South Central MN looking to expand use of Telepresence during pandemic and beyond

I’m pleased to share South Central Minnesota’s report issued reflecting use of telepresence by the Human Services Departments of Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault, Freeborn, Le Sueur, Martin, Nicollet, Rice, Sibley, and Watonwan Counties. Like many communities, they are innovating to meet the challenges of the pandemic but they are looking beyond that too…

The DHS/MNIT owned-and-operated telepresence network provides secure, encrypted, HIPAA compliant connections to over 6,000 users – which include Minnesota tribal nations, counties, law enforcement, courts, schools, mental health providers, other human service agencies, and those they serve.

The South-Central Community Based Initiative (SCCBI), an Adult Mental Health Initiative for the counties listed above, has found DHS/MNIT’s easy-to-use, cost effective, and expandable telepresence network to be highly successful at improving access to services.  Maintaining this network is critical to our ability to serve people.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders in the counties above [Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault, Freeborn, Le Sueur, Martin, Nicollet, Rice, Sibley, and Watonwan Counties] agreed to expand access to the existing project beyond mental health services, so we could safely serve the public in other program areas.  Using the DHS/MNIT network, we quickly added telepresence users to serve people easily through their home computer or smartphone.

Download the full report.

Le Sueur County selected for Blandin Community Broadband Program

New Prague Times reports…

Blandin Foundation announced Wednesday, March 11, it selected Le Sueur County for an intensive, twoyear partnership to advance local broadband initiatives.

Le Sueur County joins Chisago Lakes, Otter Tail County, Red Lake Nation, and White Earth Nation in their successful bids to become Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC).

“Le Sueur County has been partnering with the Blandin Foundation since the Region Nine Broadband Summit in early 2018,” said Barbara Droher Kline, BBC steering committee member. “The expertise and support through this partnership has brought us huge success with a State of Minnesota Border to Border grant. We are working hard to get more communities connected and being a Blandin Broadband Community will help us get there.”

Otter Tail County selected for Blandin Community Broadband Program

Perham Focus reports…

Blandin Foundation selected Otter Tail County for an intensive, two-year partnership to advance local broadband initiatives.

Otter Tail County joins Chisago Lakes, Le Sueur County, Red Lake Nation and White Earth Nation in becoming Blandin Broadband Communities, according to a Blandin Foundation news release. Foundation staff and consultants will work with the five communities to provide planning, technical and financial support as diverse, local leadership teams design and drive digital technology initiatives to bring greater success to their communities.

Communities were selected based on their demonstrated commitment to work together across sectors to set and meet information technology goals and bridge digital divides. Otter Tail County’s and White Earth Nation’s participation in the BBC program is supported with a $25,000 grant from West Central Initiative.

Otter Tail County joins 44 rural Minnesota communities that have gone through the BBC program.

Next steps for each community includes assessing the community’s current broadband access and use and holding a series of public planning meetings.

Mt. Iron-Buhl – Blandin Broadband Community Reflection (St Louis County)

The Blandin Foundation recently published an inclusive assessment of the last cohort of Blandin Broadband Communities. Including a segment on Mt. Iron-Buhl…

The IRBC group in Mountain Iron-Buhl (MIB) was led by the school district. During the first round, several of the team’s projects were school-based, including instillation of Wi-Fi on buses; procuring equipment for a new journalism class and Makerspace classroom; and bringing technology to outdoor classroom opportunities.

Other projects supported by the MIB BBC team included: • New web-presence for Great Scott Township12

• upgraded technology at the government buildings in Great Scott and Kinney;

• upgraded Wi-Fi at Mt. Iron City Hall, the Library, and other public spaces around town

• hosted technology breakfasts and technology training classes, and

• offered marketing audits for area businesses.

During the second round, the MIB BBC team continued with projects to support the use of enhanced technology in the school forest by acquiring twelve GPS units, geocaching container, a weather station, and a community greenhouse. The school aspires to attract even more users of the forest through enhanced environmental learning, and to open up the STEM Lab and technology offerings to the public. The school has sought and received additional funding that will allow instructors to develop curricula, programming and other opportunities for community members to interact with the technology. Participants will learn about graphic design, CAD, web design, video editing and publishing, and engineering. The school also is establishing a community journalism program and opening its journalism program to community members.

Other community-generated projects that received MIB’s BBC support include:

• An upgrade to the Open Y software program and upgraded technology at the Mesabi YMCA, including offering Wi-Fi throughout the building

• A new ap developed for the City of Mountain Iron to provide information to residents

• Improved Wi-Fi at Mountain Iron Community Center

One self-described “direct” result of the work of the MIB BBC team that required no funding, but did require leadership, was the decision by the Range Area Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) to create, host, and manage a website to serve as a central shared location for all of the documents related to broadband projects on the Iron Range, including feasibility studies, public presentations, fact sheets, and media reports.  Fulfilling this information management function is a key component of the civic infrastructure necessary to support collective impact, according to Kania and Kramer of FSK and Harvard’s Kennedy School. Claiming and executing ownership of this project undergirds the enhanced role RAMS has begun to play as an advocate for the broadband needs of its members since joining BCBP.

Grizzlies (Bois Forte, Cook, Orr) – Blandin Broadband Community Reflection (St Louis County)

The Blandin Foundation recently published an inclusive assessment of the last cohort of Blandin Broadband Communities. Including a segment on Grizzlies (Bois Forte, Cook, Orr)…

The Grizzlies is the mascot for North Woods School, which was opened in 2012 when the schools in Cook, Orr and Bois Forte were consolidated; and now the name for the IRBC effort within the school district’s boundaries.

Broadband access and use are both key concerns for this sparsely populated area. The region’s long-standing efforts to partner with existing providers began to pay off in 2020 when Bois Forte Tribal Government received Border-to-Border Broadband grant funding to connect ten unserved and 468 underserved locations throughout four sectors of the Bois Forte Reservation. (see page xx for details)

Other first round projects that address both access and use included adding public hotspots to the Cook Library and the Orr Center; upgrading computer labs in Nett Lake, the Orr Center, and at the Cook Library; purchasing five mobile hotspots for checkout at the Cook Library; and hosting a wide variety of technology trainings throughout the three communities.

For the second round, the Grizzlies are continuing with adult education classes and technology support at the Orr Center and the Cook Library. They’ll also expand on the QuickBooks training classes that were offered to small business owners during round one.

The Bois Forte Reservation acknowledges that its heritage, language, and culture are at risk. To help preserve and document for future generations existing cultural knowledge and practices the tribe will use second round project funds to establish a video creation, collection and archiving program of culturally relevant materials.

Finally, when looking at project ideas to unite the three communities that now share a school, the IRBC team agreed that creating a sports blog and website would fulfill that goal. Students and community members will contribute content to the site, which will include a journalism education component. Plans for the site include development of video and radio broadcasting capability through Bois Forte Reservation’s KBFT Radio.

Ely – Blandin Broadband Community Reflection (St Louis County)

The Blandin Foundation recently published an inclusive assessment of the last cohort of Blandin Broadband Communities. Including a segment on Ely…

Ely completed a variety of projects during the first round of IRBC work, including: a feasibility study of better connectivity throughout the school district; opening of a thriving coworking space, ”Ten Below”; creation of a showcase regional marketing website, the Elyite10; support to local businesses and entrepreneurs through technology and social media consulting, training, and meetups; and a broadband use and business development survey to support community efforts to recruit better broadband services.

The second round of projects developed by the Ely BBC team leverage the power of the internet as an engine of economic development and quality of life.  They include creating a complete Google Local Listings on behalf of all businesses in Ely, which will make those businesses more visible online. Ten Below coworking space will facilitate free professional development “skillshares” workshops for local business owners on leveraging the power of the internet and social media to drive engagement and sales year-round.

Hak Ely will utilize the event-marketing and scheduling platform to allow organizations to input their own events into a shared marketing platform. Proximity marketing is another fun way to engage park visitors and generate greater awareness about scheduled events and activities; Bluetooth enabled beacons will push notifications to visitors’ devices. A video series will further engage residents, visitors, and potential visitors by highlighting stories of the unique characters found within the community.

The arts is a major asset in Ely, and another project will create an internetbased directory that will link artists, art consumers, and materials providers in an easy to access and maintain website.

Chisholm – Blandin Broadband Community Reflection (St Louis County)

The Blandin Foundation recently published an inclusive assessment of the last cohort of Blandin Broadband Communities. Including a segment on Chisholm…

During its first round as a BBC, the Chisholm team supported projects to fund Wi-Fi on two school buses; develop a community website/portal9; create Wi-Fi hotspots at the Chisholm Public Library, Balkan Community Center, and the Lake Street Pocket Park;  make ten mobile hot spots available for check-out at the public library; offer  computer training programs, and provide device training to older adults. The team also helped the Minnesota Discovery Center upgrade the facility’s internet connection and improve Wi-Fi throughout the building and grounds.  The team continues to explore the idea of opening a coworking/business center in town.

The BBC team in Chisholm underwent a leadership change between the first and second rounds of BBC grant funding. ReGen, a nonprofit organization of young Iron Rangers, took over project leadership from Chisholm EDA. Planning continues, but at the time of this writing the following two projects were under implementation:

  • The first project will allow the schools to acquire 100 mobile internet hotspots to address the needs of the 100 (out of 535) school-age children in the Chisholm Public Schools who lack internet access at home. Students will be able to check out the hotspots for two-week intervals.

  • The second project seeks to enhance programming at Minnesota Discovery Center by helping fund the purchase of distance learning equipment and curriculum development staff can use to conduct online educational field trips. This will expand the outreach capacity of the center and increase the visibility of the region.