Local libraries “check out” broadband in Cook and Chisholm

Reposted with permission from the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation‘s newsletter The Ranger…

The Cook and Chisholm public libraries are offering personal portable hotspot devices that may be checked out just like a book thanks to the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) program. These hotspots can connect up to 10 devices to the internet at 4G speed enabling homes and people in rural areas to have high speed internet access where it is not yet available.

The Cook Library launched the hotspot program in December and its five devices have been checked out 39 times in three months. Each hotspot may be checked out for seven days at a time.

“Cook and the surrounding area do not yet have expansive broadband capability so these devices are very helpful to our local citizens and families,” said Crystal Phillips, Cook Library Director. “The device has a touch screen, is very user friendly and connects to the library’s Wi-Fi network so data usage is not limited.”

The Chisholm Library acquired 10 hotspots that have been checked out 58 times combined since December. “They are in such high demand that we are considering adding 10 to 20 more hotspots to our inventory,” said Katie Christenson, Chisholm Library supervisor. “The broadband

grant has made a big impact in our community.”

In addition, WiFi capacity at the Chisholm Library was upgraded to make the library itself a hotspot that is open to the public with four access points within a specific physical range. An average of 65 devices per day (or 2,000 devices per month) are connecting to the WiFi when the user is physically inside the library or parked nearby within range.

The BBC program was supported in part by a grant from Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation and involves an intensive two-year partnership between Blandin and area communities to advance broadband initiatives. This ongoing effort helps northeastern Minnesota rural communities develop high speed internet that is critical to economic development, education, healthcare and quality of life.


Great broadband digital inclusion project ideas from Minnesota

The Blandin Foundation works with communities to help them better use better broadband. They’ve been doing it for years and sometimes I get lucky enough to be a part of the projects. Each community works with a community broadband coach (Bill Coleman – another consultant on the Blandin Broadband Team); he helps them figure out their community priorities and where broadband fits in.

Then each community submits broadband proposals (to the community team, then Blandin) for potential funding. These projects are well thought out, vetted and most are well executed. (As my kids say – sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. Sometimes the projects are good learning opportunities and those lessons get shared.)

Today I’m pleased to share a matrix of the most recent projects. It’s a great list of ideas you could try in your own community. I suspect the layout of the projects will not be perfect – you can get a nicer, printable version too.)

Also – it’s a gentle reminder that Blandin is looking for future communities – deadline is May 31, 2018. (You can learn a lot more about the program in this archive of a recent webinar on it.)

 Community Project Owner Project Name Project Description
Aitkin County Aitkin County Aitkin County Community Calendar Create a county-wide landing page for events sponsored by Aitkin County Chambers, Schools and other organizations.
Aitkin County Aitkin County Community Conference Centers Provide three small communities with conference/meeting suites, including a mobile computer lab, smart boards, other digital equipment, and Wi-Fi hotspots for use by residents, community education and others.
Aitkin County Aitkin County Wi-Fi Network for Small Cities Provide Wi-Fi for the central hub of Palisade to attract commercial growth, promote connectivity, enhance education, and promote telehealth. This project will serve as a pilot for Wi-Fi networks in other small cities.
Aitkin County Aitkin County Wi-Fi at Berglund Park Provide Wi-Fi at the Palisade city park campground – a main entry point for the Northwoods ATV Trail and important source of economic activity. Park usage is anticipated to increase with Wi-Fi availability.
Aitkin County East Central Regional Library Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspots The East Central Regional Library will obtain 14 mobile hotspots and make them available to patrons at the Aitkin Library and other outreach locations in Aitkin County, providing internet access to county residents who don’t have broadband.
Aitkin County ISD 1 Aitkin Public Schools Wi-Fi Enabled Buses Install Wi-Fi on four school buses so students will be able to work on homework while traveling to and from home, and on longer trips.
Aitkin County Long Lake Conservation Center Wi-Fi and Increased Bandwidth at Long Lake Conservation Center Increase the Internet bandwidth to the LLCC campus, and improve the Wi-Fi network. This will improve working conditions for the staff, increase the effectiveness of programming offered, and make the center a more desirable event venue.
Chisholm Chisholm Community Education Community Training Sessions Training sessions on internet use (social media, security, Facebook) to be offered free of charge to the community. CHS students will be on hand to help class participants as they utilize the training.
Chisholm Chisholm EDA Community Website/Portal Develop a community portal and calendar for community information and events, including marketing, tourism, school events, city and chamber.
Chisholm Chisholm EDA Community Hot Spots Provide Wi-Fi hotspots at the Chisholm Public Library, Lake Street Pocket Park, Balkan Community Center, and HRA Apartment Complex.
Chisholm Chisholm EDA The “Business Perks” Building Develop a technology center with rental space/incubator space available for businesses. Broadband/Internet/website/social media training opportunities for businesses will be offered.
Chisholm Chisholm Public Library Hot Spot Check-Out System Provide fifteen hotspots with mobile data plans for check out at the Chisholm Public Library.
Chisholm ISD 695 Chisholm Public Schools Wi-Fi on Buses Install Wi-Fi on two school buses, allowing students taking longer bus trips to have access to the internet. Bus Wi-Fi may be used for community events as well.
Chisholm Minnesota Discovery Center Minnesota Discovery Center Broadband Connection Upgrade Wi-Fi throughout the Minnesota Discovery Center, allowing for better access during meetings, for events, and for patron/staff use.
Chisholm / Hibbing / Mt. Iron-Buhl Chisholm EDA Central Range Area Feasibility Study Hire a consultant to conduct a feasibility study to better understand options for improving broadband infrastructure and services within the designated area, present the resulting plan and funding options to city councils, townships, school boards and the St. Louis County Board, and assist with grant writing as requested.
Ely City of Ely – Ely EDA Homegrown Ely Website (Elyite.com) Create a website to showcase Ely to prospective residents, businesses, and visitors. The site will include information on the cost of living, the arts, restaurants, churches, business opportunities, infrastructure, etc.
Ely Entrepreneur Fund Digital Marketing for Small Businesses Engage seven small business owners (selected through an application process) in hands-on consulting to build brand awareness and increase revenue by developing and implementing affordable website and social media strategies.
Ely Incredible Ely Ely Technology Center Utilize current space in the downtown business district to provide a shared office space with high-speed Internet for local telecommuters, entrepreneurs, and visitors.
Ely Entrepreneur Fund Ely Small Business Workshop Series Provide three structured workshops on timely topics for small business owners. Local facilitators will share practical tools and ideas on topics such as digital marketing, employee recruitment, and QuickBooks.
Ely City of Ely Ely Area Broadband Feasibility Study Conduct a feasibility study that will provide factual information about market demand, technology alternatives, deployment and maintenance costs, network operation and marketing. It will include installation of fiber within the City of Ely, and extending throughout the entire school district area. Project partners will use the data generated to develop a plan for service delivery.
Ely Incredible Ely Business Development/Broadband Survey Conduct a survey on business development and internet usage data as well as projected broadband usage information, with the goal of bringing broadband to Ely and making it an economic success.

(Bois Forte, Cook, Orr)

Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Indians Business Training and Community Education Design and provide community technology education programs at Bois Forte, Orr Center, Cook Library and Community Center, and North Woods High School. Topics will be determined based on community feedback.




Computers improving quality of life for the disabled and seniors

Thanks for permission from the IRRRB to reprint…

Fifty senior citizens and people with disabilities recently received free computers and computer classes through a technology outreach initiative led by Access North Center for Independent Living. The outreach was part of a larger Blandin Foundation program designed to advance broadband in northeastern Minnesota rural communities.

“Access North solicited applications from our client base, and the response was immediate from folks who did not have a computer or wanted to replace their obsolete home device,” said Don Brunette, Access North executive director.

According to Brunette, the computer classes were taught by Richard Spicer, who is a veteran, computer class instructor and Access North client.

Founded in 1985, Access North serves 10 counties in northeastern Minnesota. Its Hibbing office partnered with Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce, PCs for People and Blandin on this initiative. Each recipient received a hard drive, monitor, keyboard and mouse from PCs for People. In addition, Access North assisted these citizens with acquiring subsidized home Wi-Fi connection when possible and provided them free printers donated by Target Corporation.

The Blandin Broadband Communities program is supported in part by a grant from Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation and involves an intensive two-year partnership between Blandin and area communities to advance broadband initiatives. This ongoing effort helps northeastern Minnesota rural communities develop high speed internet that is critical to economic development, education, healthcare and quality of life.

Visit the Access North website.

Getting Broadband for Palisade MN

I want to thank Darrell in Aitkin County for writing up his experience getting community WiFI set up in Palisade and for Scott from SCI for sharing some added info. It’s a nice example of public-private partnership at a very local level.

The problem:

Palisade is a rural community with few options for high-speed connectivity.  The only wired internet connection is via DSL through the local telephone provider.  Satellite is available but we have found it has the propensity to go disconnect due to weather situations and has limited bandwidth to support hot-spot activity.

The solution:

After much investigation, we found an existing solution.  Savage Communications Inc. (SCI) has fiber in place near the downtown area.  After several conversations with them, we were able to negotiate the construction project to bring fiber to the City Hall.

One of the considerations was that the community of Palisade wasn’t going to provide free internet or go into business of offering internet to the downtown area businesses.

There were scheduling issues to begin with as SCI was working other larger project in the county.  By October 2017, the fiber was connected and that portion of the Wi-Fi hotspot project was complete and the rest of the process could proceed.

Talk about great connectivity, the speed for upload and download is slated at 100 Mbps.  Now the Wi-Fi hotspot and community reading room are ready for the next phases of their respective projects.

SCI currently has fiber to the business available in Palisade and they plan to have residential services available by the end of 2018. (This is a privately funded project for SCI.)

50 Seniors in Hibbing get PCs thanks to PCs for People

WDIO reports…

50 senior citizens and people with disabilities were given a refurbished computer, computer monitor, keyboard, and printer at the Access North Center on Monday.

PC’s for People teamed up with the Access North Center and the Hibbing Chamber of Commerce to give people the technology for those that need access to a home computer.

People that get PC services received a form in the mail from Access North that they filled out. They didn’t know whether they were going to be chosen or not to receive the computer until they attended a computer class.

Many people left happy…

One of the people that was chosen to receive a computer was Barbara Peternell, who says she didn’t expect to receive one until she went to the class.

“I’ve always wanted a computer, but couldn’t really afford one,” said Peternell.

The project was part of the IRBC program funded by the IRRRB and Blandin Foundation.

Broadband efforts in Hibbing – helping businesses and students better use technology

This month I am traveling with the Blandin crew to visit various Iron Range Broadband Communities – communities that have been making a concerted effort to improve broadband access in their area. The last stop was Hibbing. They are working with a lot of businesses and getting kids interested in tech-focused jobs.

Here are full notes on their various projects:

We work on trying to get the word out to get more people to join the broadband team. There have been several articles in the local newspaper.

Library hotspots
We were able to do the project for under $5000. Worked with PCs for People and are working with the library to get the hotspots into the library rotation.
Because they came in under budget they are able to add connectivity to the Memorial Building. With the current provider they have been down for up to a week – which means they can’t get work done. They have STEM programs, community center, museum…

Digital Marketing
Worked with 7 businesses to help them make better use online marketing.
It went well.
Andy’s Auto Sales – got great lessons from Molly and has continued to post on a regular basis. He started with 30 fans, now has more than 600. He might actual purchase a location now. He has seen a bump in sales.
Pink Tie Design – learned to use social media in her work and can now pass it onto her clients. Helped correct whois info. Her new website will launch April 1.

Technology Career Fair Day
Had about 100 students (grades 9-12)
Four sectors of industry were represented and kids got to visit with each to learn more about career options. We had lunch and t-shirts.
Post survey responses were good.
It was great for kids who have an interest in technology (or a latent interest).
We worked through teachers but you really need to get on their calendar early to make it happen.
Lessons were learned doing this the first time – like starting early and understanding school/college reimbursement procedures. And the pilot was a good chance for teachers, students and counselors to learn more about the opportunity.

Round 2 Digital Marketing
Worked with more businesses – both new and old (Alumni) businesses.
They are mid-process and it sounds like everyone it moving forward.
A challenge this time has been working with businesses that are less engaged than the original 7.

Marketing Seminars
Looking for an venue
Topics include – SEO, Content Management and Social Media
Looking at 8:30 to noon – with time to network beforehand and continue working through lunch

PCs for People – round 2
Sent letters to 250 people about PCs for People through Access North (centers for independent living). Heard back from (and pre-qualified) 50 people. And have provided training to 41 of the people. The trainer is a service vet with a disability.
Distribution event is Monday (Jan 29).
Some will be home distribution – especially for folks with mobility disabilities.
There is interest in continued training.
Got a special deal on printers too!

Broadband efforts in Mountain Iron – lots of training and getting kids excited

This month I am traveling with the Blandin crew to visit various Iron Range Broadband Communities – communities that have been making a concerted effort to improve broadband access in their area. The latest stop was Mountain Iron. It was fun to hear about how students and teachers are getting excited (and re-excited) about their school subjects with new projects born of new tools and broadband technology. You can read on about specific programs and check out the video below if you want greater details on what and how it’s happening.

WiFi on Buses

Got wifi installed on 7 buses (out of 9) and it’s going well. Just needed to explain to folks that the WiFi is built off cell network. SO if you’re phone doesn’t work, your WiFi isn’t going to work either and there are patches in the area where that’s the case.
Kids are great when they have something to do. The blue screens have not been a distraction.
Ongoing costs? Not more than $1000/month and it’s well worth it.
The teams use the connection when they are traveling – especially when some of that travel gets late.

Tech Training
We do a class every other week. Weather has been an issue but we’re working with Community Education.
We are offering a range of Google classes, Pinterest, Facebook, getting elderly people on to Facebook is a big draw.

PCs for People
Distributed about 50 computers. Have about 10-15 left over, some are surplus in case of damage. Distributed through the community center. People had to come for an orientation and the event was announced through the schools and we called folks that would probably benefit from a free computer.
TO distribute we got a truck and a group of 7th grade boys.
The folks from PCs for People were fantastic.

Great Scott Township Website
The website is coming along. It should be done soon.
Kinney has been less successful. There are only 160 people in the town. Maybe we could get them to do a Facebook Page.

Business Technology Training

We’re putting together classes we think business would like: use marketing to hire people, how to deal with reviews online, mastering social media, Facebook Live, How to make a nonprofit go digital and see the impact. Art Unlimited would do most of the training.
Use the usual routes for advertising – email blasts, newsletters, social media and asking other to spread the word.
Coming up – we will have business consultants working with businesses.

Feasibility Study Update
Trying to get a model to attract providers to our projects and possibly going after RUD funding. Will be presenting to the County soon. The Governor spoke recently and mentioned broadband – we hope people were listening. We have a time to talk to Mediacom soon and hope to line up others.
Eventually we will take out individual pieces of the project to our communities and try to find localized solutions.

Trying to work with the county on some policies – such as a resolution on Dig Once for the area.

Upcoming Projects

  • Getting students STEM/STEAM at younger ages.
    Looking at classes on drones – building, driving and licensing.
  • The Maker Space will be in the high school. But the high school is connected to the grade school. We will look at inviting Community Ed – but first we want to make sure we are in good shape for school needs. Ordered 3-d printers for the Maker Space.
  • WiFi spots – Great Scott Township is in a tough place because there’s not cell access but that also means there’s great need. They want to hire students to man a space where people can come in and the connection as well as accessing PCs for People computers that are available for use on site.
  • Working on improvements in the community center. We had the governor here – and we need for visitors like that to be able to get online.
  • We are increasing availability of telepresence and people are using it – so much easier that traveling and we need more space for folks.
  • IN some communities the senior center can become a tech hub where they have the best connectivity and they allow the general public in.