Carlton County has foresight for a more connected future

Pleased to share a letter to the editor from Blandin President and CEO Kathy Annette in the Pine Journal...

Recently a team from Blandin Foundation was in Moose Lake to celebrate the wrap-up of our partnership with Carlton County through the Blandin Broadband Communities program. What we saw was impressive: a diverse group of dedicated broadband champions working together to make their communities better.

Over the past 18 months, Carlton County’s Broadband Steering Committee assessed community technology strengths and gaps, brainstormed ideas, and identified ambitious goals: increase free internet sites in rural areas, promote telehealth and telework, market their communities to retain/attract technology opportunities, and increase access to devices and the use of technology in Carlton County, particularly by students.

Much of the efforts of Carlton County’s Broadband Steering Committee have been focused on increasing access to the internet for all county residents. The committee worked with PCs for People to distribute refurbished laptops to community members in need. They increased the number of Chromebooks available for use by students in the schools and have implemented wi-fi on activity busses. The Broadband Steering Committee also supported efforts by libraries in the county to procure hotspot devices for check-out and offer community education classes to teach people how to use devices.

Local leadership matters. Blandin Foundation commends all Carlton County residents who contributed to the work of the county’s Broadband Steering Committee, and in particular Brenda Nyberg and Connie Christenson, for their vision and dedication to a more connected community with opportunity for all.

Kathy Annette

How, why, when, where to create a high tech center in Brainerd (or any town) Minnesota

The Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation (BLAEDC) has been kind enough to share their High Tech Center Research Project. Here’s the description from the document…brainerd-tech-report

With grants from the Blandin Foundation and Initiative Foundation, BLAEDC researched tech centers and interviewed members of the tech community to learn about their wants and needs. That data was compiled to create models and apply the concept to existing properties in the city of Brainerd. Those models can also be applied to other communities as well.

Success for this research project is based on the completion of three “documents”:

  1. A compilation of all the data collected into a draft business plan/outline. For example, market opportunities/potential, budget and source/use of funds, facilities, equipment and infrastructure needs, etc.
  1. A concept proposal and “next steps” outline for an actual location in the Brainerd Lakes Area, or a report that finds that such a project isn’t viable in this area.
  1. A “how-to” guide for other communities to conduct their own study. The ultimate goal of this project is to further understand how to promote economic growth and new jobs for the area by expanding the technology business sector.

If your community is 2015-11-09-tech-center-project-document-final thinking about a tech center, this report will help.

Blandin Broadband Community Tour: Nobles County where digital inclusion builds bridges to New Americans

This afternoon we met with the folks in Nobles County to hear about their Blandin Broadband Community programs. They are focused on a range of projects but I think they have done an especially good job with successful programming for New Americans. Technology has been a connection back to their home countries and technology has also been an excuse to connect with their new neighbors and help build ESL skills.

The community noted that Blandin was instrumental in helping so much of this happen. They are becoming a connected community. Focusing on broadband gave them a place to start – soon after they got going with NEON (Nobles Economic Opportunities Network. Having a place to start really helped get them off the blocks and led to brainstorming and new ideas.

I am happy to share video from the presentations…

And the PPT

And my notes… Continue reading

Blandin Broadband Community Tour: Redwood County better training, hotspots, GIS and telehealth

Today they visited with the folks in Redwood County to hear about their Blandin Broadband Community projects. Redwood County is still struggling with broadband issues. They have a feasibility study and have recently completed a market survey so they are working on better broadband. In fact they have two providers that are applying for Minnesota State funds to deploy broadband. But even without the best broadband they have implemented a number of success programs – training for business, training for new computer users, computers distributed to low income households through PCs for People set up with low cost broadband through local providers and more. (I think it’s interesting to hear about the details of MVTV’s reduced rates policy in the PCs for People video below.

A great observation was the idea that you need to give people a good experience. People won’t use broadband if the experience is negative. That’s why the training, equipment and access to quality programs/applications is so important. But that’s quickly followed by the need for broadband to maintain the quality.

I think the PPT they have shared probably gets to the details even better than my notes – but I will also be sharing my notes below. (But I ask for kindness with proofing; we’re on the way to the next stop now and I wanted to get the notes up asap.)

Continue reading

Blandin Broadband Community Tour: RS Fiber build innovation through schools, training and center

Today we met with folks in Renville and Sibley Counties to talk about the broadband projects that were funded through the Blandin Broadband Community programs. We met in the home of the new innovation center – aka future home of the drone obstacle course.

I took pretty good news that I’ll post below and a few videos. The highest level lesson we learned was that being part of the BBC programs served the community well because it gave community leaders (schools, economic development, business, towns and more) a reason to meet on a regular basis. The challenge is to create a new reason to continue meeting as they learned that no one can live successfully in isolation anymore!

Economic Development Continue reading

Blandin Broadband Communities pre-conference session: MN Broadband stories

The Blandin Broadband Communities met before the Broadband Conference today. It was a great time to capture stories from the attendees about what’s going on in their communities.


The communities also worked on building storytelling skills and active listening. Here are a couple of tools they used to work on that: Business Storytelling – Using Stories to Inspire and Active Listening – Hear What People are Really Saying

Through the Open Space forum we discussed a wide range of topics:

Better broadband extends county support to veterans closer to home in Sherburne County

According to the Citizen Tribune

Veterans who can’t travel to the Government Center in Elk River have an alternative place to meet with a county representative for veterans services.

There is a satellite veterans service office in the  Sherburne History Center in Becker.

“It’s centrally located, and we wanted to be able to try to reach all the veterans  who live throughout the county,” says Sherburne County Veterans Service Officer (CVSO) Bruce Price. “Becker was about the furthest west where we had some type of county resource that was decent for this purpose.”

The satellite office is made possible with better broadband, which allows representative to get remote access to everything they could access from the County seat office…

The satellite office at the History Center was set up by former CVSO Gene Graff. But there were issues with access to information because of  poor internet service. It was only available in one room. And it was slow.

That changed last year when  the county received $75,000 in grants from the Blandin Foundation for broadband-related projects. Some of that money was used by the county IT department to upgrade the internet at the History Center. Now it is fully connected with 10 megabits of speed and wifi.

Now, the veterans service office can continue to serve county veterans at the Becker location.

“Now that we have the connectivity, I take my laptop and printer and I have access to anything I have access to at the Government Center office,” says Price.