Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Minnesota’s Children Press archive

Anne Brataas, director of the Minnesota’s Children Press and other enterprises, was our guest presenter.  She described how she is active in the Grand Marais community empowering kids age 5-15 with technology and communications skills around community messaging.  There is a strong focus on entrepreneurship so that kids develop both skills and attitude to achieve economic self-sufficiency.  Most recently, the kids have been creating messaging around community health during the pandemic for residents and visitors to Grand Marais.  Using marketing strategies borrowed from Burma Shave, they find sign sponsors, create the verbiage, and make and install the signs.  Profits go to community projects like a new cover for the practice rolling log at the YMCA or a new sun shield at a local park.

The discussion included active conversation about the current pressures on local newspapers, many of which are cutting the number of papers published per week, including the Duluth paper.  Becky Lourie noted that many of the articles in her very local papers in northern Pine and Carlton County are written by citizen journalists.  We also talked about the ability of local media, especially with active youth involvement, to address the gaps of information around local history, including a focus on indigenous people and other people of color.  Anne calls this “whole history.”  Finally, we had an active social justice discussion on the uneven impact of the pandemic on people based on race and economic status.

Next Tuesday, July 14 at 9 am, we will talk about 5G.  Brian Pickering will be our guest expert.  Brian is Nokia’s Vice President of 5G Product Sales North America.  This is a great opportunity to learn about how 5G technologies and services might impact your community’s broadband services and the way that your residents, organizations and businesses use technology. (See slides.)

Webinar chat: Continue reading

Blandin on Broadband eNews: MN Monthly Recap: Broadband, Policy, COVID-19 (July 2020)

Save the month of October: Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand
Interesting times require innovative solutions! So, the Blandin conference planning team has decided to lean in and move the annual conference online – and reformed it into a monthlong series of opportunities. Coming in October!

Blandin in part of State Plan to Close Digital Divide
Governor Walz announces Public-Private Partnership to support technology needs of Minnesota students. Partnership for a ConnectedMN is led by Best Buy, Comcast, Blandin Foundation, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Business Partnership, in collaboration with the State of Minnesota.

MN Broadband Task Force June 2020
The Task Force heard from Microsoft Airband about their offerings. They also heard from former FCC member, Jonathan Chambers who mentioned maps that showed public investment by county and talked about the need to focus on future proof network or prepare to pay for upgrades.

State Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Federal Policy Issues (in reverse chronological order)

Impact of COVID-19

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

Chisago County
What to do with schools in the fall? Online, in-person, hybrid. Chisago asks an expert about online education

East Range Iron Range
Five public safety broadband projects led by East Range Iron Range Blandin Broadband Communities program

Golden Valley, Minneapolis and Willmar
Three MN healthcare facilities get FCC funding

Grand Marais
Minnesota Children’s Press Story Scouts use Instagram to encourage COVID precautions in the community

Hubbard County
Hubbard County vets office provides telehealth option

Iron Range
Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects with Iron Range Tourism Bureau

Jacobson Community Center get creative with WiFi

Little Falls
Little Falls MN bypasses maps that exaggerate broadband coverage to form partnership with CTC

M Health Fairview expands telemedicine to homeless shelter

Nessel Township
CenturyLink to bring fiber to 1,000+ homes in Nessel Township, MN

Northern MN
Northern MN appreciates ConnectedMN state funds to get kids connected

Rice County
Views of broadband expansion in Rice County

Rochester and Onamia
FCC announces 77 More CARES Act telehealth awards: 2 are in MN

Two Harbors
Wilderness health gets $800,000 for telehealth in Two Harbors

Winona County
Winona County to votes on approval of a 300-foot telecommunications tower near Lewiston

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

Notes on previous Blandin Broadband Roundtables

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Broadband advocates in Saint Louis County have been engaged in a crowd-sourced broadband speed test that is yielding fascinating and useful results.  Approximately 7,000 completed tests have led to clear conclusions made visible through sophisticated GIS mapping tools. Several neighboring counties are now moving forward with a similar strategy and there is an emerging consensus that this should be a statewide initiative.

The GEO Partners mapping tool provides address-specific data about the actual speed a customer is receiving.  The biggest value will be for local areas that have low-speed connections. The most important data will be collected in places where the state and federal maps show broadband service in excess of 25 Mb/3 Mb and the actual service is less.

The benefits of this approach are many.  It offers clarity to local government leaders about what broadband services are actually available.  This statistically valid evidence helps build community consensus.   State officials could use this data in adjudicating grant challenges from competing ISPs.  Federal programs would consider this information as input when deciding which regions were eligible for federal programs based.  Importantly, prospective providers could use this information to determine the actual quality of existing networks where they are considering expansions.

The results show very clear differences among providers and among different technologies and are no surprise to anyone working on broadband issues in rural areas.  While some customers may buy low-speed services for affordability reasons, the lack of any high-speed connections in an area can be used as evidence that high-speed service is not widely available or simply too expensive.

At community meetings in rural areas, the display of broadband maps often brings reactions of disbelief and testimonials of poor service.  Today, the burden of proof to correct these maps is on local leaders who have only these individual stories to bring to state and federal elected officials and staff.  A crowd-sourced statewide broadband speed test would create a second source of reliable data that could be a strong counterweight to the existing over-optimistic maps submitted by providers.

Stay tuned for more information on this emerging statewide initiative.  Large numbers of tests are required to be statistically valid.  Getting too a statistically valid sample in your area will be a local responsibility and require participation of a wide variety of promoters – local units of governments, chambers of commerce, school districts, lake associations, churches and other community organizations.

EVENT July 7: Broadband Roundtable on innovative options for local media

An invitation from the Blandin Foundation…

Join Blandin Foundation on Zoom Tuesday morning at 9:00 am for our weekly Broadband Roundtable conversation. This week, Anne Brataas of Grand Marais will share her passion for local media, especially that which is created by young people. Anne is active in The Story Laboratory and the Minnesota Children’s Press. With the current challenges faced by traditional local press, this session will be incredibly interesting. Bring your thoughts and ideas.

You can register for this and future Roundtables here

For more information, or to share ideas for future Roundtable starter topics, contact Mary Magnuson at

Save the month of October: Fall Broadband Conference is morphing into Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand

Interesting times require innovative solutions! And that’s why I’m genuinely excited to tell folks about the First Ever Blandin Broadband Virtual Dispersed Conference. I’m on the planning team; and while I love the annual get-togethers, it might be fair to say I was most enthusiastic about creating somethign new this year. I am so excited!!

The world is in flux and broadband seems to be at the center of it. The COVID-19 pandemic and guidelines on social distancing are creating the need and opportunity to do things differently, often with an online element. Meanwhile, the internet and social media are allowing people from all over the world in real time to witness and participate first-hand in the movement to end racial inequities in Minnesota and nationwide.

From telework to distance learning to keeping in touch with family and friends; from citizen journalism to starting a movement online; one thing is certain – access to broadband and the skills to use it is more important than ever.

So the conference planning team has decided to lean in, to take advantage of the technology we’ve been promoting for so long to meet the educational, professional, and civic needs of the attendees and hopefully demonstrate new ways to work and meet that you can bring back to your community.

What does this mean? Picture a month of broadband Sundays. (Not really, but sort of!)

The conference will be entirely virtual – but that doesn’t mean just a series of online lectures. We have created different opportunities for discussion, interaction and collaboration and a few traditional presentations to happen over the course of four weeks. Here’s a rough outline: (More to share later!)

  • Week 1 (Oct 5-8): three mornings of “in real time” online events including speakers and small group discussion
  • Weeks 2 and 3 (Oct 9-26): customized programming based on your level of involvement and interest with special sessions, a chance to pilot future programming, a book club, regular online space just to chat, mentor match-making with host of local and national experts arranged by the planning team, a virtual happy hour. You choose your level of involvement. No expectations – only opportunities.
  • Week 4 (Oct 27-29): mirroring the first with three mornings of “in real time” online events including speakers and small group discussion.

We’ll group folks in cohorts so you won’t need to feel like you’re traversing the terrain alone. And we’re lining up speakers to include experts, practitioners and researchers who know broadband infrastructure, policy and digital equity. I am so excited about the speakers we have – but I’ll build up some suspense now. Just let you know what’s coming.

Please let me know if you have any questions. This is the 16th conference.  We’re all pretty used to the “regular way” and this year will be different in the same way kindergarten roundup is different from college drop off. Still very cool – but new.

Northern MN appreciates ConnectedMN state funds to get kids connected

WDIO interviews Bernadine Joselyn on the new ConnectedMN initiative…

Bernadine Joselyn is with the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids, the state’s largest rural-based philanthropy.

“Truly, the silver lining in the work from COVID-19 is that it has shown a huge light on the inequities at the heart of our public education system,” she said.

It’s led to an initiative called ConnectedMN.

The Blandin Foundation, along with private companies like Best Buy and Comcast, along with the state, are stepping in donating and raising money to help.

“Part of what we hope to do is invest in immediate needs and invest in longer-term solutions,” Joselyn said.

At Hibbing High School, some of those immediate needs this spring were hotspots for internet access.

State announces public-private partnership to help tech needs of families with children in school

The hotspots were what saved us the most with letting kids get on for their distance-learning,” said Hibbing High School Principal Mike Finco.

Broadband Roundtable on small-scale economic development strategies Archive

In today’s Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable, Ann Treacy and Molly Solberg, each a social media wizard, shared how they work with local businesses to expand and improve their online marketing efforts resulting in increased sales.  The theme today was Small Scale Economic Development Strategies.  Through a combination of training, networking events and one-on-one technical assistance, they work with businesses to implement social media strategies.

They help the businesses establish goals, determine the most effective set of social media platforms and do the necessary work.  Molly noted her use of customized step-by-step powerpoint checklists that help to establish a disciplined approach that help a business stay on course.  Bud Stone of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce noted the importance and the difficulty of a sustained effort.  Ann Treacy said that she sometimes works to develop long-term community capacity by training a local person while assisting small businesses.  Communities need to consider small business technology mentoring as a core business retention and expansion strategy.  The benefits can be large, especially if the community can develop a core set of tech-savvy small businesses.  Thanks to Ann and Molly for sharing!

EVENT June 30: Broadband Roundtable on small-scale economic development strategies

A message from Blandin…

Join Blandin Foundation on Zoom Tuesday morning at 9:00 am for our weekly Broadband Roundtable conversation. This week, we will focus on small-scale economic development strategies perfect for any size community or neighborhood.

You can register for this and future Roundtables here

Broadband Roundtable on telehealth response to the Covid-19 Archive

Today’s Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable was extremely interesting with very active attendee participation.  This is just what we were hoping for when we decided to host these topical conversations.  We really benefitted from active health care provider participation from Bois Forte Band, Tri-County Health and GPTrac.  We learned that many road blocks – regulatory, payment and human behavior barriers disappeared with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was fun to watch a couple short videos – one from the US Surgeon General and one from  The first video gave a nice overview of the emergence of tele-medicine during the pandemic; the second video showed how big data and high-tech tools are being used to track the virus and develop responses to it.  You can find the links to the roundtable discussion and support materials at under the webinar banner.

Next week, July 1, we will focus on small-scale economic development strategies perfect for any size community or neighborhood.  Join us at 9 am.  Register online.

Here’s the chat from the session: Continue reading

EVENT June 23: Broadband Roundtable on telehealth response to the Covid-19

An invitation from the Blandin Foundation…

Join Blandin Foundation on Zoom Tuesday morning at 9:00 am for our weekly Broadband Roundtable conversation. This week, we will talk about the rapid emergence of telehealth in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. To contribute to the conversation, find out what is now available from your own health care network or even bring your own tele-health care experience!

You can register for this and future Roundtables here. (July dates added!)

For more information, or to share ideas for future Roundtable starter topics, contact Mary Magnuson at

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable:Social Media for Community Broadband

The June 16 Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable discussion centered on social media practices in Community Broadband Initiatives.  I did a brief history overview beginning with Google Fiber and their community competition and went up through today’s collaborative environment with friendly providers’ use of fiberhood survey practices.    From there, the conversation went to a more general overview of successful social media strategies.  We talked Facebook. Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Next-door and TikTok.  Multiple folks chimed in with both successes and challenges of the use of social media in communicating with customers and community members.  We talked extensively about magnifying your social media strategies by re-tweeting, liking posts, tagging and hash tagging.  We also had a good conversation about the need to ensure accuracy of your own posts and to work to fight disinformation.  Thanks to all who chimed in!  It made it a very interesting conversation.

On Tuesday June 23, we will talk about the rapid emergence of telehealth in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.  To contribute to the conversation, find out what is now available from your own health care network or even bring your own tele-health care experience!

MN Broadband Speed Test – a good idea in the making? Join the conversation

I get email from people pretty regularly asking me about the State Broadband Maps. Most often it’s because they live in an area that shows up on the map as being better served than their experience would confirm. It’s the nature of broadband maps everywhere.

The answer to making maps better is using the provider data and getting feedback from users on the ground. The Office of Broadband Development is always open to getting calls to improve the maps but that’s a very onsie-twosie approach. From the communities, we’ve seen some awesome work trying to get more info from/on the ground. St. Louis County has been leading the way to create a different set of broadband maps based to date on approximately 7,000 broadband speed tests submitted by area residents and businesses. Now Koochiching and Itasca and getting into it too.

GEO (formerly NEO) Partners has been responsible for several of the speed tests happening in Minnesota. Blandin and a number of other organizations have been toying with the idea of working on a statewide speed test and mapping. GEO Partners is interested. And today there was a call of broadband-thinkers talking about how/if/why/when to make that happen.

There is definitely interest – they are just working on funding and a organization to spearhead the effort. It sounds like there will be follow up call next week. Stay tuned for more info – or let me know if you want to be invited (comment below).

Here are the slides from today:

EVENT June 15: Organizing Statewide Broadband Speed Test

An invitation from the Blandin Foundation

There is no doubt that the lack of broadband is severely hampering working from home, distance learning and tele-health. There is also ongoing discussion over how well the FCC and state broadband maps document actual broadband coverage across Minnesota. These maps are used by funders to determine grant program eligibility so that overstatement of available services is highly consequential and negatively impacts rural places.

St. Louis County has been leading the way to create a different set of broadband maps based to date on approximately 7,000 broadband speed tests submitted by area residents and businesses. These speed tests, mapped by GEO Partners, clearly show the speeds available in cities and townships across the county. Koochiching and Itasca Counties are preparing to launch their own initiative and other counties are considering their participation.

There would be significant economies of scale to do this project across larger geographies – statewide, statewide rural, development regions, etc.

There are two key components to successfully implement this project.  First is the technology.  GEO Partners has a proven process for that task. The more difficult task must be borne by local entities – local units of government, school districts and community organizations – to spread the word to local residents so that they understand the importance of this initiative. The validity of the results increases with the number of people taking the speed test. This is critical for those communities working to qualify for state and federal broadband. For those places with great broadband, this is a way to showcase the speeds available in your area and can be used for community economic development marketing.

Blandin Foundation sees the benefits of this prospective initiative. We are seeking a proposal from GEO Partners so that we can discuss the opportunity with prospective partners across the state. We will be holding an information discussion via Zoom on Monday, June 15 from 1-2pm. Click here to register for the meeting.

Five public safety broadband projects led by East Range Iron Range Blandin Broadband Communities program

Hometown Focus (in Virginia MN) write about public safety projects deployed by the local Iron Range Blandin Broadband Communities program (BBC)…

The East Range Joint Powers Board recently implemented five new broadband projects that improved public safety and essential emergency services as part of the Iron Range Blandin Broadband Communities program (BBC). The Joint Powers Board encompasses the communities of Aurora, Biwabik, Hoyt Lakes and Town of White.

Police squad car laptops: East Range law enforcement received upgraded laptops in each squad car. With all squad cars operating on the same system, the police increased their efficiency, communication and response time serving the East Range communities.

Ambulance laptops: Hoyt Lakes Ambulance Service updated its technology to keep communication connections with St. Louis County’s new Computer Automated Dispatch (CAD) system. This ensures timely and efficient response times by Hoyt Lakes EMS, and it provides them with information about patients, call locations and safety of the scene.

EMS training laptop: Hoyt Lakes Fire & Ambulance Service received a laptop to conduct training for their staff and first responders. Trainings include: Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Advanced Medical Life Support, Prehospital Trauma Life Support and Pediatric Advanced Life Support.

Public safety building SMART board: Hoyt Lakes Fire & EMS departments received an interactive whiteboard to use for mandatory emergency response and public safety training.

Fire department iPads and hotspots: Palo Volunteer Fire Department received new iPads and hotspots to assist with locating homes when responding to residential fires.

EVENT June 9: Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable: Polco’s civic engagement platform

The next Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable will feature a presentation by Matt Fulton of Polco.  According to their website, “Polco’s civic engagement platform makes meaningful communication between community leaders and the people they serve not only possible, but enjoyable.”    See more at .  Be prepared to share how your community is using online tools to engage citizens and the benefits and challenges of that engagement.  The Blandin broadband team will share its experience of moving it Blandin Broadband Communities project development process online.  Join us Tuesday, June 9 at 9 am by registering here: .

Please share your ideas for future discussion topics to

Strut Your Stuff: Broadband projects with Iron Range Tourism Bureau

Part of becoming a Blandin Broadband Community (BBC), is the opportunity to show off what you’ve been doing related to broadband in your community. It was great to hear from folks with Iron Range Tourism Bureau.

It was great to hear about all of the projects happening in the area. I loved the focus on art. Here’s a list of their “mini” porjects – with a special nod to their online artist map.

  • Eveleth Heritage Society partnership with Minnesota Historical Society to scan 1,332 pages of the Eveleth Mining News.
  • Iron Range Historical Society connect Instagram and Facebook, add newsletters to website, add Online Donation button with new PayPal account
  • Hibbing Historical Society new website
  • Embarrass Township Printer, website improvements, Facebook account addition
  • Virginia Area Historical Society digital photo frame, printer/copier, light table, scanner
  • Camp Vermilion office laptops
  • Lyric Center for the Arts  desktop and laptop
  • SISU Heritage laptop and internet access