eNews: MN Monthly Recap: Broadband Conference and MN Broadband County Profiles (Oct 2020)

Today’s eNews is a little different. First, the fall Broadband Conference starts tomorrow. It’s not too late to sign up. Second, the annual County Broadband Profiles have just been released; we how you rank.

OPPORTUNITY! Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand
The Blandin conference planning team s looking forward to the annual conference inaugural online experience – and monthlong series of opportunities. Starting tomorrow! This week we have the Digital Inclusion Showcase, a day with the MN Broadband Task Force, keynotes Roberto Gallardo and Shirley Bloomfield  and a special mentor matchmaking session!

Then we have two weeks of lunchtime conversations and Broadband 101 seminars. Following by a week of programming that’s still in the making but will definitely include keynotes from Tom Friedman and Deb Socia and a conversation on the annual MN County Broadband Reports.

See how your county ranks…

  1. Aitkin County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6vx
  2. Anoka County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6vB
  3. Becker County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6vG
  4. Beltrami County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6vM
  5. Benton County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6vQ
  6. Big Stone County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6vU
  7. Blue Earth County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6vX
  8. Brown County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6w0
  9. Carlton County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6w5
  10. Carver County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6wa
  11. Cass County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6we
  12. Chippewa County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6wi
  13. Chisago County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6wl
  14. Clay County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6wo
  15. Clearwater County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6wr
  16. Cook County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6wu
  17. Cottonwood County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6wy
  18. Crow Wing County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6wC
  19. Dakota County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6wF
  20. Dodge County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6wJ
  21. Douglas County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6wM
  22. Faribault County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6wP
  23. Fillmore County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6wS
  24. Freeborn County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6wV
  25. Goodhue County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6wY
  26. Grant County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6×2
  27. Hennepin County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6×6
  28. Houston County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xa
  29. Hubbard County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xd
  30. Isanti County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xg
  31. Itasca County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xk
  32. Jackson County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xn
  33. Kanabec County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xr
  34. Kandiyohi County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xu
  35. Kittson County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xx
  36. Koochiching County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xA
  37. Lac qui Parle County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xE
  38. Lake County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xI
  39. Lake of the Woods County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xM
  40. Le Sueur County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xP
  41. Lincoln County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xS
  42. Lyon County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xV
  43. Mahnomen County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6xY
  44. Marshall County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6y2
  45. Martin County –  https://wp.me/p3if7-6y5
  46. McLeod County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6y8
  47. Meeker County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yb
  48. Mille Lacs County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yf
  49. Morrison County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yi
  50. Mower County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yl
  51. Murray County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yo
  52. Nicollet County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yr
  53. Nobles County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yu
  54. Norman County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yx
  55. Olmsted County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yA
  56. Otter Tail County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yE
  57. Pennington County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yH
  58. Pine County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yL
  59. Pipestone County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yO
  60. Polk County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yR
  61. Pope County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yV
  62. Ramsey County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6yY
  63. Red Lake County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6z1
  64. Redwood County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6z5
  65. Renville County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6z5
  66. Rice County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6za
  67. Rock County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6ze
  68. Roseau County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6zh
  69. Saint Louis County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6zk
  70. Scott County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6zo
  71. Sherburne County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6zs
  72. Sibley County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6zv
  73. Stearns County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6zy
  74. Steele County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6zB
  75. Stevens County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6zF
  76. Swift County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6zI
  77. Todd County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6zM
  78. Traverse County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6zP
  79. Wabasha County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6zS
  80. Wadena County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6zV
  81. Waseca County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6zY
  82. Washington County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6A2
  83. Watonwan County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6A7
  84. Wilkin County –  https://wp.me/p3if7-6Ae
  85. Winona County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6Aa
  86. Wright County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6Aj
  87. Yellow Medicine County – https://wp.me/p3if7-6Am

Check out the interactive map on the Blandin Foundation website.

Blandin funded computers help school (in Brainerd) transition to online when needed

I’ve been talking to counties about broadband and COVID. Most rural counties seem to be sending kids to school at least on a hybrid basis. (Often teaching online too for families who opted for that choice.) But they are all preparing for a quick change. The Brainerd Dispatch reports on what happened at Discovery Woods in Brainerd when they had to make a quick change…

Students at Discovery Woods in Brainerd will spend the next four weeks learning from home following confirmed diagnoses of two cases of COVID-19.

Leaders of the Montessori-inspired public charter school informed parents of the decision Tuesday, Sept. 15, to transition from a hybrid learning model to distance learning. Executive Director Kristi Crocker confirmed the cases and change to the learning model in an email Wednesday.

That transition was made a little easier with support from the Blandin Foundation

“We have even had TheShop (Brainerd Baxter’s Youth Center) reach out to let us know that through funding from the Blandin Foundation they are able to offer free desktop computer systems complete with mouse, keyboard, and monitor to families in need,” Crocker wrote. “It is that type of support that makes you realize why you live in the community you do.

Broadband Roundtable on CARES funding to further broadband access notes

The use of CARES funding for broadband development is a very hot topic right now.  Cities, counties, townships and school districts are all increasingly recognizing broadband access and digital equity concerns magnified by COVID-19.  The short timelines and vague guidelines have caused great confusion and uncertainty across Minnesota and beyond.  I am rarely at a loss for offering advice, but the possibility of claw-back by the federal government for misspent CARES funding is a real concern.


Barbara Droher Klein, superstar volunteer/part-time staff for the Le Sueur County Blandin Broadband Communities initiative, talked about how they are approaching this opportunity.  They are utilizing existing fiber and tower assets to almost immediately launch some fixed wireless services in and around LeCenter and along Highway 169.  They are also working to expand existing fiber to the home deployments to reach more homes, including some that were disqualified due to an incumbent’s challenge.  Barbara reports that these folks are ecstatic to learn that they will get fiber to the home when they thought that they would be stuck with slower DSL while their neighbors enjoyed gigabit connections.

Dakota County requested letter of interest from the provider community and received a good response from a number of providers.  The county board will be reviewing those responses and setting budgets and pursuing formal partnerships.  Dakota County has used their 300+ mile fiber network to increase public access at parks, libraries and government buildings in an attempt to address access questions.

Some governments are frustrated with the short timelines and restrictive rules that limit flexibility and long-term thinking.  There was some discussion that there could be an extension of timelines or new COVID response legislation.  We will have to see what happens in Washington or St. Paul.

This was the last of the Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtables.  Hope to see you participate in the Minnesota Broadband Conference in October!

Chat log

EVENT TOMORROW: final Broadband Roundtable on CARES funding to further broadband access

An invitation from the Blandin Foundation…

Join Blandin Foundation on Zoom Tuesday morning at 9:00 am for our final Broadband Roundtable conversation. This week, we will focus on what Minnesota local units of government are doing with CARES funding to further broadband access and adoption. Barbara Droher Kline, Le Sueur County’s Blandin Broadband Communities leader, will showcase how Le Sueur County is using its broadband planning efforts to allocate county funds and amplify Blandin funding.

Register for the Roundtable here.

Tele-Mental Health Portal helping reach folks in Region 9

Earlier this week Bernadine Joselyn, Mary Magnuson and I had a conversation with Kristian Braeken at Region 9 about their telehealth plans and programs (supported with Blandin Foundation funding). It’s interesting to hear about what they are doing and the impact they are having but a key point is how they are using this to ensure that they have a healthy workforce, which makes this as economic development issue as well as community development and health.  (Also worth nothing that the project started late in 2019.)

Region 9 serves the following counties: Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault, Le Sueur, Martin, Nicollet, Sibley, Waseca and Wantonwan. They have created a portal that provides referrals and access to mental health services. Actually better than that – they didn’t create anything, they found a solution with Direct Assessments and Counseling. It’s been a great way to reach community members who can be geographically out of reach. And it’s been a great way to connect those people (and others) to providers and counselors who do not necessarily live in the area.

Being able to access counselors outside Region 9 has been a coup because there’s a shortage in the area. The push to move everything online (due to COVID) has opened up everyone’s interest in doing more things online. Zoom was a niche word a year ago; now everyone is doing it so there’s a growing comfort level.

Some regulations have been loosened making it easier to use accessible technology. And with the stress of a pandemic, job loss and change, students doing everything differently and with seniors experiencing more acute seclusion the need is greater. Also, Region 9 works with people who require court mandated assessments and services.

People have found that they like it. Within a month, the portal was operating to capacity. People with court mandated assessments appreciate the convenience. Many other experience the privacy of services from home. They found that before the online option people might drive a couple hours to get service or forego services altogether. And going online has opened the door to more diverse clients, especially immigrant groups.

By all accounts it’s been a success. It’s easy to see that much of this will continue to serve a purpose even after the stringent rules aroudn COVID are relaxed.

EVENT: Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand – Register is open!

Big news – registration is now open for Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand. Careful reader will know we’ve shifted gears to find ways to keep us together yet safe. We’re going with a virtual and dispersed model with briefer encounters happening throughout the month of October.

Here’s a rough outline:

  • Week 1 (Oct 5-8): three mornings of “in real time” online events including speakers and small group discussion
  • Weeks 2 and 3 (Oct 9-26): customized programming based on your level of involvement and interest with special sessions, a chance to pilot future programming, a book club, regular online space just to chat, mentor match-making with host of local and national experts arranged by the planning team, a virtual happy hour. You choose your level of involvement. No expectations – only opportunities.
  • Week 4 (Oct 27-29): mirroring the first with three mornings of “in real time” online events including speakers and small group discussion.

We have announced some featured speakers and opportunities:

And there are more to come!!

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable with Christopher Mitchell of MuniNets (ILSR)

In today’s Blandin Community Leadership Roundtable, Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) presented and discussed local community ownership models being implemented across the country as a way to bring the highest speed, lowest cost Internet services to their citizens.  He also talked about the network as a community asset to promote economic development and digital equity initiatives.  Scott County was cited as a model for economic development in using its network assets to attract data hungry companies.  Chattanooga TN was recognized for using its network to provide broadband services to all of its citizens during the pandemic.  We learned about how Dakota County is continuously seeking partnerships with other providers to expand and fortify its network.

Next week, in the final episode of this series, we will focus on what Minnesota local units of government are doing with CARES funding to further broadband access and adoption.  Barbara Droher Kline, Le Sueur County’s Blandin Broadband Communities leader, will showcase how Le Sueur County is using its broadband planning efforts to allocate county funds and amplify Blandin funding.

MN Broadband Conference Special Session Announcement: NTCA on federal policy updates

I’ve mentioned that we’re trying lots of different things with the Fall Broadband conference, spurred by the decision to go entirely online. This has opened up the opportunity for “special sessions” such as the one I can announce today…

We’re very excited to mid-conference session lead by Molly O’Leary, director of government affairs, NTCA, and advocates in Congress and at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to influence legislative and regulatory policy on behalf of NTCA members. (And I have to note Molly’s Minnesota connections! She worked in the U.S. Senate as a policy advisor to Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn) on telecommunications, appropriations and native affairs. She previously served as a legislative aide to Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) for his position on the Senate Judiciary Committee.)

Join Molly and NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association to discuss federal broadband regulatory and legislative updates, including the Federal Communications Commission Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and the Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program. Learn about upcoming federal investments in broadband deployment and the importance of federal coordination and future proof networks. Connect with Minnesota’s small, community-based broadband operators and learn how those providers can be a resource and partner with municipalities and counties looking to expand or build networks.

Registration open soon!

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable AUg 18 with Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance

An invitation from the Blandin Foundation…

Join Blandin Foundation on Zoom Tuesday morning at 9:00 am for our Broadband Roundtable conversation. This week, Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (www.ilsr.org) will lead a discussion about public engagement in broadband network development.

You can register for this and future Roundtables here.

Borrowing from the ILSR website, here’s a quick introduction to Chris, although many readers will already know him…

Keynote Speaker Announcement: Shirley Bloomfield joins the MN Fall Broadband Conference

The MN Fall Broadband Conference (Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand) is getting closer and I’m delighted to share news of another one of our Keynote speakers…

Shirley Bloomfield, NTCA

Shirley Bloomfield is the CEO of NTCA. With more than 30 years of experience representing the country’s smallest independent telecom operators, she is an expert in federal communications policies and sustaining the vitality of rural and remote communities and the benefits rural broadband networks bring to the national economy. (Speaking Oct 8)

Her topic…

Bringing Broadband to Rural America: Opportunities and Challenges Post-Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown not only how important broadband is for all Americans, but it has also presented an opportunity to help fuel a rural renaissance with the creation of more Smart Rural Communities. The network of Smart Rural Community providers works to keep small-town American connected. They lead and collaborate on broadband-enabled projects that improve economic development, provide technology for advancing education, telemedicine, precision agriculture and other community services. This presentation will focus on the opportunities that broadband can bring to rural communities and the challenges that exist in bringing broadband to rural America.

Shirley is a strong connection between communities and providers. She helps them find common ground and common goals that help lift everyone up – and we’re excited to here her views and ideas in our new world.

Registration will be open soon!

Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on MN Broadband Coalition and speed test notes

Today, the Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable participants heard from Nathan Zacharias, representing the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition about the new statewide broadband speed test.  With large numbers of participants, Minnesota will be able to create a new broadband map that demonstrates the availability and use of high speed Internet.  The new map will also show where high-speed broadband is not available.  Large numbers of tests will increase the validity of the maps.  The software system has a built-in feature that provides the required number of tests to ensure statistically valid information.

While there is clear value for this tool at the state level, there is huge value at the local level.  Cities, townships and school districts can use this information in their own broadband planning and development programs as well as for digital equity initiatives.  Local efforts to promote and complete the speed test will provide clear evidence that supports grant applications and local leadership.

For complete information, go to the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition website at http://mnruralbroadbandcoalition.com/speedtest .

Next week, August 18th at 9 am, Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (www.ilsr.org) will lead a discussion about public engagement in broadband network development.  Join us.

Chat log: Continue reading

Aug 11: Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on MN Broadband Coalition and speed test

A message from the Blandin Foundation…

Join Blandin Foundation on Zoom Tuesday morning at 9:00 am for our Broadband Roundtable conversation. This week, Nathan Zacharias of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition will discuss how communities and counties can best make use of the statewide broadband speed test opportunity.

You can register for this and future Roundtables here.


Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Partnership for a Connected MN

Bernadine Joselyn led a presentation and discussion about the new public-private Partnership for a Connected MN initiative and how the effort hopes to benefit Minnesota students during the upcoming school year.

Here’s the chat log Continue reading

Partnership for ConnectedMN – edu tech grant applications are available online

In June I shared the news on…

a public-private partnership of philanthropic and business leaders from across Minnesota that aims to meet the technology and connectivity needs of families with school-aged children. Partnership for a ConnectedMN is led by Best Buy, Comcast, Blandin Foundation, Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Business Partnership, in collaboration with the State of Minnesota.

Today I’m pleased to share that those organizations have just unveiled applications for funding to help get children and families online.

Their goals are

  • Students in high-need communities have tech devices, ensuring more equitable access to educational resources – now and in the future
  • Young people in both rural and urban communities have solutions to the lack of reliable, affordable broadband access
  • Students and providers have the tools to connect and engage around school, physical and mental health and future career pathways

You can get the RFP and FAQs online – and remember deadlines…

Applications will be due Tuesday, September 1, 2020 by 3 pm
Decisions will be made by Monday, September 14, 2020.
Funds will be distributed by the end of September.

If you want to learn more – you are welcome to join the Blandin Broadband Leadership Roundtable on Partnership for a Connected MN conversation tomorrow at 9am.

OPPORTUNITY: Create a Digital Ready Community – pilot opportunity for 3-5 MN communities

As part of the Fall Broadband 2020: Connected We Stand conference, the Blandin Foundation is partnering with Purdue University’s Center for Rural Development‘s Roberto Gallardo and Annie Cruz-Porter to offer a unique opportunity for up to five communities to work on becoming a Digital Ready Community.

This is a chance to join an abbreviated and accelerated pilot program to create an initiative to take the reins on the digital goals and standards for your local community to help improve marketing to the folks outside the community, encourage community-wide digital inclusivity by actively inviting all corners of the community and build trust in local digital communication – by aligning local websites, Facebook groups, Twitter accounts and other existing assets. Imagine working together to build your digital reputation!

The program will include video lessons and/or coaching on:

  • Networking 101 – learning how to work
  • Digital Assets Group (DAG) – creating a local group that will lead the digital ready effort

DAG Operational Agreement – setting rules, procedures and bylaws that will guide the use of digital assets by the community in an effort to become more responsive and increase civic engagement and trust

Post conference, the communities will be encouraged to work on:

  • Community survey
  • Digital Engagement plan

What do we need from you?

  • A community leader to compile a team that is willing to work on this effort during the conference (October 2020) and beyond
  • A commitment to participate in sessions and keep up with outside work
  • A commitment to present development (ASIS) to conference attendees in final week of October
  • A commitment to check in with the Blandin/Purdue team six months after the conference to report in and offer feedback

How do you start?

The Blandin/Purdue team will host an introduction soon – watch here for that announcement. Join us and let us know you’re interested (memagnuson@blandinfoundation.org) Enrollment is open until three communities are selected.