Blandin on Broadband News: Aug 2019: Broadband grant applications are open

Oct 8-10 – MN Fall BB Conference – Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work
This three-day conference at the beautiful Grand View Lodge in Nisswa, MN will offer learning and engagement on many aspects of the challenges and benefits of broadband access and use, from “Pursuing Broadband 101,” to digital inclusion tools and strategies for diverse audiences.  Check out the agenda. Exhibitor and sponsorship opportunities are available 

Minnesota Broadband Grant Application are Open
The Office of Broadband Development is soliciting applications for the Border to Border Broadband grants. Deadline is September 13. But before you apply you must alert providers in the area by Aug 2.

Minnesota broadband: more ubiquitous, not fastest
PC Mag looked at broadband speeds by region and state. For fastest statewide access Minnesota ranks 8 out of 12 of North Central States with a speed of 67.2 Mbps (down). However, Roberto Gallardo also released a study that shows that looking at statewide access to gig broadband, Minnesota is in better shape that our neighbors.

Blandin Foundation is there is help with ICF Application
The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) measures six inter-related indicators of a community’s competitiveness in the digital economy. It is a tool and an international competition. Blandin is holding a series of regional meeting to talk about the ICF process and offer assistance to communities interested in applying.

  • Red Wing Monday, August 12 9:00-10:30 am
  • Brainerd Tuesday, August 13 9:00-10:30 am
  • Bemidji Wednesday, August 14 9:30-11:00 am
  • Appleton Monday, August 19 1:00-2:30 pm

The Time is Now for Courageous Action
Dr. Kathleen Annette, president and CEO of Blandin Foundation reminds people that “The time is now.  To recognize racism and discrimination, to name and stop it when we see it.  To stand with those working to make our communities more welcoming….”

Minnesota policy front…

And national policy front…

Vendor News

  • CenturyLink under state investigation after hundreds of complaints of not responding to “call before digging” requests

Local Broadband News

CVS Health Rolls Out Telehealth to MN (and other states)

Aitkin County
Rural Minnesota Cooperatives partner to connect Aitkin County

Anoka County
Libraries without Boundaries, Dep of Education and local librarians meet with residents in a manufactured home cooperative community to discuss creating 21st century library services to suit their needs.

Beltrami County
Beltrami County in number one in Minnesota for access to Gigabit Internet Speeds

Fredenberg MN celebrates broadband – and looks at how it might happen in other areas

Lake County
Lake County Broadband is sold to Zito Media

Red Wing
Red Wing Ignite wins $750K Federal Grant

Poultry Patrol (think Roomba for chicken coops) is a great broadband application for farmers with broadband

Region Nine
Congrats to Nicole Griensewic Mickelson for ‘Friend of the CGMC’ award

St Paul
Verizon upgrades parts of St Paul to 5G 

Two Harbors
Two Harbors business comes for fiber also gets tech support

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

As I prepare to go on a nice vacation, I am looking at the calendar of upcoming meetings and presentations for which I need to prepare before getting on the airplane.  Right when I return, I need to do a Broadband 101 for a county board in south central Minnesota.  The first place I look to prepare is the Office of Broadband Development maps.  This is a rich source of information with various ways to display the data.  The question “How well are we connected?” is not as simple as it once was.  The maps, in their various forms, should be used as conversation starters, not as a place to find definitive answers.

I first look at the maps, then go to provider websites to get more detailed information.  The DEED provider database shows 13 wired and fixed wireless providers.  Speeds vary from symmetrical gigabit over fiber to 500 Mb symmetrical via fixed wireless to 100 Mb/40 Mb over DSL.  Three different fixed wireless providers show complete to partial coverage of the county.  Seems like this county is well served, yet when I look at the Border to Border Broadband grant eligibility map, the vast majority of the county is shown as unserved and grant eligible.  According to provider information, 82% of households have wired connections of 25 Mb/3 Mb while 78% have wired 100 Mb/20 Mb.  Ten percent have symmetrical gigabit coverage.

As I talk with county commissioners, I will be asking them the following:

  • *Do you believe that the maps and provider data are accurate?
  • *What are you hearing from constituents?
  • *What is “good enough” for your county?

These questions always stimulate interesting conversations.

The time is now for courageous action – from the Blandin Foundation

I am pleased to share this letter from the Blandin Foundation. In my world, in the world of the Blandin Broadband team, diversity often comes down to served and unserved. I think many of us remember the old New Yorker cartoon with the dog by the computer and the caption – on the Internet no one knows you’re a dog. In many ways, the Internet has opened doors for many people. A quick change of your name, or just using initials and your gender, your ethnicity, many disabilities, religion and gender preferences can be obscured. But that doesn’t mean differences don’t exist and aren’t always appreciated, so again I’m pleased to share this message from Blandin president Kathy Annette.

Blandin Foundation has been standing alongside and investing in rural Minnesota leaders and communities for 78 years.  Over time, we have come to know this to be true: communities cannot be strong, healthy and vibrant unless they are working for, and safe for, all peoples.

Is your community?

Minnesota residents are facing changes and pressures today that test long-held assumptions and challenge us to forge new relationships.  Racism, hate and bigotry are alive in rural Minnesota, and must be met with hope, leadership and the firm belief that communities are stronger when they work for every resident.

Are you aware?

When Blandin Foundation surveyed rural Minnesotans this spring about who in their community faces discrimination, bias or harassment, most often named were those with a drug or mental health issue, transgender people and recent immigrants among many others.  They also overwhelmingly (by 82 percent) believe that people in their community are able to stand up to hate when they see it occur.

Minnesota’s rural residents are a hopeful bunch.  Blandin Foundation’s Rural Pulse survey (at, as well as our daily experiences, suggest that rural Minnesotans are optimistic about the future and believe they can make a difference in their communities.

Can you?  Do you?

The time is now.  To recognize racism and discrimination, to name and stop it when we see it.  To stand with those working to make our communities more welcoming.  To make sure that opportunity truly is available to all, that no one is living unseen in the shadows.  To recognize that our destinies are intertwined with those of neighbors.  To not let another hateful remark or act pass without addressing it.  To be courageous and curious.

Rural people, rural places are beautiful, resilient and resourceful.  Let’s not give our sense of community away, not on our watch.

We stand with you.

Dr. Kathleen Annette, president and CEO
Blandin Foundation


Red Wing Ignite Wins $750K Federal Grant

Big congrats to Red Wing Ignite! Twin Cities Business Magazine reports…

Red Wing Ignite, a Red Wing economic development organization, was one of 44 organizations chosen to receive a grant through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s 2019 i6 Challenge and 2019 Seed Fund Support programs.

On Tuesday, the DOC announced that a total of $23 million will be distributed to the organizations, with other private and public sector sources contributing a total of $26 million in matching funds.

Red Wing Ignite was the only Minnesota organization to be named as a winner this year. Founded in 2013 by community leaders and billed as a project to “Ignite Innovation in Rural Minnesota,” the nonprofit connects entrepreneurs, investors, and advisors through events, collaborative work spaces, and varied programming, resource-sharing, and amenities.

As an i6 Challenge winner, Red Wing Ignite will receive $750,000 from the DOC, along with $940,602 matched by local entities in cash and in-kind support. It’s the most substantial grant in the organization’s history.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for a small town,” says Neela Mollgaard, Red Wing Ignite executive director. “It’s very validating that the work we’ve done over the last six years has been noticed and there’s dollars to continue to enhance and build on what’s been started.”

Blandin has provided some local match…

The non-profit’s capital contributors include the Blandin Foundation, City of Red Wing, Jones Family Foundation, Red Wing Shoe Foundation, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, and Goodhue County. More than a dozen other public and private entities offered letters of support or in-kind commitments.

Fredenberg MN celebrates broadband – and looks at how it might happen in other areas

The Bemidji Pioneer reports the good news for Fredenberg…

Here is a story to match the motto of Fredenberg Township: “A pleasant blend of progress and tradition.”

The 1,300 residents among the reservoirs north of Duluth now have access to some of the fastest internet speeds available anywhere, thanks in part to taxpayer support — a tradition as old as the New Deal.

“This is like getting rural electrification to all the towns,” said Clay Cich, a Fredenberg town supervisor who worked for years to bring broadband to the shores of Fish and Island lakes. “It just changes everything.”

Taxpayer support refers to a State Broadband grant…

The $3.9 million Fredenberg project, led by CenturyLink, includes $1.8 million in federal and state grants and offers gigabit speeds — ten times faster than many urban residents can get.

The area is excited and hopeful but the article also looks at the need for more support to help other areas get service…

If a business can’t get a return on its investment, it probably won’t make that investment. This is the conundrum of rural broadband and why a push from public dollars is needed to make those final connections.

“As we’ve expanded, we’ve covered all the areas where it made economic sense — those who don’t have broadband today are so low in population density, it is difficult to offset costs,” said Brian Bissonette, marketing supervisor for Bemidji-based Paul Bunyan Communications. “Without the support of grants, we wouldn’t be able to justify the initial investment.”

Paul Bunyan has brought much of Beltrami County and its neighbors online and is looking east to add to its 27,000 members. The cooperative recently started work on a service center in Grand Rapids and is busy laying cable in central Itasca County. Western St. Louis County and southern Koochiching County may be next.

“If you live outside a city on the Range, you’re probably stuck without adequate broadband access,” Bissonette said. “If we were able to get more funding, we might be able to do that.”

State grants bridge many investment gaps, but MacKenzie said the total amount needed to bring every Minnesotan online is “unknowable” and that state money is just a “small but critical” part of private, federal and local investments.

They also looked at the return on investment for taxpayers…

It’s worth the burden on taxpayers, according to a study from the Blandin Foundation, which found that among three rural Minnesota counties “the annual collective economic benefit for residents would surpass the public/community investment in one year,” though it will take six years to pay for itself in more sparsely populated areas like Lake County.

“The whole point of broadband is not an end in itself, it is a means to … quality of life and wealth creation,” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement at Blandin Foundation. “At the same time, it’s a hard topic for local leaders to organize around — it doesn’t pull your heartstrings like kids or trees.”

More than half of Fredenberg homes didn’t have internet service when town officials started seeking solutions to that problem four years ago. It took meeting after meeting, call after call, but at last the money was secured and CenturyLink started installing fiber cables — providing speeds that well exceed any current state goal.

These fiber-to-the-home networks should especially be encouraged, Joselyn said, since they are “future-proof.”

She stressed that the state’s 2026 goal, with a much higher upload speed, will be essential to ensuring the economic returns seen in home businesses, health care, education and other needs where users to send large files and not just download or stream them.

EVENT ALERT: Is your community’s tech sophistication keeping pace with the world?

An invitation from the Blandin Foundation:

You can find out by using the benchmarking tool of the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) which measures six inter-related indicators of a community’s competitiveness in the digital economy. The ICF benchmarking tool is used to measure progress against other communities and over time.

To give you and others in your community the opportunity to learn more about this process, Blandin Foundation is hosting four regional workshops across the state to explain the ICF model and showcase how communities in Minnesota and across the globe are putting it to work.

This workshop is for leaders in business, education and government interested in working strategically and collaboratively to improve the economic vitality and quality of life of their community and region.

In addition, Blandin will offer technical assistance to local teams completing ICF’s benchmarking questionnaire. This tool works for communities of all sizes – from the smallest up to a regional partnership, though data constraints may hamper answers to some questions for smaller communities.

Join us at one of the regional meetings to learn more.

Join us at one of the regional meetings to learn more.

  • Red Wing* Monday, August 12 9:00-10:30 am
    Red Wing Ignite 419 Bush Street Red Wing, MN 55066
  • Brainerd Tuesday, August 13 9:00-10:30 am
    Brainerd Lakes Area Development Corp. 224 West Washington Street Brainerd, MN 56401
  • Bemidji Wednesday, August 14 9:30-11:00 am
    Bemidji Launchpad 102 1st Street West Bemidji, MN 56601
  • Appleton Monday, August 19 1:00-2:30 pm
    Upper MN Valley Regional Dev. Commission Appleton Civic Center 323 West Schlieman Avenue Appleton, Minnesota 56208

Register online.

About ICF Benchmarking Each organization that completes the benchmarking process will be entered in ICF’s Intelligent Community of the Year competition and will receive an ICF benchmarking report that compares your scores in the six elements to the other 400-plus ICF applicants. ICF estimates 8 – 10 hours of work to complete the application, which combines data and storytelling.

The questionnaire is due September 23, 2019.

You can find the questionnaire and more information on the Intelligent Community Forum at

Blandin Foundation’s Community Broadband Resources Program Blandin Foundation has been using the Intelligent Community framework to help communities develop successful tech-based community projects that build local tech sophistication. A Minnesota delegation to the recent Intelligent Community Global Summit is inviting more Minnesota communities to join them in the Intelligent Community movement.

Blandin Foundation staff and consultants will assist rural Minnesota communities/regions by facilitating a stakeholder team discussion about how to present your best stories and offer draft application review. That assistance is available by completing the brief Community Broadband Resources form.

Blandin on Broadband eNews: Minnesota Monthly Recap (July 2019): New County Maps are Out

Oct 8-10 – MN Fall BB Conference – Innovation: Putting Broadband to Work
This three-day conference at the beautiful Grand View Lodge in Nisswa, MN will offer learning and engagement on many aspects of the challenges and benefits of broadband access and use, from “Pursuing Broadband 101,” to digital inclusion tools and strategies for diverse audiences. Registration opens soon.

New MN county broadband maps are out
The Office of Broadband Development unveils the latest Broadband County Maps. Check them out to see how your county ranks for access to 25 Mbps down and 3 up or 100/20

MN with better broadband speeds that other Midwest States
Roberto Gallardo (Purdue University) looks at Midwest urban and rural access to broadband speeds. Minnesota does best with equitably access to the highest speeds measured (Gig).

Interactive broadband map of MN based on speed tests
NEO Partners unveils an interactive map created from speed tests It highlights served (faster than 25 Mbps download) and unserved (slower than 25 Mbps) areas.

MN Contingency heads to NYC
Blandin Foundation takes a contingency to the Intelligent Community Forum Global Summit where community members learned from award-winning smart communities. Having broadband is only one ingredient to success, now Minnesotans are armed and inspired to create more ingredients.

On the Minnesota policy front…

And national policy front…

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

Cannon Falls
Blandin Foundation Strut Your Stuff Tour in Cannon Falls highlights use of technology to build a food brand and more

Fargo (ND)
It could be up to five years before customers in smaller cities like Fargo and Bismarck can expect to see 5G

Grand Rapids
Paul Bunyan Communications announces construction of new customer service and technology center in Grand Rapids

International Falls
International Falls Journal says broadband touches us all

Kandiyohi County
Kandiyohi County moves forward with broadband engineering study

Little Falls
Growth & Justice unveils latest chapter (economic development) of their Blueprint in Little Falls

Northeastern MN
Technology makes it easier for seniors to stay at home in Northeastern MN

Renville & Sibley Counties
RS Fiber and HBC form long-term agreement and plan expansions

Rock County
Blandin Foundation Strut Your Stuff Tour in Rock County highlights hotspots in libraries, buses and camping sites as well as programming

St Louis County
There was a meeting in St Louis County to talk about partnership and preparing for MN broadband grants. Local media look at it as an opportunity to get ready for better broadband

“I need better internet period!” says local business in St Louis County

Local business needs better broadband to grow in St Louis County

Fiber to the farm means food to the people in St Louis County

Stearns County
Stearns County recognizes the one-two-three public punch at broadband expansion

Swift County
Blandin Foundation Strut Your Stuff Tour in Swift County highlights hybrid welding classes, 4H app, STEM for kids and more


Upcoming Events and Opportunities

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Decisions are not getting any easier for community leaders working on broadband.  The pressure to do something is increasing as the impact of being un- or underserved mount, yet new wireless technologies are providing more strategy options.

Consider just these two alternatives from the many out there for consideration:

  1. A cooperative telephone company operating nearby offers to partner on a fiber to the home project that will provide gigabit service to everyone in the area. The project will require relatively large grants from both the state broadband program and from the county.
  2. A wireless company offers to partner with the county to offer services in the rural countryside that will offer 100 Mb/20 Mb service to 80% of rural residents. Implementation of the project will require a moderate sized state grant, but no county contribution.

These two simple examples require local leaders to make judgments that they may feel unqualified to make, considering the following questions:

  • Fiber can deliver gigabit speeds both up and down and more. Wireless can now meet the 2026 state goal.  Will wireless meet the needs of farms, resorts, students and tele-workers far into the future?  What else could our county do with those local grant funds?  Would fiber provide a long-term strategic advantage for our area?
  • Will state grant makers grant our county the necessary large grant to make our project feasible or will they pass us by for solutions that serve more people at lower cost? Conversely, will state funders favor more high-capacity, future-resilient technologies?
  • What about the 20% of rural households that would not be served with the wireless solution?
  • If we only have an opportunity for one state grant, what is it that we really want long-term for our citizens?

Reaching a consensus on these questions will drive each community’s unique broadband solution.   “Go slow to go fast” is wise advice that apparently goes back Rome’s Augustus.  I suggest that you take that advice as you consider your options.

EVENT ALERT: June 25 – What’s happening with Broadband in St Louis County?

I will be there and hope to livestream!

Learn about current broadband initiatives and available resources for broadband development in St Louis County.

Poor broadband services hurt quality of life, hinder economic developemnt and lower property values. Do not let your community or township be left behind! Local leadership matters!

June 25
1-3:30 pm
Mountain Iron Community Center



St Louis County/Blandin Overview

IRRR/St Louis County/Blandin Foundation Broadband Partnership

Update on Area Broadband Feasibility Studies

Provider Partnership Strategies

Broadband funding Resources

Prospective broadband project updates

Refreshments, informal discussion and networking