Making the Case for Public Broadband Investment at the Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities conference

Yesterday Bernadine Joselyn and I presented at the Connecting Entrepreneurial Communities conference about how to convince community members to invest in broadband. We gave a similar presentation at the Fall Broadband conference but the timing seems even better now as communities are working to provide public support to match provider investment in MN broadband grant applications. 

We helped people recognize that a household with broadband sees an economic benefits of $1,850 – which helps a household decide that $20/month or $100/year investment via tax is a good investment.

We were also able to listen to the keynote Amanda Brinkeman, host of Deluxe’s hit HULU series Small Business Revolution. She spoke about the importance of sharing stories to life local businesses – especially using social media. 

That message was reinforced in the second presentation – Growing Entrepreneurial Communities by Pam Bishop and Chris Schad. The comment I really enjoyed from the session was “everyone has a side hustle” and the recognition that with broadband we can turn that sideline into a business. 

Blandin on Broadband News: Sep 2019: Broadband conference one month away

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 

Intelligent Community Forum Applications
The Blandin Foundation held regional meetings to encourage communities to apply to become Intelligent Communities. ICF publishes research based on the data provided by communities like yours around the world. The goal is to provide cities, towns and regions of all sizes with evidence-based guidance on achieving economic, social and cultural growth in the challenging digital age. Learn more to consider your community’s options.

Minnesota policy front…

And national policy front…

Vendor News

Local Broadband News

Minnesota (Statewide)
Minnesota Broadband Grants by County and Tribal Area

Minnesota ranks 17th on international prosperity chart

Beltrami County is getting attention for having awesome broadband

East (Iron) Range
East Range Communities of Aurora, Biwabik, Hoyt Lakes and Town of White talk about their broadband adoption projects

Franconia is working on getting better broadband with an impressive community input proposal

Freeborn County
Freeborn County receives almost $2 million in FCC funding

Houston County approve $75,000 revolving loan for Border to Border grant application

Iron Range
Laurentian Chamber Strut Your Strut Tour: working on access building a taste for innovation

Iron Range Tourism struts their broadband stuff: putting local art on the map and more

Koochiching County
Paul Bunyan is applying for MN grant to better serve Koochiching County

Koochiching Tech Initiative talks about their broadband adoption, such as a cool new coworking space and more

Le Sueur County
Le Sueur County helps Bevcomm prepare for MN broadband grant application

Maple Grove
Telehealth is a great option for kids in college

Mower County
Mower County votes on supporting rural broadband project

Stearns County
Stearns County receives FCC funding

Tower talks about broadband adoption projects, including feasibility study, projects in the schools and more

Twin Cities
Telehealth and regular face-to-face visits bring orthopedic care from the Twin Cities to Nebraska kids

Yellow Medicine County
Yellow Medicine County receives FCC funding

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

Minnesota’s communities are full of great citizen volunteers working to improve both broadband access and use as an essential component of community vitality.  In every community that I visit, there is one or more volunteers putting in hundreds of hours for the betterment of their community. Through their efforts, schools and community centers become more active technology centers, broadband demand surveys are collected via online, mail and door-to-door surveys and elected officials learn that broadband investment is smart investment.

I doubt that many local folks know the depth of commitment and level of effort required to move these broadband projects forward.  While many of these folks do not have an official title, I think that they are heroes!  You have my admiration!

Iron Range Tourism struts their broadband stuff: putting local art on the map and more

We made our last Strut Your Stuff visit today with the Iron Range Tourism. It was fun to hear about their projects.

Artist database/map
Creating a map of local artists. It’s given a broader range of artists attention. The State Arts Board has been working on something similar. So we might be a pilot. One difficulty has been defining a location for the artists. Often the artist would prefer to list a location where their art is available, not their home where they may work.

They are using MailChimp and could send out annual emails to update any info. It would be nice to create a color coded map (different colors for types of art) but with a Google map that’s difficult when people don’t have exact addresses. They are also trying to make it mobile-friendly. There is an opportunity to showcase and get more info at a statewide artist summit.

Also working on tablets and kiosks. They are working on making the arts site the homepage.

Digital Marketing
Trying to get in with folks who don’t traditionally focus on marketing – folks who provide services. We help them claim their Google Location. We also have funds to have small sessions in each member community – especially in how to lift each other up as a community via tagging and shared hash tags.

We will be able to get into each community – starting with restaurants. That’s a good hook to spread the word. We’ll get focused this fall, during a slower season.

Internet Access Assessment
We haven’t been able to meet this summer. We are going to try to track access in campgrounds and other areas. But summer is their busiest time so we decided maybe a phone survey in the fall would be a better time to gather info. It might be nice to have someone do a speed test too – although experience would be dependent on number of guests.

Doing a survey would be a nice way to figure out what people need on a slow day versus a busy day. And you might create a list of the best places to stay if access is a priority.

Talent Attraction Microsite
They have a plan and ideas on what we want. They are working with three groups to define their needs: Chambers, businesses and potential workers. The Tourism Board is also getting a new website so there’s an opportunity to make sure that they complement each other.

Maybe there’s an opportunity to match this with the interview station they are working on with the Laurentian Chamber.

Virtual Reality Mine Tour
Might not be done until next year – but it’s going.

Local Pride
A way to get local people more enthusiastic about where they live. A social media initiative to change the narrative. It might be nice to get local editors to feature arts and culture once a week.

Koochiching Tech Initiative Struts their broadband projects: cool new coworking space and more

Yesterday we met with the Koochiching Tech Initiative folks in International Fall about their broadband projects. We started with a tour of the emerging coworking space. It’s the old furniture store and the owner is transitioning it into a working space. They have space for daily visitors and more permanent rentals. The space is really nice. You can see a quick video of the space:

Getting Better Broadband

Working on a Mn Broadband grant. Getting letters of support from various people. Hoping to work with Paul Bunyan. They are working with the plan that started last year at the Broadband Conference. If the grant gets funded (as we originally planned) it would have met the need of about 50 percent of the households in our community; but with the lake area removed, we’re probably down to 35 percent.

They will also share data from recent market surveys with other providers to see if we can’t entice other providers to reach areas that don’t make sense for Paul Bunyan. If they need to, they will look at fixed wireless. They are looking at fixed wireless across the lake, because of the inherent cost of running fiber. Average cost to get FTTH in the area is $6500 per home. It would be much more across the lake.

The survey was successful. The folks here had some very optimistic expectations – but the good news is that Paul Bunyan is more realistic and were happy with the results.

A next phase might be looking into wireless options.

Marketing the Area

The biggest frustration has been the community video project, which didn’t really gel with what we needed. They are looking at other approaches for a web portal and maybe branding. Trying to move away from Icebox of the Nation.

They’re looking at a request from a group that will call back to people who have been here before. They have found that often people come for a job and just loved it. And for folks who are close to retiring, the cost of a house has been a draw.

Smokey Bear wifi

They are putting public wifi in the Smokey Bear park. It got done in time for a big event and it met the needs of the event. SO that was a success. The connection comes from the library (via MidCo).

They have put wifi into a space for temporary housing. That will be built soon.


The library has provided access to Linda training. (Which has actually been renamed.) They have a wide range of services that are now accessible and we are working on better marketing the services that are available. They have created a recording studio for podcasts or musicians. (They got funding from a different source.)  That just opened the other day and already a podcast has broadcast!

They are digitizing the collection. (Not funded through broadband.)

KCTV lends out cameras

They will get equipment so that they can do “i-reports” for citizen journalism. Folks just need to take the class and then they can use the camera and broadcast. One example, the FACS teacher will be using it. They are also looking at livestreaming sporting events – especially hockey.

They post everything on YouTube, which people do watch later – from local cultural events to public policy meetings.

PCs for People

The 50 computers are slated to be distributed and a date has been set.


One of the issues has been getting volunteers to do everything. They are looking at options to hire someone. There’s just too much work to expect someone to be able to do it for free. One approach might be to use grant funding to pay for project management or support by project. The only concern would be sustainability. They have had support from the city in terms of promoting and sharing info but they don’t fund a lot.

Our survivor isn’t a large company swooping in to save us – it’s local entrepreneurship!

There is money left for a second round of funding.

Tower struts broadband stuff: feasibility study, projects in the schools and more

Yesterday, we met with folks from Tower to talk about broadband projects in the area.

Here’s a shortlist of what’s happening:

In the schools
Their first focus was education. In the grade school we have a mobile computer lab with 16 ipads. They also use it for community education.

At the country (charter) school – they’re working on 3 smartboards.  And they are working on a computer lab using 12 computers from PCs for People. They’ll be using it so high school seniors can work with seniors to increase digital skills. And we’re looking at bringing fiber into the school – a new provider will try to get Frontier’s portion of the fiber. They are also looking on VR googles for virtual field trips.

There’s a new Administrator at the charter school and that will really help lift awareness. We might even be able to get into some remote music classes.

People are losing their phone lines (they are broken) for weeks at a time and Frontier has still not been fixed. We are waiting for better broadband and better phones.

Everyone is excited to move away from Frontier.

Feasibility Study
They have made progress. It sounds like it’s a family affair with one family taking charge to make things happen. We’ve been trying to get townships to help fund a study. Our goal is $75,000 and we’re getting closer. The results will be there for everyone but it would be nice to get a wider base for information – especially when it comes to encouraging people to take the market survey.

Public Wifi
We will have wifi for the Depot and the Farmers Market. This means people can use Square-type e-commerce payment tools. They are also putting hotspots into the campground – very soon.

PCs for People
We have 12 people ready for computers. We put up a poster at the food shelf and that was an effective way to get the message out. And kids want them for school. Adults are now able to take online classes. Word of mouth has been one of the strongest marketing tools.

Soudan Township – public access
Public kiosk for computer and internet access in the new townhall.

Website for Tower
Working on an upgrade for the community. The old Content Management System is no longer distributed. So we need a better solution.

Future programs
It would be nice to get kids teaching digital skills – many even from different communities.

Laurentian Chamber Strut Your Strut Tour: working on access building a taste for innovation

Yesterday we met with the Laurentian Chamber of Commerce to talk about their broadband projects. This group represents the cities of Eveleth, Gilbert, Mountain Iron, Virginia and surrounding northern Minnesota business communities. They came up with a scoring system to make sure that communities understood expectation of grant applications. We had some questions about some applications but the project funding has gone through.

To generate proposals, they visited with all communities and talked to them about the opportunity. We sent out a request form. We set a deadline and were pleased with responses. Here are some of the projects and project ideas:

  • There’s a charter school that’s working on a tech program. Many at risk students are there so we’re trying to work on improved broadband access for the students and families.
  • We want everyone to contribute to the feasibility study and we have raised most of it. We need only $1500 more. We have two communities that have yet to contribute.
  • We’re working on a Small Business Saturday app – that will be a tool that they can use beyond the launch day.
  • Right now the education-based grants are more for equipment and access than curriculum. They are hoping for more curriculum focused grants in the next round. This has opened the door to greater collaboration in several areas. A new school is opening in 3-5 years.
  • There might be a fun project working with the Humane Society
  • Working on public wifi access – there is limited to no public access now.
  • Could look at collaboration through centralizing management of multiple public access locations
  • Providing wifi in outdoor spaces is more difficult than you might think. You need someone to own it.
  • They are looking info emergency stations off the bike trails
  • There are some projects with the workforce centers. They are going to build a remote location for interviews. (So Delta or BCBS could interview candidates remotely.)
  • PCs for People – they will provide transportation to folks who need computers
  • Chamber will do tech updates – mostly improving the conference room with improved laptops, projector, phone system. They started with a tech audit.
  • Doing technology and digital marketing project so businesses can improve their sales. We hope to work with 15 businesses in the first round. They will promote through the Chamber.
  • We’re starting to look at a coworking space.
  • A TEDx event is still on the wish list

It’s important to make sure that the people who are charged with doing the project, really want to do it. And we know that once the projects hit the ground that will build a greater interest.

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.