Sneak preview of today’s webinar: Breaking broadband barriers with affordable computers and connectivity

This afternoon (at 3:00), Blandin will be hosting their monthly free webinar. This month’s topic is a continuation of the Digital Inclusion series – Breaking broadband barriers with affordable computers and connectivity. I’m going to start off the session talking about the need for affordable computers and broadband connections. Then we’re hear from folks in the field:

I think it will be an interesting discussion. Please feel free to join us – just register here!

If you want a sneak preview – here are the slides I plan to use:

Blandin Webinar Aug 10: Breaking broadband barriers with affordable computers and connectivity

As part of the “Leave no one unconnected” series, August’s webinar will focus on options for low income households. Research shows that 13 percent of Americans do not use the Internet. Cost isn’t the only barrier, but it’s a big one. We’ll talk about who isn’t online, why they aren’t and why that matters. Then we’ll look at some solutions that are working to get computers and reduced rate broadband subscriptions in the hands of those who need it.

Speakers include:

Ann Treacy main author of the Blandin on Broadband blog, tracking broadband progress and policy in rural Minnesota.

Sam Drong from PCs for People with a goal to distributing 12,000 computers to people who need them in 2017. Service area includes all of Minnesota and beyond!

Anna Boroff from MNCCA (Minnesota Cable Communications Association) with members who have deployed programs to provide affordable broadband to low income customers.

When: Aug 10, 2017 03:00 PM
(Register here!)

Local media covers Chisholm’s Broadband Strut your Stuff Tour

Last week I wrote about our fun bus tour of Chisolm to visit their Blandin-funded broadband-related project. This week the Hibbing Daily Tribune  posted an article on the tour. It’s great to see the tour getting attention in a local media, which will help local residents learn about what’s happening with broadband in the community…

Chisholm City Administrator Katie Bobich and Tom Whiteside, a representative from Rep. Rick Nolan’s office, were tour guides. The two also engaged tour participants in a round of trivia on broadband.

They wrote about projects funded by Blandin…

A $75,000 matching grant awarded to the Chisholm Development Economic Development Authority (EDA) by the Blandin Foundation was used to cover the cost of a feasibility study of the project area. That area includes: Chisholm, Balkan Township, Hibbing, French Township, Cherry Township, Mountain Iron, Buhl, Kinney and Great Scott Township.

A $31,500 grant from the Blandin Foundation along with a $10,500 match from the Chisholm Community Foundation was used to cover projects being implemented this spring.

The school bus used for the tour was one example of these grant dollars at work. It’s one of two in the Chisholm School District’s fleet that are now equipped with WiFi, accessible for students to do their homework.

At a school board meeting this spring, Chisholm High School Principal Rich Aldrich talked about the benefit of having WiFi available to students traveling for sports or other school events. One of the buses equipped with the WiFi, it was noted on the tour, hauls students from a lengthy rural route.

A portion of the funds awarded this spring will also be used to build a common web portal for the chamber, school and city, and to update the current website of each of these three entities. …

In effort to bridge the gap and make high speed internet more readily available, grant monies received this spring will be used to create community hot spots at the Chisholm Public Library, Balkan Community Center and at the pocket park being constructed on Lake Street in Chisholm. The library will also be starting up a hot spot checkout program, where patrons may check out a hot spot for a specified period of time.

They also took a look at future projects…

The Blandin Broadband Committee is also looking ahead, identifying potential projects. They are seeking $43,500 from the Blandin Foundation to be paired with $14,500 from other sources, said Rice.

Some of the ideas being considered for fall, should they be awarded these funds, include adding a strong WiFi connection at Minnesota Discovery Center and adding a hot spot at Kiwanis Park. An e-training session for businesses and technology training for community members is also being considered.

Another idea being proposed is a technology center launch pad.

Mayor Todd Scaia on Thursday suggested exploring the possibility of getting a designated testing site, should the technology center come to fruition. Scaia and others on the bus tour talked about the distances professionals and students now travel for testing.

Bobich also talked about creating a Skype booth. This concept would involve a London style phone booth from which patrons could Skype without their conversations disrupting other patrons.

36 rural Minnesota communities with concerted broadband adoption efforts – thanks to Blandin Foundation

I realized there wasn’t a good list of Blandin Broadband Communities; communities that have received support from Blandin to increase broadband adoption. Support means funding but it also means help getting a group of community leaders together to create and deploy plans that strategically address broadband adoption, broadband access and digital inclusion. Below is an alphabetical list of communities with links to more info – generally blog posts on their progress:

  1. Aitkin County
  2. Benton County
  3. Carlton County
  4. Central Woodlands
  5. Chisago County
  6. Chisholm
  7. Cook County
  8. Ely
  9. Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  10. Grizzlies
  11. Hibbing
  12. Itasca County
  13. Itasca County
  14. Kanabec Broadband Initiative
  15. Kandiyohi County
  16. Lac qui Parle Valley Schools
  17. Lake County
  18. Lake of the Woods County
  19. Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
  20. Martin County
  21. Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe
  22. Mille Lacs County
  23. Mt. Iron-Buhl (meeting soon will add link after)
  24. Nobles County
  25. Red Wing
  26. Redwood County
  27. Resilient Region
  28. RS Fiber
  29. Sherburne County
  30. Southwest Minnesota Broadband Services
  31. Stevens County
  32. Thief River Falls
  33. Upper Minnesota Valley RDC
  34. Windom
  35. Winona
  36. Worthington

You can also check out a matrix of specific broadband adoption projects from the 2013-2014 cohort and 2015-2016 cohort.

Blandin Broadband eNews Aug 2017: Broadband grant update and upcoming confernece

A recap of news from July…

2017 Border to Border Broadband Conference
Mark your calendar for the fall broadband conference October 25-26 at Madden’s in Gull Lake. Get a sneak peek from a keynote speaker

Determining Community ROI of Broadband Network
Blandin Foundation is working to try to determine the community ROI for better broadband. Have you saved or earned more money with your broadband connection? Please tell your story.

Minnesotans Getting Nods for Broadband Work
Danna MacKenzie receives the 2017 Community Broadband Hero of the Year Award from the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Administrators. Paul Bunyan CEO Paul Johnson’s TEDx talk on rural broadband is getting watched. And Minnesota is held up as an example of good broadband policy to other states.

MN Task Force July meeting focuses on Telehealth
MN Broadband Task Force met at the new Essentia Hospital in Sandstone. They learned about the benefits of telehealth and impact of a hospital that is updated and has a good broadband connection. (SDN posted notes on their presentation to the July Task Force meeting.

Minnesota Broadband Provider News
TDS expands service in Minnesota using federal funds. Speeds for expansion range from 25Mbps down and 3 Mbps up (25/3) to 4/1. Minnesota attorney general sues CenturyLink over billing issues. MVTV Wireless is offering faster speeds with their fixed wireless connections.

Federal Broadband Action and National News

Local Broadband News

Strut Your Stuff Tour visits in Aitkin County to learn about tech community centers, wifi hotspots, community portal and other projects supported with Blandin Foundation grants

Bois Forte/Cook/Orr
Strut Your Stuff Tour visits the “Grizzlies” community in Orr to learn about digital inclusion training, tech equipment, wifi for checkout and other projects supported with Blandin Foundation grants

Strut Your Stuff Broadband Tour visits Ely to learn about community portal, feasibility study, distributing computers to low income households and other projects supported with Blandin Foundation grants

Strut Your Stuff Broadband Tour visits Chisholm MN to learn about community wifi hotspots, feasibility study, hotspots to check out and other projects supported with Blandin Foundation grants

Fillmore County
Fillmore County creates a Broadband Development Fund

Strut Your Stuff Broadband Tour visits Hibbing to learn about e-business training, wifi hotspots, feasibility study and other projects supported with Blandin Foundation grants

Kandiyohi County
Broadband project in Kandiyohi County in precarious position

Kandiyohi County residents are putting their hands up for fiber

Rep Dave Baker implores Kandiyohi County residents to sign up for broadband

Friday (Jul 21) is the deadline for Kandiyohi County community network resident buy-in

Lake County
Blandin recognizes Lake County’s courage to expand broadband

How do we define success of a community network? Is Lake County a model or cautionary tale?

Nobles County
Nobles County broadband project breaks ground

Local reporters need broadband to get the story uploaded

Pope County
Pope County gets results of broadband feasibility study including fiber wireless hybrid option

Pope County wants to grow and broadband is part of the equation

Kids are learning to code through a Project FINE program in Winona

Upcoming Events & Opportunities

Looking for more events? Check out TechDotMN’s calendar Many events are based in the Twin Cities but it is a comprehensive list. (If you have an upcoming event, consider submitting it.)

Stirring the Pot

A short time ago, I heard Andrew Cohill of Design Nine ( describe the “broadband crisis” faced by communities poorly served with broadband.  The intensity of the truth in that statement is illuminated as I listen to rural residents describe their daily broadband challenges caused by some variable combination of availability, price, reliability, data caps and other service limitations.  Rural people of all ages, incomes and education levels are increasingly stymied as they try to live complete lives.

Many communities have high hopes on their in-process applications to the Border-to-Border Grant Program.  We will soon know how many grant applicants will be chasing the available $20 million, most likely totaling many times more requests than dollars. While some communities with established provider partners have only to assemble the details of the application by September 30, other communities face the difficult task of securing a provider to be a real community partner.  An application without an identified provider partner will not go far; taking all of the legal steps to become a public sector provider is even more daunting legal and political process.

As difficult as it is to find a partner, a community should still be very careful!  I would want a provider partner that was committed to deploying technology that is affordably, not just technically, scalable to achieve the 2026 state broadband goal and beyond.  I would want a commitment to achieve ubiquity in the project area and not leave some residents permanently un- or underserved.  Finally, I would want a partner that I could trust to provide their best efforts without having to reach into the file to confirm and enforce legal agreements on a regular basis.

Good luck to all in the pursuit of better broadband!  The future of your community is at stake.

Learn to Code – a kids program in Winona working through Project FINE

I’m delighted to share details on an initiative from Project FINE and supported by the Blandin Foundation. It’s a great sample of what you can do with a kids coding class, if you have a college nearby…

Learn To Code program activities began in August 2016 with the summer camp.  In our grant proposal, we planned to host two camps: one in Winona and one in St. Charles.  During the camp planning phase, we worked closely with the College of Business at Winona State University and they generously allowed us to access technology and space on-campus to host a combined camp for youth from Winona & St. Charles.  This was a great benefit for the students, because we had a wonderful technology setup, with laptops, ipads, dual monitors for instruction and plenty of classroom space.  It also gave the youth a chance to visit the Winona State University campus and become familiar with a college classroom setting.

We were fortunate to have a local instructor to teach coding to youth at the summer camp.   He works in the technical support field and had previously taught coding classes for a local charter school.  Our camp sessions were held over 2 weeks from 4-8pm each weekday.  We originally planned to host the camp for 2 hours each day, but our instructor suggested we expand the camp time to allow the kids more hands-on experience, and the timeframe worked out very well.  16 youth participated in the camp, and they learned basic coding principles and how to use XCode to modify existing apps for games.  They worked together to modify and develop games and learned how to use a test mode to simulate the app use on a computer.  They also learned how to access their apps on an ipad, check for bugs, identify coding errors and make simple adjustments.

Following the coding camp, after-school sessions were held in both Winona and St. Charles during the 2016-17 school year.  Based on our experience with the app camp, we chose to host the Winona sessions in the fall of the year and the St. Charles sessions in the spring.  This allowed our volunteers and staff to focus on assisting one group at a time and gave more continuity for the youth.  50 students participated in the after-school sessions and they each learned to create multiple apps.  During the summer camp, we gained a greater understanding of the difficulty of creating apps or games and the challenges of writing code.  For the after-school programming, we decided to use a simpler block method of coding and used “Scratch” curriculum and activities developed by MIT.  This was a good choice, as the after-school sessions were shorter and less intense than the camp and the simpler coding format allowed youth to jump right in and begin creating code.

Throughout the after-school sessions, we had a group of 10 volunteers who served as mentors for the youth. They were a wonderful addition to the program, allowing for more individual assistance for youth and providing technical knowledge that was beyond our staff capacity.  The majority of the volunteers were college students studying in technology- or computer-related fields, and a few were young professionals already working in a career in technology.

One of our additional goals for the project was to provide information about STEM-related careers and increase interest through visits to tech companies or educational institutions.  The volunteers helped with this goal throughout the project, serving as role models for the youth and sharing their educational and work experiences.  We also toured the Winona State University campus during the summer camp and visited Minnesota State College Southeast in April 2017.  At Minnesota State College Southeast, the Dean of Trade and Technology gave the youth a tour of their various technology classrooms and lab spaces and shared the many technology-related opportunities they offer.  We also visited Benchmark Electronics, which is an international electronics company that engineers and manufactures a wide variety of technology products that are used in health care, manufacturing, transportation and other areas.  The youth learned about some of the products they design and manufacture, and saw various stages of production from concept drawings to computer boards to assembly and completed parts.  It was a great tie-in to our Minnesota State College Southeast visit, as our tour guide was an alumnus who has worked at the company for many years and now holds an upper-level management position.  The youth were very surprised to learn about all the different products, the type of coding and technology used to created them, and the many technology career options in the Winona area.