help of the Blandin Foundation Accelerate program – a 15-week program that helps both educate the community and develop the best solutions – the county could potentially be making some strides forward.

Over the 15 weeks of the Accelerate program, communities work together to discuss broadband development options, gather information from the communities on need and demand, analyze the data and then determine what the next steps should be moving forward.

The article looks at broadband in the last few years…

Among the progress made in Aitkin County through the 2017-20 Iron Range Broadband Community:

  • A Wi-Fi hotspot in Jacobson Community Center
  • High-speed broadband at Long Lake Conservation Center
  • Increase MyChart usage at Riverwood Healthcare Center
  • Community conference centers with computer lab, smart boards, digital equipment and community education
  • Wi-Fi networks for Palisade
  • Wi-Fi at Berglund Park in Palisade
  • Mobile Wi-Fi hotspots at East Central Regional Library

However, while the cities are addressed, much of the population of the county lives in the more rural areas.

The Blandin project will meet the community where they are…

That’s where the Blandin project comes in. Jeffers, along with city and county leaders, is working on education first and foremost. He is to educate themselves and the public about not only what is available but also what meets the 100M/20M goal for the state of Minnesota.

“That’s part of the issue,” Jeffers explained. “It depends on which provider you’re with. It depends on whether it’s broadband high speed, or if it’s cable DSL.

“There’s a lot of variations in that,” he added.

Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement at Blandin, said that many providers are trying to sell what they have – which may or may not be what the county needs.

“Most of the people in the space are trying to sell something,” Joselyn explained. “It’s challenging for local officials to find their way forward.”

Also…

The Blandin Foundation remains involved in order to address the need, as it has through facilitating its Cyber Partners program – teaching people how to use and participate through high-speed internet – and the Accelerate program.

“We’ve been working in broadband for almost 20 years,” Joselyn said. “Without out access to broadband and the skills to use it, there’s no future in rural communities. It’s absolutely critical.”