Hibbing broadband expansion plan: hotspots, social media and tech fair

According to the Hibbing Daily Tribune

The local Blandin Broadband Cohort tasked with developing ways to improve and advance high-speed internet access and the skills to use it has identified its top three priorities, and Blandin Foundation has stepped in to help make it happen.

Blandin Foundation announced Monday that it has awarded 11 grants totaling $483,090 to assist rural Minnesota communities.

Hibbing — which is largely unserved by broadband access of 25 megabits per second upload and 3 megabits per second download — is a recipient of these grant funds.

Grant funding from this round will drive three specific projects forward. They include:

  • Public hot spots: wi-fi hotspots will be placed in public locations and available for checkout through the public library.

  • Website and social media consulting: small businesses will be invited to compete for training to grow their revenues and brand awareness through online strategies.

  • IT knowledge and career fair: Hibbing Community College will host an IT Fair that will focus on the many ways IT interfaces with everyday life, what career options exist, and the education pathways to get to those careers.

Blandin Digital Inclusion Summer Webinar Series – “Leave no one unconnected”

This summer the Blandin Foundation is focusing their monthly webinars on Digital Inclusion and highlighting some of the great speakers and content from the National Net Inclusion conference held in St Paul in May.

Webinar dates:

  • July 11 – Digital Inclusion Basics
  • August 10 – Low Income Devices and Connectivity
  • September 14 – Assessment tools and training

All webinars are from 3:00 till 4 pm.


According to the Net Inclusion conference hosts (the National Digital Inclusion Alliance – NDIA), “digital inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies.  This includes five elements:

  1. affordable, robust broadband Internet service;
  2.  Internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user;
  3. access to digital literacy training;
  4. quality tech support; and
  5. applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration.

Upcoming sessions

The July webinar is entitled “Digital Inclusion Basics” will feature three nationally known digital inclusion experts.  Angela Siefer is the director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.  She has hands-on experience with many digital inclusion projects and has done significant research in this topic area.  Emy Tseng is a senior program specialist with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and worked previously with the City of San Francisco.  Emy recently was recognized for her excellent work at the NDIA conference with the prestigious Charles Benton award.  Ann Treacy is a key member of the Blandin Broadband team and has tremendous experience both researching and providing hands-on training for technology learners at all levels.  (Register here!)

The August webinar will focus specifically on programs that provide devices and low-cost Internet to low-income families.

September will focus on assessment tools and training.

Please put these on your calendar.  They will be very informative events!

Community calendar catches on in Fairmont

I always enjoy highlighting BBC (Blandin Broadband Communities) projects. It’s fun to hear how folks are using broadband. Some porjects are entirely unique and some really catch fire. Knowing that, I was intersted in hear that Fairmount was really happy with their online community calendar.

Community Calendars are hard. They require constant updating. In theory, it’s great to get folks to add in their own events. In practice that great idea doesn’t always catch on. Fairmont’s calendar has caught on.

I think they had two secret ingredients: they worked hard to get people engaged and invested AND they found a calendar system that works for them.

I asked Margaret Dillard at the Chamber how they got peoeple to use and update the calendar. She said…

It is gaining the reputation of being a one-stop online presence for events here. Previously, the chamber was responsible for attempting to keep track of events, happenings and entertainment throughout Martin County, so our strength comes from working with multiple government entities and other organizations. In addition, we utilized billboards, newspaper, radio, CER catalog, chamber and city social media and publications and email campaigns.

Next I asked about the calender software. It seems they were able to grow a community calendar from the online school calendar. And better yet – the school calendar comes from a Minnesota company. I contacted Ray Drestke, CEO of the company for more info. I’m going to include most of what he said because – having worked on community calendar projects myself, I know that folks who are looking into this will appreciate the details. (And the rest  of you can save this until you might need it.)

We are based in Winona, MN and are a 24 yr old company that has a suite of 16 web software programs and 5 mobile apps that serves the K-12 and College market.  We currently serve over 5,000 school organizations in 44 states. (www.rschooltoday.com)


The calendar behind the Fairmont project is the Community Calendar version of our popular Activity Scheduler.  Activity Scheduler is a school calendar and Athletics Management System used by over 5,000 schools for the last 16 years.


With the Community Calendar, we set out to solve 3 problems that every community has:


1) Some say “there’s nothing to do around here.”


2) Community and Event Planners say. “Argh, if i had known these other 2 events were happening that weekend, I would have scheduled ours for a different weekend.”


3) Some say, “I would love to have gone to this event if i had only known about it beforehand.”


Why solving this has traditionally been hard:

1) Most of the organizations in any town have web sites that have calendar events on them.  But it forces the community to go to so many sites to get a real picture of what’s happening.

2) Nobody has time to enter their events on multiple sites

3) Even if you could afford to hire someone to aggregate all the calendar data in a community and repost it to one calendar, things still slip through the cracks. Date/time/location changes are mostly missed, etc.

4) Nobody wants to use a shared calendar as their organization’s calendar.  They want a calendar that is 100% theirs.


Solution: So, with the rSchoolToday Community Calendar, the goal is no one has to rekey anything!  Every organization in your community that wants to participate (city/county government, chamber, CVB, churches, youth groups, Park/Rec, schools, service organizations, etc) can have their own low-cost rSchool calendar, and that becomes their Web site calendar. It is simple to use, powerful, 100% editable, includes a free mobile app, and can be branded to match each organization.


When data is entered into each organization’s calendar to show on their web site, those events automatically also write to the community calendar.   And, the schools are likely already using our calendar so their data will already be in the Community Calendar.


But…”I have spent so much creating a special look to the calendar events on our CVB page – I don’t want to lose that.”  No worries.  rSchool can feed calendar data into any other calendar that can accept a data feed. So, by using the rSchool calendar to enter the data, you have the best of both worlds.


Advertising?  You can choose for NO ads on the calendars. Or, you can use our Local Ad model and control the ads on your calendar.  you can feature all local businesses and charge whatever you want each month or year. This can make the Community Calendar a powerful revenue-generator for the community as well.


Buying Tickets online for events?  If you have a ticket program, you can link any ticket site to that event in the calendar to make things easy.  Don’t have a ticket app? We can provide one.


Social Media?  Your community can promote any calendar event to their social media sites.


Can I be selfish?  “I only care about restaurants, live music, art galleries and soccer.”  No prob. Select the things you care about, generate a personal calendar, and push it to your smart phone or tablet. Now any changes to those activities auto-update your smart device.


But I tend to forget….No worries, sign up for reminders and change notices for the activities you care about and receive email or text messages automatically.

Chisholm and Balkan Township get Blandin grants for wifi on buses, community portal, community hotspots

Hibbing Daily Tribune reports on recent Blandin broadband grant recipients…

Chisholm and Balkan Township are among the recipients. The two communities have been identified as being largely underserved by broadband access of 25 megabits per second upload and 3 megabits per second download, according to a press release.

The projects include:

• Wi-fi on buses: Chisholm School District will equip two school buses with wi-fi, especially for students on the longest routes, who live most remotely and participate in special activities, to complete homework.

• Community website/portal: Created to be the “go to” online hub for Chisholm, consisting of an interactive community calendar, links to community resources for residents, tourists and potential business developers.

• Hot spots: equipment will be placed at high-volume areas in the community currently lacking strong connectivity.

• iPad/Hotspot check out: equipment will be made available for checkout at the Chisholm Public Library for two-week installments.

The Chisholm Community Foundation (CCF) has awarded a matching grant to help bring these projects to fruition.

IRRRB Commissioner Mark Phillips said addressing broadband in unserved and underserved areas of northeastern Minnesota is a top priority for the region’s residents, businesses, schools and local units of government — especially in rural areas.

“We’re pleased that partnerships such as this between Blandin Foundation, St. Louis County and IRRRB are helping a half dozen communities move forward in implementing creative ideas to increase broadband use and to promote future development,” he stated in a release.

As a precursor to project grants, Chisholm and Balkan Township, in collaboration with Hibbing, Mountain Iron/Buhl and Cherry Township, launched an effort to assess the community’s current broadband access and use. This knowledge will inform current and future project development.

“Today’s rural leaders know that for their communities to reach their fullest potential, they need a strong Internet connection,” said Blandin Foundation President and CEO Dr. Kathleen Annette in the release. “We’re honored to stand with the City of Chisholm and Balkan Township as they pave the path to a broadband-enabled future.”

Refurbished computers are best when they are newer

Do you have a computer or two or more in your basement? Did you know that there are people who need computers and places that will refurbish your computers and distribute them to the people in need? (PCs for People!)

I was reminded to give this public service announcement in two ways. First it’s summer and I just gave my kids their to-do lists. Second I just got an update on the PCS for People distribution program in the Resilient Region. They successfully distributed computers to 110 families across 5 counties. But they had an observation on the need in the community for newer computers…

We are still seeing a lack of quality computers come through our donation cycles.  On the average about 20% of the donations we receive can be refurbished. Out of the 450 donations received in 2016 about 90 are computers we can work with.  This is a huge limitation for us and for the families we distribute to.  We firmly believe that poor people do not need poor computers. Cell phones have limited abilities but often are better option for those in poverty.  Our hope is that we have “collected” enough computers from basements and corporate storage rooms that waited for years for strong young bodies to haul them away for free and we can now access quality to share with the families we serve.

As of December Microsoft no longer supports Windows 7 and we spent time with new systems and now install Microsoft Windows 10.  Many of our refurbished computers are now out of date and too old for current updates.  As we grow the project we now must be more specific regarding our donation policy.  Additionally, we have begun to ask for a free will donation to help offset the recycling fee we now need to pay to certified recyclers.

Systematically they may have some plans in the works – but from the outside I think what we potential donors can do – don’t put off to tomorrow the computer donation someone can use today.

It may be worth noting if you are in or around the Resilient Region – they have Windows 7 computers available for sale. These desktops work well and would be a great addition to families – $10 to $20 to eligible low income families or individuals.

Blandin Broadband eNews June 2017: Digital Inclusion notes and upcoming broadband conference

A recap of news from May…

2017 Border to Border Broadband Conference
Mark your calendar for the fall broadband conference October 25-26 at Madden’s in Gull Lake. The theme this year is Bridging the Gaps – Expanding the Impact. http://wp.me/p3if7-48o

Rural Minnesota Needs Better Broadband
The Minneapolis Star Tribune highlights the need for rural broadband and the impact of federal and state funding. Federal funding is a possibility; communities are advised to be ready to apply if funding becomes available. Minnesota designates funding for broadband and $20 million in funding passed in the last legislature.  http://wp.me/p3if7-48q The Minnesota grants are envied by other states. http://wp.me/p3if7-481

Minnesota Broadband ranks 31, 27, 26, 28
The latest (Q1 2017) Akamai report is out on broadband speeds and adoption. http://wp.me/p3if7-48j

  • MN ranks 31 for percent of adoption at speeds above 10 Mbps
  • MN ranks 27 for percent of adoption at speeds above 15 Mbps
  • MN ranks 26 for percent of adoption at speeds above 25 Mbps
  • MN ranks 26 for average adoption speed at 17.6 Mbps
  • MN ranks 28 for peak adoption speed at 80.8 Mbps

Border to Border Broadband Grant opportunity opens July 3
Office of Broadband Development is soliciting proposals for Minnesota Border to Border Broadband Development Grants. The grant application period opens on July 3, 2017. The application deadline is September 11, 2017. http://wp.me/p3if7-48f

Minnesota Hosts National Net Inclusion Conference
Practitioners and academics came from across the country to talk about ways to improve access to affordable broadband, computers and training. It was a chance for Minnesota to show off how well we do it. http://wp.me/p3if7-47h Getting ready for the event, many of the speakers presented at the May Broadband Task Force meeting. http://wp.me/p3if7-46X

Legislative/Policy/FCC updates:

  • MN Legislatures designates $20 million for broadband grants http://wp.me/p3if7-47N
  • After being discussed earlier in the month http://wp.me/p3if7-47f, small cell wireless equipment collocation agreement is created http://wp.me/p3if7-47P
  • Baller Stokes & Lide release a help sheet for communities that may have to deal with changes to how public rights-of-way are handled in the near future due to federal policy http://wp.me/p3if7-477
  • FCC announces Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) working groups http://wp.me/p3if7-47H
  • Congressional Research Service provides a recap of Net Neutrality issues http://wp.me/p3if7-46k
  • Franken Slams FCC, calling vote to undo Net Neutrality “a major step toward destroying the Internet as we know it http://wp.me/p3if7-47s
  • The FCC has a list of counties where business data services are deemed competitive http://wp.me/p3if7-479
  • Federal Court in MN calls Charter’s VoIP an information service exempt from state regulation http://wp.me/p3if7-46U

Local Broadband News

Aitkin County gets Blandin grants for wifi, community website and high tech conference center http://wp.me/p3if7-47X

Paul Bunyan Communications is named 2017 Complete Marketing Campaign Award Winner http://wp.me/p3if7-483

Bemidji MN innovates and reinvents with focus on future and fiber http://wp.me/p3if7-47A

Insufficient Internet means no more therapy for autistic boy in Biwabik http://wp.me/p3if7-46N

Cook County
Student cheers broadband in Cook County and hopes the same for other MN kids http://wp.me/p3if7-47T

Koochiching County
Broadband is part of effort to bring Koochiching County “back from brink of demographic doom” http://wp.me/p3if7-47y

Moose Lake
Moose Lake School District deploys wifi on the buses – leaving bus drivers happy and students doing homework http://wp.me/p3if7-48h

Northern Minnesota
Mediacom upgrades to a Gig Northern Minnesota http://wp.me/p3if7-46v

Powderhorn Park (Mpls)
Much of Minneapolis is getting fiber to the home; Powderhorn Park isn’t. http://wp.me/p3if7-48m

Renville and Sibley Counties
RS Fiber Cooperative is recognized with Broadcast Communities Cornerstone Award http://wp.me/p3if7-47Z

RS Fiber starts broadband construction on final four cities: Brownton, Buffalo Lake, Fairfax and Stewart http://wp.me/p3if7-47w

Southwest Minnesota
SW Minnesota is using fiber to attract people to their communities http://wp.me/p3if7-46r

Upcoming Events & Opportunities

Looking for more events? Check out TechDotMN’s calendar http://tech.mn/events/. 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

Perspective drives terminology!

If our broadband world were as simple as telephone services used to be, we would have broadband to all people and places.  It would be relatively affordable.  It would be world-class in capacity and reliability.  That world was a regulated monopoly where business subsidized residential and urban subsidized rural.

But we now have a complicated playing field with a mix of providers and technologies, including public sector entities.  Differing perspectives and values can drive very different decisions on broadband investment and deployment.  In addition, the same strategy may have different names depending on who does it.  Depending on where you sit, a strategy may be considered “smart” or “indefensible”.

Two examples:

  • When public sector entities collaborate for better Internet access and pricing, they call it “demand aggregation.” A competitive private sector provider would be accused of “cherry picking.”
  • When providers invest only in the areas that have the best potential returns, their “good business planning” is defined as “redlining.” Note that the redlined areas might be urban low-income neighborhoods or entire rural counties or regions.

Public officials expect that their public broadband investments will be well scrutinized.  They outline clear goals and publish their business plan.  Private sector providers would do well to make their network planning and business justification models more transparent.  Public input into those plans, either advice or resources, would add significant value for the providers while helping the public entities meet their important broadband goals.

Aitkin County gets Blandin grants for wifi, community website and high tech conference center

The Aitkin Age reports on Aitkin County’s community broadband partnership with the Blandin Foundation, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) and St. Louis County. They have been working on plans and have recently received funding for a few specific projects…

Residents came together last winter for a visioning session to name their technology priorities and create project ideas to help meet those priorities. Grant funding from this round will drive those projects forward. They include the following:

Wi-Fi for Palisade and Hill City: wireless Internet hubs will be launched in each community to attract commercial growth, promote connectivity, enhance educational opportunities and allow caregivers and their families to expand their availability to resources/support.

Aitkin County landing page: this webpage will combine information from a number of different sources to be a one-stop destination for area events.

Conference centers in Aitkin, McGregor and Hill City: a conference suite will be created complete with a mobile computer bank, smart boards, technology information centers and Wi-Fi hotspots.

“It is exciting to see so many Aitkin County residents and organizations working together to get these projects funded,” said Ross Wagner, Aitkin County Economic Development and Forest Industry coordinator. “Creating more access to broadband and educational opportunities will benefit the entire county.”