61 Iron Range small businesses receive “Tech Boosts”

Here’s an update from the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation email newsletter…

Tech Boost was launched in late 2021 to help small businesses in northeastern Minnesota adopt new technologies that benefit their operations. The business owners received a free expert consultation from Northland SBDC on potential technology-related investments to assist their business. The business was then given the option to purchase technology equipment or services of which two-thirds of the costs were eligible for reimbursement through grant funding.

Tech Boost was part of Arrowhead Intelligent Region Initiative (AIR), a broadband partnership between Blandin Foundation, Northland Foundation and Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. The trio made available a pool of grant funds for local organizations working to support a broadband-fueled economy in northeastern Minnesota.

Throughout 2022, Northland SBDC consultants Vicki Hagberg and Curt Walczak met one-on-one with 76 small businesses to provide technical assistance and technology recommendations to bolster their operations. Sixty-one of the 76 businesses chose to utilize the Tech Boost grant. A total of $55,764 in grant funds were distributed, and over $120,000 was invested in technology improvements for regional businesses.

The grant funding was used for a variety of technologies including: new laptops, tablets and printers; point-of-sale system to help manage sales and inventory; systems to support online retail sales; lodging reservation systems; website development; networking systems; automated/smart medical equipment; and, equipment to develop real estate virtual tours.

Four of the 61 businesses that utilized the grant funding were:

  • Bear Island Realty (Ely): Tech Boost Grant purchased equipment to develop virtual real estate tours to post on Realty.com. SBDC Technical Assistance was provided in the areas of business acquisition, human resources, QuickBooks and marketing. Bear Island Realty provides professional real estate services in the Ely and surrounding area.
  • Joy & Company (Grand Marais): Tech Boost Grant purchased a new photo printer. SBDC Technical Assistance was provided in the areas of COVID-relief, general operations and marketing. Joy & Company is a retail shop with locally-made art, gifts, art supplies, antiques, vintage clothing and jewelry.
  • Rose Cottage Baking Co. (Cook): Tech Boost Grant purchased a point-of-sale system and networking equipment to provide internet access at the bakery. SBDC Technical Assistance was provided in the areas of business plan development and financial projections to support a business expansion. Rose Cottage Baking Co. is a family-based eatery that serves homemade breakfast, lunch, coffee, espresso, handcrafted lattes and baked goods with no preservatives, no fillers and only freshly ground grains.
  • Golden Paws Dog Training (Aurora): Tech Boost Grant purchased a new computer and monitor for business management and online dog training curriculum with national reach. SBDC Technical Assistance was provided in the areas of business plan development and financial projections for construction of a new dog training facility. Golden Paws provides in-person and online dog training for basic obedience, behavior problem solving and dog sport competition.

“Northland SBDC provided me with expert advice that was tailored to my bakery’s needs,” said Rebekah Olson, Rose Cottage Baking Co. owner. “I received help to confidently navigate the technology purchases and implementation at my bakery’s new brick and mortar location.”

More details on City of Cloquet Broadband Border to Border Project

Yesterday I posted about the MN Border to Border awards, including the City of Cloquet Broadband project. Thanks to the City of Cloquet for more details…

The City of Cloquet Broadband Project Details The CTC Cloquet project will improve service in the northern part of the City in unserved or underserved areas. The project will pass by 246 homes at a cost of $984,790 funded by
$400,000 in Minnesota Border-To-Border funding, $300,000 in City of Cloquet America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA funding), and $300,000 from CTC to implement. Below is a map of the improvement area, the green and pink area is within the City of Cloquet and would serve 246
homes located north of North Road, and the blue area covers a portion of Thomson Township where the project would serve 92 homes at a cost of $531,000. CTC will be working with the state now to gain project approvals and will roll out their timeframe for construction in the
future.
Northern Cloquet Broadband Improvement Area:

Community Engagement Process
With little expertise in broadband, the City of Cloquet EDA applied to be part of the Blandin Foundation’s Broadband Communities Program, leveraging broadband consultant technical assistance to help guide the City through discussions. After several months of discussions,
Blandin Foundation recommended that the City of Cloquet EDA needed to go through a formal community engagement process and form a committee of broadband stakeholders. Blandin recommended that Cloquet apply to be part of the Community Broadband Resources (CBR)
Program: Accelerate! which is a four-month process to spur community acquisition and deployment of federal and state broadband funds. This four-month intensive program is
designed to increase rural leaders’ ability to stimulate broadband infrastructure investments in their communities that support economic development and community vitality. CBR Accelerate! teams are formed locally to determine the best path forward to better broadband services through:
• Facilitated weekly Blandin meetings
• Leadership broadband education via archived webinars, expert presentations, and peer group discussions
• Information gathering including community surveys, broadband provider interviews, and community meetings
• Step by step broadband planning to:
o Develop a community broadband vision
o Understand the local marketplace
o Determine appropriate technologies
o Consider alternative broadband provider partnerships models and prospective broadband provider partners
o Identify and seek available funding resources
The Cloquet Broadband Steering Committee was comprised of collective information technology and community members representatives with expertise in broadband. Membership included: the business community, Carlton County, residents, the college (FDLTCC), the hospital (CMH), the School District, the City, and elected officials. The Steering Committee’s purpose was to create and launch a community broadband survey, create a community broadband vision, to interview current and potential providers, and recommend broadband directions for the City. The committee launched a July 2021 Cloquet Broadband survey yielding 192 responses. In
January 2022, Cloquet relaunched the same broadband survey and yielded another 491 surveys
bringing the total to 683 surveys. Survey findings for Cloquet were:
1. Broadband is not affordable
2. Broadband service has poor customer service and is unreliable
3. Broadband doesn’t have sufficient speeds to meet demands
4. There are a lack of broadband provider choices, service is a monopoly
With symmetrical fiber to the home projects, the Cloquet Broadband Committee concluded that the best partners for the City to partner with were CTC and FDL Reservation, with CTC being more ready to lead an immediate grant application process and analysis with the City. The Cloquet Broadband Committee shared their recommendations with the Cloquet City Council and the Cloquet EDA. Submitting this state grant application for Border-To-Border funding into unserved/underserved areas in northern Cloquet in partnership with CTC would implement their project recommendations aligned with the project vision. The Cloquet Broadband Vision: To ensure access to affordable, reliable, high-speed fiber internet delivered by a committed
capable community partner skilled in maintaining and operating a successful broadband network.
“We cannot thank the Blandin Foundation enough for their incredible leadership in assisting our community engagement process on broadband. We’d like to thank CTC for their collaboration with the City and we look forward to working with them on this project,” said City Administrator Tim Peterson.
“The Cloquet Broadband Committee was instrumental in the success of this project being funded, they are collectively incredible, and I can’t say enough about them nor the valuable process that we went through with the Blandin Foundation,” said Holly Hansen, City of Cloquet Community Development Director.
“We’re incredibly excited about this partnership,” said Joe Buttweiler, CTC’s Director of Business Development. “This project will be instrumental for families and businesses as well as for future economic growth in these communities. We look forward to providing everyone with fast, reliable internet and top-notch local customer service for years to
come.”
“The outcome of this process has been amazing. We all recognize the fundamental necessity of affordable, consistent broadband access in our community, and the grant is a major step toward achieving this goal. It’s great news for our taxpayers, and for our efforts to become
a technology-capable community for residents and businesses,” said City of Cloquet City Councilor At-Large Lara Wilkinson.

eNews: MN Monthly Recap Dec 2022: Concerns with FCC maps

FCC Mapping’s short window for location challenges
The FCC unveiled their broadband maps and speed test. They will influence BEAD funding made available to each state; therefore it’s important that the information be correct. However, there are concerns with veracity; for example, the new FCC maps show Minnesota has ubiquitous broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 up. Right now the FCC is asking households and communities to check out the map and report back if it doesn’t seem right. There are other issues (such as Will BEAD fund unlicensed spectrum?) but for most readers, checking your location is a good first step to helping Minnesota maximize investment.

Minnesota Broadband Task Force Draft Report
At the November MN Broadband Task Force, the members reviewed and discussed the upcoming Annual Report. The notes include screenshots of the draft report. They came up with average broadband deployment cost per household of $9300.

You can now apply for Minnesota Broadband Line Extension Funding
People can report to OBD that a wired broadband service is unavailable at their residence or business to get funding to procure broadband.

State News    

Federal News

Vendor News  

Local Broadband News

Aitkin County
$4.8 M Aitkin County Broadband scheduled completion in fall 2023

Austin
Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) update with Austin MN

Big Stone, Lincoln and Pine Counties Austin and Warroad
Blandin Broadband Communities chat on digital equity projects in Big Stone, Lincoln and Pine Counties, Austin and Warroad

Duluth
A Duluth stargazer view of Satellites: will too many spoil the view?

Duluth Fiber Lincoln Park Project testing waters for larger municipal roll out

Fillmore County
Telehealth is part of the solution to the maternity care desert in Fillmore County

Kandiyohi County
Kandiyohi is frustrated with broadband flurries but moving forward where they can

Le Sueur County
Warm wishes on a cold night celebrating broadband in Le Sueur County
Le Sueur Broadband Fair: well attended and raising awareness

Lower Sioux
MN Lower Sioux gets almost $2 million for broadband

Mille Lacs County
The latest news on Mille Lacs County broadband hope and plans

Minneapolis
Broadband price disparities in Minneapolis are some of the worst

St Louis County
Paul Bunyan Communications connects 600 homes in St Louis County

Willmar
Willmar to invest $42,000 in broadband mapping

Upcoming Events, Opportunities and Resources

Warm wishes on a cold night celebrating broadband in Le Sueur County

Last night Le Sueur County held a celebration of broadband, headed up by Barbara Droher Kline. We were there to recognize a few key people who have helped bring better broadband to the area, starting with Barbara but we quickly realized that it’s a team effort. Everyone had a story. Some stories were of happy users working from home or not driving to the nearest fast food Wi-Fi to get homework done. Some stories were of frustration as Le Sueur has had its challenges with national providers getting (and subsequently losing) federal funding to serve the area when local providers were prepared to do it. A lot of the stories were of appreciation for Barb and other leaders, for the Blandin Foundation, for providers like Bevcomm and for policymakers who understand. It takes a village but it also takes a champion.

Le Sueur has been very vocal about what is working and what isn’t working for them. That has made it easy for folks like me to tell the story to help other leaders around the state (and beyond) recognize challenges and prepare for obstacles. It also helps policymakers understand where they can best channel support.

Barb’s speech below sets the stage.

eNews: MN Monthly Recap Nov 2022: Gearing up for funding

How much is broadband worth? Depends who you ask.
Two recent surveys show vastly different results. Some surveys say $70 monthly while others say $10 monthly.

Check out your county ranking
Minnesota maps show where fiber is and where it isn’t. See how your county ranks for speeds below:

MN Broadband Task Force Oct 2022 Notes: BEAD
Minnesota is gearing up for taking advantage of federal funding. The Task Force learned about the process. And Bree Maki is named the Director of the Office of Broadband Development. 

PUC Looking at LTD Broadband
The PUC is still looking into whether to revoke LTD Broadband’s ETC designation, which had been required for funding they were disqualified to receive in Minnesota. Here are the latest actions:

State News    

Federal News

COVID-related News

Vendor News  

Local Broadband News

Aitkin, Crow Wing, Douglas, Otter Tail, St. Louis, Stearns and Todd counties
ReConnect awards of $759 Million go out – two in Minnesota

Bois Forte
Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Receives $20 Million Grant for Broadband

Carver County
Carver County’s CarverLink Public Fiber Network Broadband Efforts

Dakota County
Dakota County deputies use VR to train for emergencies

Duluth
Duluth New Tribune endorses Rep Ecklund for his broadband work

Hastings
MN Elections Broadband Notes: House District 41B candidate Tina Folch connected to broadband

Hibbing
IRRR invests in Mediacom broadband in Hibbing

Iron Range
Business North looks at Broadband champions on the Iron Range (MN): Blandin Foundation, NESC and IRRR

Kandiyohi, Stearns, Renville and Swift Counties
TDS deploying fiber to 3,700 properties in Kandiyohi, Stearns, Renville and Swift Counties

Madelia
Midco and Land O’Lakes bring better broadband to Madelia

Minnesota
Ransomware attack thwarted but affects 60,000 Arvig subscribers in MN

Launch Minnesota Awards Over $1M in Innovation Grants to Startups

Nobles County
Nobles County invests $4 million in broadband with local and ARPA funds

Pipestone County
Pipestone County is working with Hometown Fiber on better broadband plan

Ramsey County
Ramsey County hosts Digital Inclusion Leadership Summit

Red Wing
Red Wing Ignite will be awarded $4 million for local entrepreneurship and innovation (Olmsted County)

Southern MN
Senator Klobuchar speaks to mayors in southern MN about broadband (Lyon, Jackson, Martin & Faribault counties)

Upcoming Events, Opportunities and Resources

 

Business North looks at Broadband champions on the Iron Range (MN): Blandin Foundation, NESC and IRRR

Business North takes a look back at broadband projects on the Iron Range. Starting with a wide lens…

“In 2010, internet connectivity in rural places was spotty and underutilized,” said Mary Magnuson, the Blandin Foundation’s grants program officer for rural placemaking. “Minnesota was ranked No. 23 in the U.S. for speed, and broadband was defined as 768 kilobits-per-second download and 200 Kbps upload – just enough to support slow video streaming.”

The broadband landscape across Northeastern Minnesota, and the state in general, has changed significantly since then, according to Magnuson, with gains made for providing access to high-speed connectivity. It comes at a time when such internet connections have become critical in business, education and often in day-to-day life.

“As of May 2022,” she said, “88.07% of Minnesota households have access to the 2026 state goal of 100 megabits per second download and 20 Mbps upload,” Magnuson said. “More people are working online, going to school online, seeing healthcare specialists online, and solving more of today’s challenges through solutions made possible through high-speed broadband internet.”

And calling out local champions, such as the Blandin Foundation…

Broadband was a long-term investment for Blandin Foundation, according to Magnuson. Since 2004, Blandin Foundation invested nearly $5.3 million in grants and leveraged more than $17 million to support 850 projects implemented across 61 counties and five tribal nations in Minnesota.

NESC…

Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC) in Mountain Iron, one of nine Minnesota service cooperatives, has designed and built a fiber-optic backbone for underserved and unserved areas.

NESC initially built an 865-mile fiber optic network across St. Louis, Lake, Cook, Koochiching, Carlton, Pine, Itasca and Aitkin counties. The Northeast Fiber Network originally tapped a $43.5 million federally funded grant/loan project in 2010 through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities.

IRRR…

When Whitney Ridlon joined the Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation (IRRR) in 2014, the agency was evaluating broadband infrastructure needs across the region. The agency partnered with Blandin Foundation and Blandin Broadband Communities to better understand existing broadband assets, such as the NESC “middle mile.” Legislation created by the state further enabled the IRRR to work with communities to meet the state’s broadband speed goals.

Since 2015, IRRR invested $5.6 million in broadband infrastructure connecting 6,617 households, with a total investment of $23 million.

eNews: MN Monthly Recap Sep 2022: Federal funding planning and rejection

Blandin Foundation’s New Strategic Direction
After speaking with leaders across rural Minnesota, the Blandin Foundation is moving forward with excitement to focus on three areas of priority:

  • Rural Placemaking for arts, culture and systems people use to create the unique destinations and social fabric rural folks love about their home places and their identity;
  • Community Wealth Building so communities can build their bases of knowledge, money and more, and keep it close to home; and
  • Small Communities to get those places, especially in our home giving area, grants to fund work that changes systems to work better for everyone.

MN Broadband Task Force Aug 2022
The Task Force got a tour of the Office of Broadband Development interactive mapping tool. They also heard from Scott Marquardt from the Southwest Initiative Foundation. He noted that the top concerns in his area are: housing, childcare and broadband.

LTD Broadband RDOF application rejected
The FCC rejects RDOF applications of LTD Broadband and Starlink. In Minnesota, LTD Broadband had been awarded the opportunity to apply for $311 million to expand broadband in rural MN. However, many potential customers and industry leaders were afraid that that lacked the capacity to be successful. So the rejection is met with mixed responses.
Before the FCC rejection, the Minnesota PUC starting to look at LTD Broadband’s qualifications. Post-rejection, they continue to investigate revoking their ETC designation. The next prehearing call happens September 10.

State News    

Federal News

Vendor News   

Local Broadband News

Bois Forte Band
Broadband update from with Bois Forte Band of Chippewa

Cook
City of Cook is looking at having fiber before winter
Cook might benefit from FCC rejection of LTD RDOF application
Paul Bunyan may have Gig access to Cook MN before the end of the year (St Louis County)

Douglas County
Gardonville applies for Border to Border grants for Carlos and Nelson MN (Douglas County)

Duluth
Duluth New Tribune opinion piece says government involvement is needed to get broadband to some communities
Duluth is looking at Open Access Fiber Options with the help of State funding
Duluth gets $24.9 million through USDOT’s RAISE program in part for broadband
UMD is bringing back telehealth counseling by popular demand
Duluth pursues Border to Border grant for Lincoln Park

Harmony
Harmony Telephone to build FTTH in Harmony (Fillmore County)

Kandiyohi County
Kandiyohi County Commissioners support three Border ro Border grant applications

Le Sueur County
Le Sueur County and Bevcomm are applying for Border to Border funds

Martin County
Martin County Commissioners support Frontier’s Border to Border application for Fairmont, Northrop and Ceylon

Mille Lacs County
Mille Lacs County support SCI’s Border to Border grant application

Minneapolis
Lumen (aka CenturyLink) to offer 8-gig broadband in Minneapolis

Morrison County
Morrison County Commissioner support Border to Border grant from Charter Communications

Northeast Minnesota
A fiber cut takes down internet and phone service in Northeast Minnesota (Cook & Lake Counties)
Top tips for the housing crisis in NE Minnesota –include get better broadband

Redwood County
Update on Redwood County’s Blandin supported Lead Fellowship

Rodgers, Dayton & Wayzata
Comcast expands broadband to Rogers, Dayton and Wayzata MN (Hennepin & Wright Counties)
Rogers City Council approves Border to Border grant application (Hennepin County)

Scandia
Scandia moving forward with broadband plans with MidCo and Frontier (Washington County)

Sherburne County
Sherburne County Board approved $600k for 3 broadband grants to Midco
Sherburne County to invest $1.5 million from ARPA in better broadband

Upcoming Events, Opportunities and Resources

Federal Funding Tools


Update from Blandin Foundation

Dear Rural Broadband Champions,

It’s been a significant year for investments in rural broadband access and use. I hope you, and your network of changemakers, are celebrating this moment of triumph and reflecting on all the work you’ve done to bring this abundance of opportunity to rural places.

When C.K. Blandin laid out his vision for Blandin Foundation, he directed its investments to strengthen rural communities without supplanting public responsibility. Our broadband programming built rural Minnesotans’ capacity to imagine their community’s broadband future and create the partnerships necessary to get the access and skills to realize that vision. It’s powerful to look at the map of folks we’ve worked with over the years, and see the impact made by rural people inspired to forge a tech-driven future for their community and its people.

The landscape has shifted since we began this work in 2003. With historic public funding on its way, coupled with recruitment challenges in our Blandin Broadband Communities Program, we now turn to the public responsibility of connecting the last miles.

Blandin Foundation is also shifting to meet today’s moment. After talking to leaders across rural Minnesota, and doing deep research, we’re focusing on three areas of work to move rural places forward:

  • Rural Placemaking for arts, culture and systems people use to create the unique destinations and social fabric rural folks love about their home places and their identity;
  • Community Wealth Building so communities can build their bases of knowledge, money and more, and keep it close to home; and
  • Small Communities to get those places, especially in our home giving area, grants to fund work that changes systems to work better for everyone.

Technology will continue to be a thread woven through many of our program investments. While we do not have any specific work planned in the areas of broadband access or digital equity, we will continue to watch the space and assess our role.

As we set out on a new strategic direction, I’m thankful for the years of partnership and network building that made the broadband program so successful. Please stay in touch as we develop and communicate emerging opportunities from Blandin Foundation. We look forward to learning from you and with you as we step forward together towards strong rural communities.

Tuleah Palmer, Blandin Foundation President & CEO

Blandin Foundation’s new strategic direction

I wanted to share the following note from the Blandin Foundation…

Rural communities have been dealing with challenges that just keep snowballing. Years of tensions that split
communities further apart are making it more challenging for people to work together. State and federal fiscal policies
have not kept up with public funding needs in counties, cities and small towns. Folks often serve in a half-dozen or more
community roles at the same time and are expected to do more with less. Recession looms in many of our memories
and worries.
On top of that, two-plus years of constant stress, grief and loss from COVID, increasing political tensions, racial unrest,
and the quickly changing environment.
These realities have called Blandin Foundation to find new ways to help rural people build bridges toward strong futures.
After talking to leaders across rural Minnesota, and doing deep research, we came to a few conclusions about what’s
needed to make change happen:
• People need to feel connected to each other and to the future of their community. Connected individuals stay
healthier, are happier, achieve higher education, improve their job outlook and are more likely to have longterm economic upward mobility. Connected communities thrive amidst change, both unintended (disaster,
economic uncertainty) and proactive (future-forward community initiatives).
• They need access to resources, like money and new ideas and opportunities. Rural America receives only about
5 percent of the nation’s available funds (like grants) from philanthropy, even though 20 percent of the
population lives in rural areas. In addition, rural and Native Nations in Minnesota, like rural regions across the
country, have faced disinvestment and resulting decline for decades.
Energy generated by our new vision, mission and values invigorates our work.
Two fresh frames bring rural Minnesota’s needs into crisper focus: equity – of place, race and class, and the imperative
to change outdated policies that don’t serve rural well.
These lenses led us to focus on 3 areas of priority:
• Rural Placemaking for arts, culture and systems people use to create the unique destinations and social fabric
rural folks love about their home places and their identity;
• Community Wealth Building so communities can build their bases of knowledge, money and more, and keep it
close to home; and
• Small Communities to get those places, especially in our home giving area, grants to fund work that changes
systems to work better for everyone.
We’ve retooled our grantmaking to focus on our 3 priority areas, and will develop programs focused on advocacy and
rural capacity that will build on our experience in community leadership and broadband.
We remain steadfast in our donor’s intent – to focus on the quality of life for the worker – especially in our Home Giving
Area. Moving rural places forward, to equitable and sustainable futures will take us all. We look forward to learning
from you and with you as we step forward together towards strong rural communities.
Tuleah Palmer
President and CEO

 

Update on Redwood County’s Blandin supported Lead Fellowship

Thanks to Redwood County Economic Development Coordinator Briana Mumme for the update on their experience working with a Lead for America Fellow to improve broadband access across the County. It’s amazing to see what can get done in a year and it’s a great list for any county looking to further their broadband plans…

Redwood County EDA contracted for a two-year fellowship with Lead for America; American Connection Corps.  The Fellow was hired to serve as the County Broadband Coordinator effective August 2021 through August 2023.

The Fellow fulfilled the entire project scope within the first year!

The following goals were set and achieved:

  • Develop a broadband needs assessment for the county, which captures quantitative and qualitative data demonstrating the importance of broadband connection for the County;
  • Establish a map outlining the existing fiber connections, provider areas, expansion opportunities, and gaps;
  • Build comprehensive public awareness and excitement among county residents to advocate for broadband investment to the county;
  • Ensure that Redwood County is well positioned to successfully compete for state and federal investment into broadband by the end of the 2-year fellowship.

To fulfill those goals, the following strategies were implemented:

  • Participate in technical assistance programming through the Blandin Community Broadband Resources: Accelerate! Program;
  • Manage all communication regarding broadband with public, providers, county commissioners, EDA Board;
  • Develop and foster relationships with existing internet providers across the county;
  • Connect and establish relationships with businesses in the county to assess their broadband experiences, past/current/future needs;
  • Research other county case studies to learn best practices and common pitfalls for rural broadband development;
  • Identify potential funding opportunities, including the leveraging of existing resources in Minnesota’s Border to Border grants and other state and federal programs;
  • Conduct public educational workshops;
  • Serve as a coordinator and facilitator to community broadband meetings, ensuring comprehensive follow-up to action items and that proposed collaborative opportunities are implemented;
  • Establish key messages and creative opportunities of interest to funders/donors in order to garner expanded support for broadband.

As a result of these activities the following was accomplished:

  • Collaborated and established relationships with elected officials, ISP’s, business leaders, and community members.
  • Completed the Blandin Community Broadband Resources (CBR): Accelerate! Program.
  • Utilized the community members of the CBR team to provide ongoing input and support to the direction of the work.
  • Developed a vision statement, and received endorsements from the CBR group, County EDA Board, and County Commissioners
  • Facilitated monthly meetings with the EDA Broadband sub-committee
  • Hosted multiple meetings with internet service providers to include: Woodstock, Starlink, Arvig, Nuvera, MN Valley Telephone Company, MVTV Wireless
  • Participated in many media platforms to include: MPR, local Radio and Newspaper, Farmside Chat, Land O Lakes, Office of Broadband, and Governor’s Broadband Task Force.
  • Hosted two work sessions with the County Commissioners
  • Developed a webpage dedicated to broadband to provide an overview of what broadband is, why it’s important, current and future projects, and an opportunity for constituents to voice their broadband story. https://redwoodcountyeda.com/broadband/
  • Created Facebook Posts and utilized the County email notification system to communicate the county broadband status, EBB program, encourage engagement – collect pledges and letters of support.
  • Meetings were held with Townships and Cities to describe the value of broadband in their municipality and secure funding.
  • Secured $1.9M in County funds to support a Border-to-Border project to deploy fiber to 8 cities within the County. A total of 52 letters of support and 37 pledges were received to demonstrate community support.
  • There are multiple other broadband projects in development, pending funding programs which align with the project.

eNews: MN Monthly Recap Aug 2022: Opportunities and Resources

Blandin Broadband Conference Canceled
Better with Broadband: Reflect. Recharge. Inspire., Blandin Foundation’s annual broadband conference, has been canceled.
While we won’t be gathering in person, you can expect to continue receiving emerging broadband news and funding updates on the Blandin on Broadband blog in the coming months. Thank you for your continued commitment to expanding access and use of broadband in rural Minnesota.

Telehealth is in the news and growing
Two recent reports have been released one indicating that telehealth visits are a boon to vets with opioid addiction and the other showing that telehealth helps with prenatal and maternal care. Brookings has developed a The Roadmap to Telehealth Efficacy supporting the idea that broadband is essential to good health. And there’s a new app that connects patients and pharmacists in Minnesota.

MN County digital equity related rankings
Microsoft has created searchable tool that tracks education attainment, computer ownership, broadband subscriber and speed and more to help gauge digital equity in a geographic area. A tool like this will be valuable as communities work on digital equity plans.

MN PUC will looking into LTD’s ETC designation
LTD Broadband was awarded the sole opportunity apply for federal (RDOF) funding to expand fiber in much of Minnesota. The opportunity has been controversial. In July, the PUC decided to investigate LTD Broadband’s ETC designation, which may disqualify them for RDOF awards in Minnesota.

MN Broadband Task Force July 2022
The Task Force heard about the Affordable Connectivity Program and American Connection Corps. They also got an update from the Office of Broadband Development. They are in the middle of receiving Border to Border applications with hopes of doing a second round of funding later in the fall.

State News                         

Federal News

Vendor News           

Local Broadband News

Duluth
Duluth News Tribune looks at library funds to address digital equity and older Minnesotans
Duluth approved digital access master plan and State broadband grant application
Duluth is looking at community broadband network options to lower costs

Fillmore County
MiBroadband start building FTTH in Fillmore County state Border to Border grant

Hennepin County
Need help getting online in Hennepin County? Go to the library and ask about Digital Navigators

Kandiyohi County

Kandiyohi County taking more steps toward the Border to Border grant application
Kandiyohi is pursuing a Border to Border grant for areas north and west of Willmar
Charter breaks ground on broadband expansion in Kandiyohi County

Mower County
Mower County looking at using RODF, ARPA and Border to Border funds to improve broadband access

Otter Tail
Otter Tail County invests $2.8 million of ARPA funds on broadband

Pike Township
How is Pike Township MN going to get better broadband? Through a letter writing campaign

Redwood County
Redwood County residents are asked to take a survey and leave a message about broadband
Arvig and Redwood County seek a Border to Border grant for better broadband

Sherburne County
Sherburne County and Arvig partner on Border to Border grant applications for Haven Twp., Clear Lake Twp. and Elk River.

St Louis County
Mediacom Communications unveils public-private partnership to expand broadband in St. Louis County

Thomson Township
Thomson Township pledge ARPA funds for Border to Border applications in Carlton County

Upcoming Events, Opportunities and Resources

eNews: MN Monthly Recap June 2022: Legislative & funding updates

Blandin Community Broadband Program Update
While Minnesota plans for federal investments in digital equity and adoption, Blandin Foundation will be exploring the ways they can adapt to make sure rural community interests are centered and supported. As they grow into a new chapter of their work, they will be phasing out existing broadband programming and grantmaking.

Save the Date! 2022 Blandin Broadband Conference
Join the Blandin Foundation for the final Blandin broadband conference at Grand Casino Mille Lacs on October 11-13 to explore how to maximize public and private broadband investments in your community.

Call for MN Border-to-Border Broadband Applications
Applications are open for Border to Border Grants. The funding available is $95 million. As designated in the 2022 legislative session, $25 million has been appropriated from state general revenue funds as available funding for the next round of the Minnesota broadband grant program.

MTA and MREA ask PUC to relook at LTD’s status as ETC
Minnesota Telephone Alliance (MTA) and the Minnesota Rural Electric Association (MREA) filed with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, asking them to revoke the ETC status for LTD Broadband. LTD has qualified to apply for federal (RDOF) money. For more than a year, communities who might be served by LTD have been waiting to hear on their status. Many have concerns about LTD’s ability. LTD needs the ETC designation from the MN PUC to qualify for the funds. The PUC asked for community comments on the petition to look again at LTD; those comments have been filed and currently there is an opportunity for others to reply to the comments. Then the PUC will decide if they will look into the revoking the ETC designation.

MN Broadband Task Force Meeting May 2022: Cybersecurity
The Task Force heard from several experts from the field of cybersecurity. They talked about the Legislature including a letter the Task Force had sent to the policymakers asking them to consider a greater investment in broadband grants than had been on the table.

State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

Appleton & Madison
Federal broadband funding lessons from 2010 help with funding today: Madison & Appleton MN finally getting fiber!

Bemidji
Bemidji’s broadband leaves them poised to succeed – says Dave Hengel

Ceylon
Ceylon approves broadband contract with FREA (Martin County)

Crosby & Ironton MN
CTC and Crow Wing County pursue CARES funds for Crosby and Ironton MN

Dawson
After 12 years the Computer Commuter (mobile computer lab) rides into the sunset (LqP County)

Duluth
Duluth resident skeptical of provider follow through with public funds

Grand Marais
Grand Marais broadband project nominated for national award

Hutchinson
DEED Commissioner and Nuvera CEO talk about increased need for upload speeds in Hutchinson MN

Kandiyohi County
Kandiyohi County, Charter Communications partner on $800,000 broadband project to serve 170 customers with ARPA funds

Le Sueur County
Le Sueur County Broadband Fair getting local attention to build greatest demand for better broadband

Litchfield
Litchfield gets fiber from Meeker Cooperative (Meeker County)

Little Falls
Little Falls and Morrison County making plans for better broadband

Madison
Madison Mercantile: When broadband makes community easier (LqP County)

Mankato
Mankato Clinic expands virtual care across 13 facilities (Blue Earth County)

Rural Minnesota
Being online helps older adults learn about and access some activities in rural Minnesota

St Louis County
St. Louis County says yes to Rice Lake broadband project

Upcoming Events, Opportunities and Resources

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

As my work with Blandin Foundation comes to a close, I want to pay tribute to all of the community leaders with whom I have worked with over the past 15 years.  Broadband development in rural places is never easy.  Community broadband initiatives can require hundreds of hours of staff and volunteer time with no guarantee of success.  Community leaders never asked for this role; they generally have their hands full with traditional community infrastructure like sewer, water and roads.  Insightful leaders recognized, some sooner than others, that the community needed to get engaged with energy and persistence to stimulate investment.  Minnesota is lucky to have leaders like those who have participated in the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition.  If not for those volunteers, the legislature might have never continued to fund the broadband program.

It has been very gratifying and lots of fun to work on broadband with all of you.  Thank you!

Save the Date! 2022 Blandin Broadband Conference

From the Blandin Foundation

It’s time to celebrate!

We’re excited to be back together, in-person with you for our 2022 broadband conference.

With robust public investments in both broadband access and use, the path forward for digitally connected and thriving rural Minnesota communities has never been clearer. Unprecedented resources are coming and communities with a plan will benefit the most.

Join us at Grand Casino Mille Lacs on October 11-13 to explore how to maximize public and private broadband investments in your community. Hear from communities who have forged the trail for better infrastructure and graduated from fighting for access to creating avenues for every community member to have the devices and skills they need.

We will be in touch soon with more details, registration, and lodging information. 

After 12 years the Computer Commuter rides into the sunset (LqP County)

Mary Magnuson and I finished our tour of Western MN, with a final visit to the LqP Computer Commuter, a mobile computer lab and classroom that has been touring 6 sites a week around Lac qui Parle County. In 12 years, they have served about 500 people out of a county of 7,000. It received early funding from the Blandin Foundation. We thought it might be around for 5 years tops but Mary Quick has kept it running well past expected lifespan.

Mary drives the tricked out former hotel van around helping people use technology. Originally, the bus served a lot of students with new computers and free printing but in the last few years the patrons have aged. While we were in the library, Mary and I heard from the librarian that she had spent time in the Computer Commuter using the CC computer to watch videos while trying to learn new software on her own laptop. So many people have great stories like that. In fact, if you have a grandparent from LqP who knows how to use Zoom, you can probably thank Mary!

Many of the patrons have helped keep the Computer Commuter going the last few years with donations and generous memorial donations. Mary is moving out of the area but, as she says in the video, she’s there to help anyone who is interested in a similar project in their community.

Fed broadband funding lessons from 2010 help with funding today: Madison & Appleton MN finally getting fiber!

It feels like the before-times, out on the road talking to folks in rural Minnesota about broadband and more. Traveling with Mary Magnuson, we made a few stops this week, starting with the UMVRDC (Upper Minnesota River Valley Regional Development Commission) to chat with Dawn Hegland and Kevin Ketelson.

UMVRDC supports Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties in Western MN. Broadband-wise this list includes some of the best and worst served counties in Minnesota.

Communities need awareness and education

Dawn has been working with the Blandin Foundation since the early days of MIRC (2009); she knows her stuff. Yet, as I say some of their counties are well served and others aren’t. One reason is that some communities are willing to invest, and some have not been. It makes the case for continued need for awareness and education.

Communities like LqP were early into the game, getting ARRA funding back around 2010, when some communities were still asking what broadband was. Post pandemic few communities (or community leaders) need a definition for broadband but the ones who needed it before were at a serious disadvantage during the pandemic shut downs. Swaths of communities were left to try to work, study and stay healthy in communities with inadequate and unreliable Internet access. While just down the road, folks had fiber.

So, while generally people understand the need now (and it remains a top concern in the annual regional survey), people don’t understand the ins and outs of technology. People think “the government will take care of it” or don’t appreciate the difference between fiber and satellite. Decision makers are often consumers online (getting email or watching videos) not producers (uploading work files, homework videos or selling online). They think because they are happy with local connections that others will be as well. But that is often not the case, especially if they are trying to recruit new businesses or young families to the area.

Understanding the landscape helps

Understanding the technology is only half the battle for community leaders. Especially now, you need to understand the funding options because rural broadband is expensive and a lot of State and Federal money will be going to deploy broadband over the next few years. But the applications are onerous and it’s important to find the right fit to serve the whole community, which leads to a long broadband story in the area with a soon-to-be happy ending.

As I mentioned earlier, LqP was an early adopter. They got federal funding for FTTH more than 10 years ago … to most of the county. Unfortunately, Madison, the county seat, was not eligible for the upgrade because the maps showed that they were already “served.” In 2010, that meant they has access of speeds of at least 10 Mbps down and 1 up. So for 10 years rural LqP has had fiber and the county seat has not. They have been actively looking for help to funding to support fiber deployment (because even the county seat in LqP is pretty rural) but had not been successful until now.

Last summer, UMVRDC helped Madison and Appleton apply for CARES funding from the state to build better broadband. (Appleton was in a similar position as Madison, but in Swift County.) The requirements and conditions of the grants were different than other opportunities and it turns out a good fit for both areas. There were awarded the money and Acira is working on Madison now and soon to be moving to Appleton. (Mary and I happened to run into folks from Acira in town too. They were excited to finish the jobs they started 10+ years ago!)

While I’m happy to share the good news of Madison and Appleton, I offer it also as a cautionary tale. Again, unprecedented funding is going into broadband in the next few years but most folks I’ve heard from feel that it won’t cover universal broadband and areas left unserved (or underserved) will have a difficult time catching up once the money is gone. That gets me back to the first point – communities need awareness and education.

TC Business looks at MN digital divide and support to close it – including the Blandin Foundation

Twin Cities Business looks at the digital divide in Minnesota, especially in a COVID (post-COVID?) world..

In fact, a study early in the pandemic by Common Sense Media and Kids Action showed that more than 150,000 Minnesota students lacked the devices needed to connect to remote schooling, and another 250,000 lacked access to the internet. Communities of color, rural families, and students in tribal nations are disproportionately affected because of higher poverty rates in these Minnesota populations.

The digital divide can be documented far beyond the rural parts of Minnesota. It includes many urban and suburban families, children, and adults who are not connected, nor do they have the devices to do so.

They also look at some of the efforts in Minnesota striving to close the gap and/or keep the gap shallow…

ConnectedMN is an alliance of philanthropic, business, and government organizations that distributes grant money to nonprofits to support access to devices, connectivity, and computer training in specific regions and among targeted communities. …

Standalone nonprofits, including PCs for People and Tech Dump, profiled in this issue as winners of TCB Community Impact Awards, get computers into the hands of people who need them and ensure that recipients have the connectivity and training to use them. In 2021, PCs for People provided 55,000 computers to low-income Minnesotans and helped 18,000 people with internet connectivity.

[Thanks to PC for People for a correction: they distributed over 57,000 computers and did connect over 18,000 households, but that was national, not just Minnesota. Added June 18.]

Philanthropies such as the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids have worked for years on broadband access for Minnesotans. Blandin’s early advocacy and sustained efforts began back in 2003. Its overarching goal: “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 Blandin on Broadband blog on the foundation’s website incorporates important updates on the availability of federal funds to support access projects in rural counties, such as the new federal ReConnect program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That program aims to distribute grants and loans for eligible rural communities that want to provide broadband service to local residents.

Long-term efforts like Blandin’s, collaboratives like ConnectedMN, nonprofits like PCs for People, and government investments such as the federal infrastructure act are all helping to accelerate change for low-income, rural, and tribal communities that have long needed such help.