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.
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!
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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!
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…
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)
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!
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
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.
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
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.
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 (email@example.com) Enrollment is open until three communities are selected.
As part of the broadband fall conference planning team, I am excited to announce the first of our four Keynote speakers…
Roberto Gallardo, Director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development will present on, From digital infrastructure to transformation: leveraging broadband for community economic development (speaking Oct 7).
His presentation will discuss some digital applications and uses to help communities leverage this technology to improve their quality of lives.
Roberto holds an electronics engineering undergraduate degree, a master’s in economic development, and a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration. He has worked with rural communities over the past decade conducting local & regional community economic development, including use of technology for development.
Careful readers will remember Roberto’s presentation at the 2017 Blandin Broadband conference asking if rural Minnesota was poised for the digital age? He has a gift for bringing research to the playing field, making information practical and recommendations actionable; we are looking forward to more of the same this year.
In fact, Roberto has offered to invite up to three communities to participate in a unique opportunity to create a digital community – more info on that coming right up. (I’m so excited about the opportunity I want to call it out in a separate post, which I’ll publish momentarily.)