Why is Blandin Foundation leading a Minnesota contingency to the Intelligent Community Forum Conference in NY?

The Blandin Foundation is leading a contingency of broadband-focused community leaders to the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) Global Conference in NY in June. Why? To learn and to teach!

We will go to learn from some of the top smart cities (counties, counties and towns) in the world. The ICF awards the “Intelligent Community” each year. These are communities that are ahead of their peers when it comes to having and using broadband to the point of creating innovation in work, school and play!

ICF has a framework for communities that the Blandin Foundation has adopted with the Blandin Broadband Communities. It focuses on 6 facets (pictured at the right) that help communities recognize their strengths and challenges and create a plan to use broadband/smart technology to highlight strengths and address challenges.

We are also going to talk to communities around the world about our work in rural areas. We suspect that there will be projects that will excite us coming from larger communities but that our communities might also serve as a model to smaller communities. We have worked with the ICF model for almost a decade now and we feel that we have some lessons worth sharing!

We are bringing representatives from:

Blandin Foundation Rural Pulse – how do Minnesotans feel? How can broadband help?

Every three years, the Blandin Foundation does a scan of how Minnesotans are feeling about the economy, their future and more. This year they surveyed 1,560 people the results are mixed based on where you are and who you are but here are some of the highlights. I’ve chosen one positive statistic from each area they cover in the latest Rural Pulse:

  • Economy
    The percentage (17%) of rural Minnesotans that saw a decrease in household income in the past year is the lowest it has been since 2010.
  • Optimism
    Confidence in community capabilities to address local issues has improved across the rural landscape, reaching an all-time high since 2010. Eighty-two percent of residents agree those in their community work together effectively to face local challenges, up nine percentage points from 2016 findings. Younger residents (ages 18 to 24) demonstrated the most optimism with 93 percent agreeing.
  • Quality of Life
    Rural Minnesotans rank job opportunities, provision of adequate healthcare, opioids and drug abuse, and economic development as the most critical issues facing their community. Urban Minnesotans say having adequate healthcare, jobs, affordable housing, controlling crime, and opioids and drug crises are their top concerns
  • Rural Voice
    Thirty-one percent of urban Minnesotans and 38 percent of rural Minnesotans feel metropolitan needs are more important to elected officials than those of rural communities.
  • Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
    Eighty two percent of rural Minnesotans are confident that members of their community are able to stand up to discrimination and hatred, should they see it occur.
  • Migration
    Down from previous years, only 14 percent of rural residents and 16 percent of urban residents do not expect to live in their current community five years from now.
  • Leadership
    Of the rural Minnesotans who have not yet served in a leadership role, half (51%) would consider doing so if asked. Younger residents (ages 18 to 24) would be the most likely to consider this opportunity should it present itself, with seven out of 10 indicating such.

There’s a lot to be positive about. I’ve selected only one negative statistic that I think exemplifies the findings:

  • Economy
    The majority of rural residents with an annual income under $100,000 report their household income remained the same within the past year –or decreased, while those with higher incomes are more likely to have experienced an increase.

There remains a disconnect between rural and urban, men and women, ages and income levels. My question of course is how can an investment in broadband help to level the playingfield of opportunity, provide easier ways for residents to engage with their community especially to meet new people and help addresses issues such as mental health and drug addition?

Blandin Broadband eNews: Broadband activity throughout Minnesota Monthly Recap

Minnesota using Broadband to Help Opioid Crisis
The MN Department of Health’s Opioid Prevention Pilot Project reduces patient pill use while increasing both the numbers of Minnesotans getting treatment and the rural providers able to provide that care through telehealth networks. There’s a plan to extend the program. https://wp.me/p3if7-502

Survey shows that digital technology can help rural businesses
Amazon surveys small businesses to learn that:

  • Digital technology boosts sales and reduces costs for rural small businesses
  • Small businesses in rural areas are slowly adopting digital tools and technology
  • Rural small businesses utilize digital tools and technology for sales, marketing, and operations
  • Digital technology created opportunities for rural small businesses in the past three years
  • The economic benefits of digital technologies have not been fully realized in rural areas
  • With greater adoption of digital tools and technology, the potential economic benefits in rural areas are far reaching

Take a Speed Test to Improve Broadband Maps
National Association of Counties, Rural LISC and Rural Community Assistance Partnership have released a tool to create better maps. Learn more and get instructions on how to test broadband in your area. https://wp.me/p3if7-4Yw

On the Minnesota policy front…

And national policy front…

Local Broadband News

Nelson Communications gets NTCA award for digital outreach programming for seniors https://wp.me/p3if7-4YP

PUC needs more information from Frontier; the investigation might start in Ely. https://wp.me/p3if7-4Z2

Fish Lake Township
CenturyLink deploys FTTH to Fish Lake Township https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ys

Blue Cross layoffs in Virginia remind us that diversification via broadband is key to economic vitality https://wp.me/p3if7-4Z8

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. https://wp.me/P3if7-4yG If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to atreacy@treacyinfo.com

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

For many years, I have separated the concepts of broadband availability and digital equity; broadband availability was infrastructure-focused while digital equity centered on skills or income deficits that stymied targeted populations.  Some inclusion strategies focused on convincing non-users that making use of broadband was n their best interests despite their own hesitations to make use of technology.  Effective digital equity strategies helped low-income or older individuals use technology for better education, health care, jobs, and social connections.

Recent meetings in poorly served communities and their unserved hinterlands has expanded my concept of digital equity.  With many rural places still poorly served, digital equity considerations now applies to entire communities, counties and regions, regardless of income or education.  Schools and health care providers, key community anchors, are hindered in their ability to attract the best professionals and to deliver the best services.  In turn, prospective residents reject these places in favor of better connected places that offer better school options and better health care providers that are using advanced distance education and telehealth offerings.

In the last century, communities that were bypassed by rail lines and four-lane highways faded into obscurity over time. As these places slowly declined, they became even less able to attract those infrastructure investments.  It is highly likely that soon those communities lacking quality broadband will have an increasingly difficult time attracting broadband network infrastructure investment since the most tech-dependent firms and tech-savviest customers will have already departed in favor of better connected places. As with almost everything in these times, that change is likely to be more rapid than in the past.

At community meetings, attendees relay that broadband access shortcomings have skyrocketed in urgency from minor inconvenience to lifestyle impossibility. Broadband access has become so important that we may have already reached a tipping point from which some places will not overcome.    People who have options will not remain unconnected for much longer, thus accelerating existing negative demographic trends.

In summary, leaders need to accelerate their broadband deployment efforts and be prepared to dig deep to make something happen soon.  Or it could be too late.

Blandin Broadband eNews: watching the broadband bill in MN Leg

Blandin Broadband eNews: Broadband activity throughout Minnesota Monthly Recap

New MN Broadband Tribal Maps
The Office of Broadband Development releases broadband maps for tribal nations in Minnesota. Including percentage coverage at speeds of 25/3 and 100/20. https://wp.me/p3if7-4Y7

Broadband policy – local, state or federal?
There are several bills including net neutrality, funding, robocalling https://wp.me/p3if7-4Xs and Voice over IP https://wp.me/p3if7-4X7 that are being discussed at local, state and federal; the question is who is responsible and how can the different levels of government work together? https://wp.me/p3if7-4XN

On the Minnesota policy front…

And national policy front…

Vendor News…

Local Broadband News

Dakota County
Dakota Broadband Board seeks an Executive Director https://wp.me/p3if7-4Wn

Fish Lake
MN State-supported broadband project is completed in Fish Lake on Feb. 18 https://wp.me/p3if7-4Xh

Le Sueur County
Le Sueur County moves forward with broadband plan – starting with feasibility report supported by Blandin Foundation https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ws

Otter Tail
Otter Tail County officials talk to legislators about broadband and other priorities https://wp.me/p3if7-4XJ

Digital Days replacing snow days at schools is a mixed blessing https://wp.me/p3if7-4XL

Rochester City Council approves new broadband provider, Metronet https://wp.me/p3if7-4Wl

Rock County
PCs for People distributes 53 computers in Rock County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Xo

Wilkin County
Sen Westrom talks about broadband for Wilkin County https://wp.me/p3if7-4Xd

Willmar telemedicine program keeps heart patients closer to home https://wp.me/p3if7-4Xv

Upcoming Events and Opportunities

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. https://wp.me/P3if7-4yG If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to atreacy@treacyinfo.com

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

What’s a suburban guy to do?

This morning I received a call from a Dakota County resident near Lakeville.  He sought me out in response a Strib broadband article.  I could feel his frustration right through with his 4 Mb DSL connection. He purchased his home with the expectation of working from home.  The reality is that his home service is both too slow and too unreliable for telework so he is forced into a long commute.

He has called his telephone company, talked to their techs on the roadside, called other nearby providers requesting service, complained to his county commissioner and county staff, strategized with his neighbors – all to no effect.  As I gave him some advice about possible next steps, he noted that with his twelve hour work and commute day, there was little time left for broadband organizing.  The ironic part of this story is that he moved to Lakeville from Nobles County where Lismore Telephone Cooperative provided fiber optic broadband services to his family farm.

I would love to have a numbers savvy analyst compute the lost value to Minnesotans who suffer from bad or no broadband.  MN DOT computes a lost time value from sitting in traffic; the methodology could be similar.  In this Lakeville resident example, a 50 mile round trip commute times 200 work days equals 10,000 miles at $.55 per mile, or $5500.  If you assign a $20 value per hour commute times two hours per day, that is an additional $8,000 per year, for a total of $13,500 per year.  Multiply this for thousands of Minnesotans, plus the many other assorted direct costs and missed opportunities.  My desk calculator does not have enough zeroes!

PCs for People distribute 53 computers in Rock County

Rock County Star Herald reports…

Rock County Library moved forward with its broadband education initiative by giving away computers.

Library director Calla Jarvie, along with members of the broadband education steering committee, unloaded 53 personal computers.

Distribution took place Tuesday, Jan 15, at the law enforcement center with extras being delivered to the library on Main Street Luverne where they are being stored.

Twenty-five families in the Luverne and Hills-Beaver Creek school districts received personal computer for home use.

“Nowadays so many things you have to do, you have to do online,” she said. …

The computer deliver from LCs for People was the first major event completed with the $75,000 grant.

Fun to hear about programs that puts computers in the hands that need them. Blandin Foundation is the source of the grant.

Le Sueur County moves forward with broadband plan – starting with feasibility support by Blandin Foundation

Le Sueur County News posts a letter to the editor from Barbara Dröher Kline…

Last year, while meeting residents of Minnesota House District 20A as a candidate, I heard numerous complaints about access to high speed broadband.

Also during the campaign, I attended a Region Nine Broadband Summit, learned where there are significant issues in each township as well as learning about solutions. I met with Dr. John King, my Le Sueur County commissioner, to discuss how to move ahead locally.

An expert from the Blandin Foundation presented at the May 15, 2018, Le Sueur County Board meeting, where the board unanimously approved applying for planning resources from Blandin. That application was approved. A group of county residents and county staff met with providers, took a survey, attended an intensive planning conference last fall.

As a result of these efforts, last December, the commissioners approved a contract for a professional feasibility study and we submitted another Blandin application for a $25,000 grant to support the study. On Jan. 29, the grant was approved! I am so proud of how many county residents stepped up to work in the planning process, the responsiveness of county staff and board, and the timeliness of this process. We are now poised to apply for state funding this fall. This IS rural economic development.

If you haven’t, we invite you to complete the survey of your home or business internet capabilities. Find the survey at www.lesueurcounty.org. Put your home and/or business on the planning map to help the consultants identify local needs.

Blandin Broadband eNews: Broadband activity throughout Minnesota Monthly Recap

Blandin Broadband eNews: Broadband activity throughout Minnesota Monthly Recap

On the Minnesota policy front…

And national policy front…

Vendor News…

Local Broadband News

Business in Ada is paying $800 per month for fiber https://wp.me/p3if7-4VE

Google plans to build a data center in Becker https://wp.me/p3if7-4Vr

There are IT Job openings in Cloquet MN https://wp.me/p3if7-4VG

International Falls
UnitedHealth Group transitions to remote workers in International Falls https://wp.me/p3if7-4Ut

Lake County
MN Watchdog takes on Lake County Network sale https://wp.me/p3if7-4UA

Lincoln County
Broadband expansion in Lincoln County is happening through Woodstock https://wp.me/p3if7-4Vn

Otter Tail County
Otter Tail County makes broadband expansion a main focus https://wp.me/p3if7-4W6

Region Five
Broadband expansion happening in rural areas of Region Five https://wp.me/p3if7-4VW

Red Wing
Red Wing Ignite Ag Tech Challenge hosts final pitch https://wp.me/p3if7-4V6

West Central MN
Meet MN Millennial Farmer, a voice for an industry and generation https://wp.me/p3if7-4VO

Upcoming Events & Opportunities

We are looking to add MN broadband-related events to the Blandin on Broadband blog calendar. https://wp.me/P3if7-4yG If you have an event you’d like to add please send it to atreacy@treacyinfo.com

Stirring the Pot – by Bill Coleman

Bernadine is fond of the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia classic quote: “Somebody has to do something and isn’t it pathetic that it has to be us?”  While this is true no matter where you live or work, I find it especially true in rural communities.  During meeting introductions as we ask attendees to list their community connections, we find that some folks have quite a long list of volunteer, leadership, and probably financial, commitments. These folks are true community champions and this is a strength for Greater Minnesota.

As for “us” having to do something, I am asking you to support the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, the unified voice on rural broadband. The coalition provides that unified rural voice necessary to convince legislators to do the right thing for greater Minnesota broadband.  While in January and February, there are many public policy groups willing to speak up for broadband, we know that as the session winds down, organizational lobbyists narrow their focus to their own highest priority bills.  Funding this unified, full-time voice means raising money.  We believe that the coalition has been successful in its work to build a bipartisan consensus around the need to spur rural broadband deployment, but we cannot ever rest until that last gavel comes down in May.

We need you, our rural broadband champions to join the coalition and to recruit others in your community or industry segment as well. Prospective members range from school districts to banks to health care providers to chambers of commerce to cities and counties. We have members in each of these categories, so join your colleagues and peer organizations by becoming members.  Those local units of government and telecom providers who hope to apply for Border to Border Grant Funds should especially consider a commitment since investing in the coalition will improve the odds of a significant border to border broadband grant appropriation. Those contributing $500 or more earn a voice in how the coalition operates and in our policy platform.

We all know that fundraising can be a particularly pathetic task and our broadband coalition team is working hard on it, but we need your help to succeed!  A call to a personal or professional connection does wonders. We have raised about two-thirds of our goal, but need to raise an additional $20,000 before the session ends in May.

Check out the coalition website, our upcoming activities and the benefits of membership information at http://mnbroadbandcoalition.com.  Join us!

Thank you.