Business North looks at Broadband champions on the Iron Range (MN): Blandin Foundation, NESC and IRRR

Business North takes a look back at broadband projects on the Iron Range. Starting with a wide lens…

“In 2010, internet connectivity in rural places was spotty and underutilized,” said Mary Magnuson, the Blandin Foundation’s grants program officer for rural placemaking. “Minnesota was ranked No. 23 in the U.S. for speed, and broadband was defined as 768 kilobits-per-second download and 200 Kbps upload – just enough to support slow video streaming.”

The broadband landscape across Northeastern Minnesota, and the state in general, has changed significantly since then, according to Magnuson, with gains made for providing access to high-speed connectivity. It comes at a time when such internet connections have become critical in business, education and often in day-to-day life.

“As of May 2022,” she said, “88.07% of Minnesota households have access to the 2026 state goal of 100 megabits per second download and 20 Mbps upload,” Magnuson said. “More people are working online, going to school online, seeing healthcare specialists online, and solving more of today’s challenges through solutions made possible through high-speed broadband internet.”

And calling out local champions, such as the Blandin Foundation…

Broadband was a long-term investment for Blandin Foundation, according to Magnuson. Since 2004, Blandin Foundation invested nearly $5.3 million in grants and leveraged more than $17 million to support 850 projects implemented across 61 counties and five tribal nations in Minnesota.


Northeast Service Cooperative (NESC) in Mountain Iron, one of nine Minnesota service cooperatives, has designed and built a fiber-optic backbone for underserved and unserved areas.

NESC initially built an 865-mile fiber optic network across St. Louis, Lake, Cook, Koochiching, Carlton, Pine, Itasca and Aitkin counties. The Northeast Fiber Network originally tapped a $43.5 million federally funded grant/loan project in 2010 through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities.


When Whitney Ridlon joined the Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation (IRRR) in 2014, the agency was evaluating broadband infrastructure needs across the region. The agency partnered with Blandin Foundation and Blandin Broadband Communities to better understand existing broadband assets, such as the NESC “middle mile.” Legislation created by the state further enabled the IRRR to work with communities to meet the state’s broadband speed goals.

Since 2015, IRRR invested $5.6 million in broadband infrastructure connecting 6,617 households, with a total investment of $23 million.

Blandin, Northland, IRRRB helps Arrowhead leaders focus on broadband

Grand Rapids Herald Review reports

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, local leaders throughout Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region (Aitkin, Cook, Carlton, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis Counties) came together to assess their communities’ strengths and challenges in building and sustaining broadband-powered economies. Based on what they learned, eight projects emerged and will be supported through regional grants.

“Arrowhead Regional leaders had the courage and tenacity to dedicate time during a pandemic to look deeply at how broadband was propelling or, because of the lack of it, preventing community growth,” said Tuleah Palmer, president and CEO at Blandin Foundation. “These small grants will kindle the real power of this initiative – the collaborative, innovative spirit living within our rural communities.”

Here are some of the grants that were funded…

  • With an $8,000 grant, St. Louis County School District 2142 will map students’ homes within the St. Louis County School District (including Nett Lake, NorthWoods, Tower, Babbitt, Cherry and SouthRidge) to determine existing broadband speeds and plan for a wireless broadband network to encompass the 3,850 square miles of the district. Leading the project, Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS) is working in partnership with the Northeast Service Cooperative on a proposed wireless network build off their middle mile fiber network that runs throughout the service area. Ultimately, the project hopes to serve many of the district’s 2,200 students at the lowest possible cost.
  • Iron Range Tourism Bureau will develop a co-working space and expand their outreach and recruitment of remote workers. This project builds on their Hello Iron Range initiative, a talent attraction initiative that promotes the region’s workforce opportunities and connects incoming and existing residents to local networking events and resources.
  • Minnesota’s Children’s Press will create a new youth-, knowledge- and tech-driven genre of literature with help from a $35,000 grant. Through this project, youth will collect and map locations of litter in Grand Marais and on the shores of Lake Superior using ArcGIS Mapping software. Following data analysis, youth will write, illustrate, and publish a book about their findings and solutions. An outreach campaign will focus on both the findings of the project as well as the process and it will include presentations to local leaders, workshop offerings, a website housing free civic digital journalism resources and a social media series.
  • Smart North will plan for and implement a pilot project for smart streetlights and mobility hubs in the City of Grand Rapids through the support of a $50,000 grant. This infrastructure will allow city departments to access and share data, enable robust 5G connectivity throughout the city and provide municipal WiFi access. In partnership with The Grand Iron Range CAV Initiative, this effort will support the test of the country’s first autonomous shuttle vehicle in a rural, all-season community.
  • Northspan seeks to strengthen equitable digital access across the Arrowhead region through their Welcoming Community initiative with the support of a $50,000 grant. Through this project, Northspan will gather regional broadband data to create a baseline for fair, equal access to broadband and technology and explore how it impacts people of various race/ethnicities, income, education and ages within the Arrowhead region. This data will inform a series of conversations and engagements on why digital equity gaps exist and inform programming to address gaps.

Iron Range restaurant “to go” website launched during COVID-19

News from The (Iron Range) Ranger

A new website was launched to promote Iron Range restaurants that are offering takeout, curbside pick-up or delivery during the COVID-19 outbreak. Good to Go! Iron Range Restaurants is located at and aims to help local restaurants that are struggling during the pandemic. The site also provides Iron Range residents access to takeout food.

The website was developed by W.A. Fisher Co. of Virginia, Minn. and funded by Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. United Way of Northeastern Minnesota suggested the original concept, and the website listings were compiled by Mesabi Daily News and local chambers of commerce.

Future website plans include online ordering capabilities for local restaurants that wish to expand their takeout and delivery services. Interested restaurant owners and managers can click here for more information.

This seems like an idea worth replicating in other areas! If there were a St Paul version, I’d check it out.

Broadband and technology allow Hibbing area senior citizens to “age in place”

News from The (Iron Range) Ranger

Access North Center for Independent Living equipped the homes of about 12 senior citizens with new technology that allows them to remain in their homes longer, have added safety features, and be socially connected to family and friends. The outreach was part of Blandin Foundation’s broadband initiative and funded in part by Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation.

For seniors whose failing vision makes it difficult to see the number buttons on a telephone, Echo Show (pictured above) and Alexa gives them voice command capability to dial contacts for them. They can command Alexa to call their health care provider or family member, and Echo Show dials the contact programmed in their phone. With Echo Spot seniors can live video chat with family and friends across the world. Alexa and Alexa Fire allows seniors to command their TVs to turn on or off, adjust the volume and change channels.

Seniors have also been provided Phillips Hue lighting that is controlled by Alexa voice command (pictured). It allows them to safely turn on and off lights using their voice without physically getting up in the dark and risking a trip or fall. Other devices such as a Nest thermostat (pictured below) and Ring doorbell have added extra security and safety in homes. Seniors can control temperature settings in their homes and see on their phone who is at their door before opening it.

“Most seniors prefer to remain in their homes as long as possible and want to avoid unnecessary or premature nursing home placement,” said Don Brunette, Access North executive director. “We used the broadband grant money to provide and install products, services and conveniences to allow them to do so. Some homes received new routers to make their broadband connectivity more robust to support the new devices.”

Access North has a long-term loan library that is stocked with a multitude of technology devices to enhance people’s quality of life and independence in their homes. The equipment may be checked out by seniors and disabled people of any age.

Founded in 1985, Access North serves 10 counties in northeastern Minnesota. Its Hibbing office partnered with Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce and Blandin on the senior technology initiative. The Blandin broadband program aims to advance broadband in northeastern Minnesota rural communities and develop high speed internet that is critical to economic development, education, healthcare and quality of life. Spurring access to broadband and increasing the number and sophistication of users across the region can help future developments and investments into broadband.

“The grant allowed us to meet the needs of seniors in order for them to remain in their homes. Everyone in our society is facing these same needs right now during the pandemic and Shelter in Place order,” said Brunette. “We see now more than ever how robust broadband and technology enable our culture and all members to connect to work, school, family and friends.”

Rock County – Blandin Broadband Community Reflection

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

As of 2019, Rock County is the top ranked county in Minnesota for broadband speeds meeting the state’s 2026 speed goals of 100/20. They received $5 million in 2015 from DEED’s Border-to-Border Broadband grant program to build gigabit-capable fiber to the premise network throughout the county. While the availability of high-speed internet access is a great advantage to Rock County, the BBC team recognized that their residents and businesses in many cases still needed the skills to take full advantage of those services. Especially in the areas of healthcare and agriculture.

Libraries play a key role in closing the rural broadband gap by providing access to people who may not be able to afford home subscriptions, and librarians can help connect people with information and resources. Thus, it’s not a surprise that this Rock County Community Library-led effort focused on providing free public Wi-Fi and the training to use it.

The team designed and implemented projects to provide free public wireless internet at six area campgrounds and two parks. They also implemented Wi-Fi on school buses, purchased mobile Wi-Fi hotspots for check-out at the Library, and installed a computer lab in the senior center and public housing complex.

  • Blue Mound Tower is a 70-unit income-based housing facility. The project supplied two PCs for People computers and Wi-Fi for residents’ use when registering for services, accessing medical records, applying for jobs and to connect with family and friends. They are also invited to attend classes at the senior center or library to learn to use technology better.

Wi-Fi at campgrounds serve both tourists and temporary workers. It also allows for security cameras and benefits campground staff. • The library mobile hotspots can be checked out by patrons for two weeks at a time. They use a reservation system so people can be sure to get them when they need them. They’ve had a great response and generally keep a waiting list.

Agriculture is the major industry in Rock County. Advances in technology are transforming how it’s done. One BBC project surveyed Ag producers on their technology interests and needs and then provided a day of learning to help address them. Seventy people of all age ranges attended and found it valuable.

Other projects included a booth at the county fair to promote the team’s BBC work, customized social media and website training for twenty small businesses and nonprofits in the county, mental health education offered via distance learning, and computer classes through community education.

Added stories:

Many of our tenants cannot afford to own a computer nor can they afford a monthly internet bill. These computers [acquired through BCBP] have made it possible and convenient for tenants to search employment opportunities and apply for jobs. They can establish an email address for communicating with family and friends and employers. Many of our tenants do not have transportation, therefore online ordering may be the only way they can purchase their basic necessities. Several have established Facebook accounts which have connected them with family and friends. Currently we are live streaming the MN DNR and Decorah, IA, Raptor Resource Project eagle cameras. Tenants of all ages love to check in on the eagles. These computers have opened a window to the outside world and enhanced many lives at the Housing Authority of Luverne/Blue Mound Tower.

– Tammy J. Johnson, Executive Director, Blue Mound Tower

The hotspots are always checked out! We have families who take them on vacation and students who check them out to do schoolwork. We have heard so many times from our library users how great the service is and how happy they are to have the hotspots available in our community! The five hotspots have been available for ten months, and they have checked out a total of 99 times!

– Calla Bjorklund Jarvie, Director, Rock County Community Library

Broadband on the Iron Range – progress made and progress needed

Hometown Focus reports…

Currently most of northeastern Minnesota is considered either unserved or underserved by broadband service. However major efforts are underway to overcome the most significant barrier, which is the high cost of deploying broadband infrastructure to rural communities. Beginning in 2015 Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation financially supported broadband infrastructure to households through two large grants to Clinton and Balkan townships, and in 2019 through a grant to Aitkin County. In 2016 and 2019 the agency partnered with Blandin Foundation and St. Louis County to help fund the Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC) program to support initiatives in communities throughout the region. The BBC (still in action) spurs access to broadband and increases the number and sophistication of users across the region.

One hundred and one small projects resulted from BBC, everything from installing Wi-Fi on school buses, in parks and campgrounds; launching tourism apps; checking out portable hot spot devices at libraries; community websites; business technology centers and co-working spaces; feasibility studies to strengthen federal and state grant applications; and, donating refurbished computers to people. The 101 projects were geared to increase internet use because increased internet use drives private companies and rural co-ops to invest in broadband utility infrastructure.

The providers responded and massive infrastructure projects have either occurred or are on the very near horizon. Private providers in the region include Paul Bunyan Communications, CTC, Frontier, Century Link, Mediacom, SCI Broadband, Mid Continent, NESC, Consolidated Telephone, True North Broadband, Zito Media, HughesNet, ViaSat, Emily Telephone Cooperative, Cooperative Light & Power, and Arvig.

The Iron Range (traversing Aitkin, Cass, Itasca, Koochiching and St. Louis counties) is lucky to have two foundations to help lead and support broadband effort but it also takes local champions and willing providers.

Blandin Foundation funds Iron Range Tourism Bureau projects

Hometown Focus reports on projects in the following communities Aurora, Biwabik, Chisholm, Embarrass, Eveleth, Gilbert, Hibbing, Hoyt Lakes, Mountain Iron, Virginia and surrounding townships…

With a portion of its Blandin Broadband Community grant, the Iron Range Tourism Bureau has awarded technology mini-grants of $1,500 each to regional nonprofits that serve visitors. Grants were given to:

  • Club Mesabi,
    • Embarrass Township/Finnish Homestead Tours,
    • Eveleth Heritage Society,
    • Hibbing Historical Society Museum,
    • Hibbing Tourist Center,
    • Iron Range Historical Society,
    • Camp Vermilion,
    • Lyric Center for the Arts,
    • Minnesota Museum of Mining,
    • Minnesota Discovery Center,
    • SISU Heritage/Nelimark Museum, and
    • Virginia Area Historical Society.

“Through the Blandin Broadband grant, we’ve been able to assist our valued partners in tourism, namely organizations that serve visitors and help preserve our area’s history,” said Beth Pierce, executive director of the Iron Range Tourism Bureau. “Ultimately, these grants will impact the visitor experience— whether tourists or locals—in a positive way, and help these nonprofits achieve their own goals.”

They also mention a few past projects…

Other Blandin Broadband Communities Program initiatives being undertaken by the Iron Range Tourism Bureau include the creation of a virtual reality mine tour, a talent attraction website, a digital map of arts and artists, and a local “good news” campaign. For more information, contact Pierce at or 218-749-8161.

Hibbing opens first co-working space – so maybe you can extend your next trip?

Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation’s newsletter, The Ranger reports…

Entrepreneur Karine Woodman established TechTank, Hibbing’s first co-working space that is shared by several workers from different organizations and companies. The arrangement enables cost savings for the member occupants through common infrastructure related to utilities, broadband and office equipment.

Woodman purchased a 3,500-square-foot building near the city’s downtown business corridor to launch TechTank. She completely renovated the interior and exterior and utilized a Business Energy Retrofit (BER) grant to help pay for upgrades to the HVAC systems.

TechTank members have access to contemporary work spaces, fiber optic internet, printing services, private rooms, conference rooms with meeting tools such as TVs, teleconference equipment and whiteboard walls. There is free parking, indoor and outdoor collaboration space and educational events. Monthly, daily and yearly memberships are available, and members have round-the-clock access to the secure work space. Two conference rooms are also available for half and full-day rental with seating to accommodate up to 16 people.

According to Small Business Trends, experts estimated that 1,000 new co-working spaces opened in the United States during 2018, and almost 700 are expected to open by the end of this year.

Need a broadband adoption project idea? Matrix of Blandin broadband projects 2018-2020

Blandin Foundation has just posted an updated version of the Blandin Broadband Communities project matrix. It includes brief descriptions of projects supported by Blandin and deployed by BBC participants. I’ll paste an abbreviated form of the matrix below – but it’s easier to read on the Blandin website

Community Project Name Project Description
Cannon Falls Cannon Falls Local Foods Initiative Project support to define, develop and position a brand that promotes Cannon Falls as the local food capital of Minnesota emphasizing the recreational, scenic, and healthy living assets of the community.
Koochiching Technology Initiative Backus Conferencing Upgrades Project support to upgrade interactive videoconferencing equipment and capabilities at the Backus Community Center.
Koochiching Technology Initiative Internet for the Homeless Project support to improve internet access at Servants of Shelter, which provides emergency shelter to individuals and families in Koochiching County. The upgraded capacity will allow clients to research employment, education and housing opportunities.
Koochiching Technology Initiative KCC TV Local Media: Local Lives Project support to increase locally-generated and relevant media content that reflects the lived experience and perspective of county residents available on Koochiching County Community Television by building a coalition of students and other residents trained to use cameras and editing equipment.
Koochiching Technology Initiative Birchdale Coworking Space Project support to promote entrepreneurship and improve internet access and use by adding a co-working space to the Birchdale Community Building in the unincorporated community of Birchdale. Residents can reserve the internet-enabled facility to conduct business, host meetings or attend online classes. The space will utilize the community building’s internet and other facilities.
Koochiching Technology Initiative Coworking Meetups Project support for creating a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship by helping Ballan’s iSpace, a new co-working facility in downtown International Falls, offer relevant programming in partnership with the International Falls Public Library and Borderland Young Professionals. Partners will host weekly gatherings of mutual support to share knowledge, build skills, network, and inspire one another.
Koochiching Technology Initiative The Library Reaches Into the Community Project support to increase broadband adoption and use by helping the International Falls Public Library expand its services in the community, including through improved Wi-Fi access at Smokey Bear Park, six LinkedIn Learning mobile internet subscriptions for check-out, expanded reference service to  texting and LiveChat, and the addition of  Adobe Creative Cloud software for use by patrons in the library’s new recording studio.
Rock County Library Hotspots Project support to provide five mobile Wi-Fi hotspots for check-out free-of-charge to library patrons.
Rock County Blue Mound Towers Computer Lab Project support to provide computer access to tenants at the Blue Mound Tower, a 70-unit income-based housing facility in Luverne. Tenants will be encouraged to attend computer training classes at the Rock County Senior Center or Community Library.
Rock County School Bus Wi-Fi Implementation Project support to improve public internet access and use by installing wireless routers on ten Luverne school buses and four Hills-Beaver Creek school buses, allowing student riders access to homework and projects via smart devices.
Rock County Educational Videos and Classroom Tech Training Project support to improve public digital literacy and technical sophistication by creating and publishing on the internet a series of locally contextualized and informed educational videos.
Rock County Sr. Center Computer Lab Project support to establish a six-computer lab in a newly renovated senior facility in Luverne.
Rock County Ag Tech Day Project support to design and host a day-long community workshop on various ag tech topics.
Rock County Community Ed Technology Upgrade Project support to purchase a quality laptop computer compatible with Community Ed’s wall-mounted flat screen TV, allowing instructors to demonstrate internet access, websites and other media for their students.
Rock County Additional PCs for People Computers Project support to purchase ten additional refurbished computers from PCs for People to distribute to community members in need.
Rock County County Fair Booth Project support to increase awareness of and engagement in Rock County’s Blandin Broadband Community projects through a booth at the Rock County Fair.
Rock County Social Media Optimization Project support to offer social media training and coaching to ten businesses and ten organizations in Rock County.
Rock County Blue Mound State Park Wi-Fi Project support to improve public access to the internet by providing free public Wi-Fi at Blue Mound State Park campground.
Rock County Hardwick Campground Wi-Fi Project support to improve public access to the internet by providing free public Wi-Fi at the Hardwick campground.
Rock County Hills Campground Wi-Fi Project support to improve public access to the internet by providing free public Wi-Fi at the Hills campground.
Rock County Magnolia Campground Wi-Fi Project support to improve public access to the Internet by providing free public Wi-Fi at the Magnolia campground.
Rock County Beaver Creek Baseball Field Wi-Fi Project support to improve public access to the Internet by providing free public Wi-Fi at the Beaver Creek baseball field and park.
Rock County SWMHC/Avera Health Distance Learning and Telemedicine Project support to improve access to distance learning and mental health care services through the purchase of telemedicine equipment.
Rock County Jasper Campground Wi-Fi Project support to improve public access to the Internet by providing free public Wi-Fi at the Jasper campground.
Rock County Technology Classes Project support to improve digital skills and literacy by offering a series of technology-focused community education classes based on community interests and needs.
Swift County Training for CNC and Welding Project support to offer a five-week Weld and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) certificate program to Swift County residents through a combination of online, classroom and shop experience.
Swift County Digital Marketing Consulting Project support to improve local business profitability by engaging seven small business owners (selected through an application process) in hands-on consulting to develop and implement affordable website and social media strategies, resulting in increased brand awareness and customer base.
Swift County Community Websites Project support to develop customized community profiles and websites for Swift County cities without current websites, including Clontarf, Danvers, DeGraff, and Holloway.
Swift County STEM Camp for Kids Project support for a low-cost summer STEM Camp for children entering 2nd through 7th grade utilizing proven curriculum provided by the National Inventors Hall of Fame to enhance kids’ skills in the areas of robotics, coding, and other STEM areas.
Swift County 4-H Extension Mobile App Project support to create a mobile app allowing r 4-H families across Swift County to easily access 4-H information and resources; including schedules, show programs, results, event sign-up, and training.
Swift County Digital Marketing for Community & Economic Dev. Orgs Project support to convene an ongoing peer communication/marketing roundtable where tools and best practices can be shared, and communication strategies aligned to strengthen community and economic development.
East Range Joint Powers Board Portable Training Lab Project support to develop a mobile training lab to provide computer/technology training and job search skills to East Range residents.
East Range Joint Powers Board (ERJPB) ERJPB Website Project support to create a new website to better inform the community about East Range Joint Powers Board and community activities, including the Blandin Broadband Community, with the goal of promoting cooperation across communities, creating a centralized point for information about telecommunications technology in the region, and raising awareness about ERJPB-supported broadband work on the East Range.
East Range Joint Powers Board East Range Business Retention and Expansion Visits Project support to solicit input from area business on their broadband familiarity, use, needs, etc.; and to seek to engage them in the BBC process, and strengthen the case for greater connectivity on the East Range.
East Range Joint Powers Board Public Wi-Fi Project support to improve internet access by expanding public Wi-Fi access in areas inside and outside of public buildings at the City of Biwabik, and libraries in the cities of Hoyt Lakes and Aurora.
Laurentian Chamber of Commerce Gilbert Campground Project support to improve public access to the internet through the installation of a fiber connection to the Gilbert Campground and of a free public internet access point.
Laurentian Chamber of Commerce Digital Marketing / Technology Audits for Area Businesses Project support to improve the online presence and profitability of ten local businesses by providing technical assistance, including an audit of the businesses’ current technology platforms, websites, and use of social media.
Laurentian Chamber of Commerce Chamber Technology Upgrades Project support to improve the ability of the Chamber of Commerce to host businesses and chamber members for meetings and events through the purchase of a new computer with upgraded software, projector, screen and a Bluetooth conferencing unit.
Laurentian Chamber of Commerce PCs for People Distribution Event Enhancement Project support to improve digital literacy skills of local residents through training, education and other support to the recipients of computers distributed by PCs for People as part of the Blandin Broadband Community Program.
Laurentian Chamber of Commerce Wi-Fi in the Parks Project support to improve public access to the internet by installing Wi-Fi hotspots in three public parks in the cities of Eveleth, Gilbert, and Virginia.
Laurentian Chamber of Commerce Small Business Saturday App Project support to improve small local business profitability on Small Business Saturday and throughout the year through the development of an app that shoppers can use to learn about local options and enable participating businesses to share promotional offers.
Laurentian Chamber of Commerce Virtual Interview Room Project support to increase employment opportunities for people using the Workforce Center by providing a remote interview cubicle with a computer, camera, and microphone. The equipment may also be used for training purposes, specifically on interview skills.
Laurentian Chamber of Commerce Interactive Television Project support to increase access to training by installing an interactive television (ITV) at the Workforce Center to allow staff and the public to videoconference, participate in remote trainings, increase training opportunities, reduce travel costs, etc.
Laurentian Chamber of Commerce Safe, Accessible Public Wi-Fi Project support to improve access to the internet by providing dedicated, comfortable, and safe spaces in three public locations in Eveleth where residents, visitors and guests can access Wi-Fi.
Laurentian Chamber of Commerce Wi-Fi on Buses in the Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia Schools Project support to improve public internet access and use by installing Wi-Fi on school buses, allowing students who rely on school bus transportation access for school work.
Laurentian Chamber of Commerce Fayal Township Website Upgrade Project support to create a new, upgraded website for Fayal Township that will allow features such as a community calendar, forms and permit applications for download, and enable better communication between residents and Township officials.
Iron Range Tourism Bureau Internet Access Assessment Project support to conduct an assessment of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges of internet connectivity at area attractions, lodging, campgrounds, and trails.
Iron Range Tourism Bureau Talent Attraction Microsite Project support to create and market a fun and informative microsite on Iron Range Tourism Bureau’s website that will provide needed information for those seeking to relocate to the area, including housing, daycare, what to expect during winter, etc.
Iron Range Tourism Bureau Local Pride Campaign Project support to launch a social marketing campaign to promote local pride and a positive sense of place.
Iron Range Tourism Bureau Small Business Trainings Project support to improve the technology and online marketing skills of tourism businesses to enhance their profitability through one-on-one trainings.
Iron Range Tourism Bureau Interactive Arts Map Project support to create an interactive online map to showcase and promote the work of local artists, cultural opportunities, and cultural sites in the region.
Iron Range Tourism Bureau Virtual Reality Mine Tour Project support to create an interactive, virtual mine tour experience so visitors can learn about the mining process and history via technology.
Tower EDA Workstation for Public Access Project support to improve public access to the internet by providing a workstation with a computer and printer in the new community room at the Breitung town hall.
Tower EDA Hoo Doo Point Campground Wi-Fi Project support to improve public access to the internet by providing Wi-Fi throughout Hoo Doo Point Campground.
Tower EDA Broadband Access to the Tower Depot and Farmer’s Market Project support to improve public access to the internet by providing Wi-Fi access to people using the Tower Depot for information, and to Farmer’s Market participants and visitors.
Tower EDA School and Community Connectivity Project support to improve digital literacy skills and technology use by creating and supporting a mobile computer lab and AV display for the Tower-Soudan Elementary School media center that will be accessible to the community as well as students.
Tower EDA Senior / Public / Student Access Computer Lab Project support to improve digital literacy skills and technology use by creating a 12-computer lab and AV display that can be used by the school, as an internet café for AEOA Senior Dining clients, and the general public through Tower-Soudan Community Ed classes and VCS after school parental involvement classes.
Tower EDA Interactive Field Trip and Music Lab Project support to improve digital literacy skills and training opportunities for students and the public by expanding the Vermilion School computer lab into a space that can be used for interactive educational and community education programming, virtual field trips, visits with scientists and writers, along with technology to create a digital music lab, including a digital piano and other instruments.
Tower EDA Smartboards in our Classrooms Project support to improve technology use by installing Smartboards in VCS classrooms, particularly math and science rooms, and to take full advantage of the new fiber optic capabilities to the school building.
Laurentian / Tower / East Range Laurentian-Tower-East Range (LTE) Broadband Feasibility Study Project support to explore options to expand broadband infrastructure and services by conducting a feasibility study throughout the Quad Cities / Tower / East Range JPB area. They will also use this process to identify potential partners to provide these services.
Aitkin County Wi-Fi Hotspot in Jacobson Community Center Project support to increase public access to the internet by installing a 25 megabit-per-second Wi-Fi hotspot in the Jacobson Community Center; a hub that hosts many local events and is an East Central Regional Library remote site.
Aitkin County High-Speed Broadband at LLCC Project support to install high-speed fiber optic broadband at the Long Lake Conservation Center, enabling higher internet speeds and increased educational programming.
Aitkin County Increase MyChart Usage at Riverwood Healthcare Center Project support to increase the use of the MyChart online patient portal amongst patients and caregivers at Riverwood Healthcare Center, which allows patients better access to their electronic health records, and to schedule appointments, contact their provider, view test results, monitor health maintenance, etc.
Aitkin County Enhance Interactive Community Conference Centers Project support to increase access to training and decrease meeting travel by enhancing and expanding the existing interactive capabilities at the well-used community conference centers in Aitkin and McGregor by adding interactive cameras to allow for onsite and offsite use.
Chisholm Wi-Fi Hotspots for Check-out Project support to increase students’ access to the internet at home by making hotspots available for check-out by students at the Chisholm Public School Library.
Chisholm Distance Learning Program Project support to improve Minnesota Discovery Center’s public outreach by establishing a distance learning program related to Iron Range history and natural history for remote audiences, including a mobile cart with video conferencing capabilities
Ely Google Local Listings Project support to create a website to showcase Ely to prospective residents, businesses, and visitors, including information on cost of living, the arts, restaurants, churches, business opportunities, infrastructure, etc.
Ely Community Building Skilllshares Project support to improve local business profitability through free professional training on internet and social media use offered through Ten Below Coworking.
Ely Proximity Beacons Project support to promote local events and businesses by using Wi-Fi enabled Bluetooth proximity beacons to deliver fun, interactive and unique experiences to park visitors.
Ely Ely through my Eyes Project support to kick-off a promotional video series with four episodes that highlight Ely through diverse stories of the unique characters found within the community.
Ely Arts Directory Project support to promote area artists by creating a web-directory that will link artists, art consumers, and material providers in an easy-to-access and easy-to-maintain website.
Ely Ely Meetup Project support to increase the sophistication of Ely’s web presence through the use of software by businesses and organizations to consolidate and post all community event listings online in one location.
Grizzlies (Bois Forte, Cook, Orr) Community Education Project support to increase internet access, digital literacy and technology use by providing adult education classes and public Wi-Fi at the Orr Center.
Grizzlies Wi-Fi Hotspots and Adult Education Project support to increase internet access, digital literacy and technology use by providing public Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi hotspots for check-out, and technology training and activities at the Cook Library.
Grizzlies QuickBooks Business Training Project support to improve business technology skills by providing technical training and support for small business owners on QuickBooks.
Grizzlies Native Video Archive Project support to establish a Native Video Archiving program with videos of various events so future generations can see, about learn about culturally significant activity throughout the reservation.
Grizzlies Grizzlies Sports Blog and Website Project support to provide digital literacy and skills to students and community members through training in journalism, web design, and blogging while promoting a sense of one-ness between the three communities in the North Woods school district by establishing a webpage designed specifically to cover all Grizzlies sporting events and programs.
Hibbing Aging in Place Through Technology Project support to increase internet use by utilizing smart home technology to create environmental control and enhance safety and security within homes to allow seniors to successfully age in place.
Hibbing Public Housing / Downtown Mesh Wi-Fi Network Project support to increase public access to the internet by providing affordable Wi-Fi to up to 60 low-income families at the public housing facility, with the potential to provide free access in public areas and to businesses in the downtown area within two blocks of the facility.
Hibbing Monthly Business Meetup Meetings Project support to increase the profitability of Hibbing area businesses by offering free monthly meetups with paid facilitators that focus on topics such as entrepreneurship, financial management, human resources, marketing, workflow mgmt, and technology.
Hibbing iPads in Emergency Dept, Hibbing Fire Dept, and Ambulances Project support to provide critical visual connectivity between first responders and emergency department providers by placing iPads in the Fairview Range Emergency Room, six Hibbing Fire Dept vehicles, three Nashwauk ambulances, and two Chisholm ambulances.
Hibbing Serenity House iPad Project support to provide internet access to patients and family members visiting Hibbing for cancer treatments by offering two iPads and a hotspot at Serenity House.
Mt. Iron-Buhl Internet Upgrades Project support to increase internet access and digital literacy skills by expanding Wi-Fi throughout the Mesabi Family YMCA facility, offering science and technology programs for youth, and through implementing the Open Y platform which allows for more up-to-date website, apps, etc.
Mt. Iron-Buhl Environmental Community Learning Center Project support to invite and encourage students and community members to engage with technology to enrich their environment learning by establishing an outdoor learning lab with 12 GPS units, geocaching containers, a weather station, and a community greenhouse.
Mt. Iron-Buhl Technology Inspired Design Program Project support to improve digital literacy and technology skills by making the school’s STEM Lab available and accessible to the broader population, and to develop a multi-facetted approach to teaching students and community members about the endless creative possibilities of using the internet and design software.
Mt. Iron-Buhl Collaborative Community Journalism Project support to improve digital literacy and technology skills by showcasing the school’s technology to teach community members and students to develop and produce various types of videos, social media, advertisements, posters and more.
Mt. Iron-Buhl City Services App Project support to develop an app for of the City of Mountain Iron to provide a wide variety of information to its residents.

Koochiching Tech Initiative Struts their broadband projects: cool new coworking space and more

Yesterday we met with the Koochiching Tech Initiative folks in International Fall about their broadband projects. We started with a tour of the emerging coworking space. It’s the old furniture store and the owner is transitioning it into a working space. They have space for daily visitors and more permanent rentals. The space is really nice. You can see a quick video of the space:

Getting Better Broadband

Working on a Mn Broadband grant. Getting letters of support from various people. Hoping to work with Paul Bunyan. They are working with the plan that started last year at the Broadband Conference. If the grant gets funded (as we originally planned) it would have met the need of about 50 percent of the households in our community; but with the lake area removed, we’re probably down to 35 percent.

They will also share data from recent market surveys with other providers to see if we can’t entice other providers to reach areas that don’t make sense for Paul Bunyan. If they need to, they will look at fixed wireless. They are looking at fixed wireless across the lake, because of the inherent cost of running fiber. Average cost to get FTTH in the area is $6500 per home. It would be much more across the lake.

The survey was successful. The folks here had some very optimistic expectations – but the good news is that Paul Bunyan is more realistic and were happy with the results.

A next phase might be looking into wireless options.

Marketing the Area

The biggest frustration has been the community video project, which didn’t really gel with what we needed. They are looking at other approaches for a web portal and maybe branding. Trying to move away from Icebox of the Nation.

They’re looking at a request from a group that will call back to people who have been here before. They have found that often people come for a job and just loved it. And for folks who are close to retiring, the cost of a house has been a draw.

Smokey Bear wifi

They are putting public wifi in the Smokey Bear park. It got done in time for a big event and it met the needs of the event. SO that was a success. The connection comes from the library (via MidCo).

They have put wifi into a space for temporary housing. That will be built soon.


The library has provided access to Linda training. (Which has actually been renamed.) They have a wide range of services that are now accessible and we are working on better marketing the services that are available. They have created a recording studio for podcasts or musicians. (They got funding from a different source.)  That just opened the other day and already a podcast has broadcast!

They are digitizing the collection. (Not funded through broadband.)

KCTV lends out cameras

They will get equipment so that they can do “i-reports” for citizen journalism. Folks just need to take the class and then they can use the camera and broadcast. One example, the FACS teacher will be using it. They are also looking at livestreaming sporting events – especially hockey.

They post everything on YouTube, which people do watch later – from local cultural events to public policy meetings.

PCs for People

The 50 computers are slated to be distributed and a date has been set.


One of the issues has been getting volunteers to do everything. They are looking at options to hire someone. There’s just too much work to expect someone to be able to do it for free. One approach might be to use grant funding to pay for project management or support by project. The only concern would be sustainability. They have had support from the city in terms of promoting and sharing info but they don’t fund a lot.

Our survivor isn’t a large company swooping in to save us – it’s local entrepreneurship!

There is money left for a second round of funding.

Tower struts broadband stuff: feasibility study, projects in the schools and more

Yesterday, we met with folks from Tower to talk about broadband projects in the area.

Here’s a shortlist of what’s happening:

In the schools
Their first focus was education. In the grade school we have a mobile computer lab with 16 ipads. They also use it for community education.

At the country (charter) school – they’re working on 3 smartboards.  And they are working on a computer lab using 12 computers from PCs for People. They’ll be using it so high school seniors can work with seniors to increase digital skills. And we’re looking at bringing fiber into the school – a new provider will try to get Frontier’s portion of the fiber. They are also looking on VR googles for virtual field trips.

There’s a new Administrator at the charter school and that will really help lift awareness. We might even be able to get into some remote music classes.

People are losing their phone lines (they are broken) for weeks at a time and Frontier has still not been fixed. We are waiting for better broadband and better phones.

Everyone is excited to move away from Frontier.

Feasibility Study
They have made progress. It sounds like it’s a family affair with one family taking charge to make things happen. We’ve been trying to get townships to help fund a study. Our goal is $75,000 and we’re getting closer. The results will be there for everyone but it would be nice to get a wider base for information – especially when it comes to encouraging people to take the market survey.

Public Wifi
We will have wifi for the Depot and the Farmers Market. This means people can use Square-type e-commerce payment tools. They are also putting hotspots into the campground – very soon.

PCs for People
We have 12 people ready for computers. We put up a poster at the food shelf and that was an effective way to get the message out. And kids want them for school. Adults are now able to take online classes. Word of mouth has been one of the strongest marketing tools.

Soudan Township – public access
Public kiosk for computer and internet access in the new townhall.

Website for Tower
Working on an upgrade for the community. The old Content Management System is no longer distributed. So we need a better solution.

Future programs
It would be nice to get kids teaching digital skills – many even from different communities.

Laurentian Chamber Strut Your Strut Tour: working on access building a taste for innovation

Yesterday we met with the Laurentian Chamber of Commerce to talk about their broadband projects. This group represents the cities of Eveleth, Gilbert, Mountain Iron, Virginia and surrounding northern Minnesota business communities. They came up with a scoring system to make sure that communities understood expectation of grant applications. We had some questions about some applications but the project funding has gone through.

To generate proposals, they visited with all communities and talked to them about the opportunity. We sent out a request form. We set a deadline and were pleased with responses. Here are some of the projects and project ideas:

  • There’s a charter school that’s working on a tech program. Many at risk students are there so we’re trying to work on improved broadband access for the students and families.
  • We want everyone to contribute to the feasibility study and we have raised most of it. We need only $1500 more. We have two communities that have yet to contribute.
  • We’re working on a Small Business Saturday app – that will be a tool that they can use beyond the launch day.
  • Right now the education-based grants are more for equipment and access than curriculum. They are hoping for more curriculum focused grants in the next round. This has opened the door to greater collaboration in several areas. A new school is opening in 3-5 years.
  • There might be a fun project working with the Humane Society
  • Working on public wifi access – there is limited to no public access now.
  • Could look at collaboration through centralizing management of multiple public access locations
  • Providing wifi in outdoor spaces is more difficult than you might think. You need someone to own it.
  • They are looking info emergency stations off the bike trails
  • There are some projects with the workforce centers. They are going to build a remote location for interviews. (So Delta or BCBS could interview candidates remotely.)
  • PCs for People – they will provide transportation to folks who need computers
  • Chamber will do tech updates – mostly improving the conference room with improved laptops, projector, phone system. They started with a tech audit.
  • Doing technology and digital marketing project so businesses can improve their sales. We hope to work with 15 businesses in the first round. They will promote through the Chamber.
  • We’re starting to look at a coworking space.
  • A TEDx event is still on the wish list

It’s important to make sure that the people who are charged with doing the project, really want to do it. And we know that once the projects hit the ground that will build a greater interest.

Catching up with broadband projects in Hibbing MN: digital marketing, connectivity through the libraries and community center

Spent the morning in HIbbing talking with people about their broadband projects.  They have been part of a project (IRBC) with the Blandin Foundation and IRRRB focused on increasing use of broadband in the area. I’ll include full notes below – but a couple of highlights…

  • Working on fiber to community building
  • Digital marketing consulting with local businesses
  • Connectivity through the libraries
  • Tech fair for kids
  • PCS for people

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Catching up with broadband projects in Ely MN: Feasibility study, digital marketing, coworking and Elyite website

Spent yesterday afternoon in Ely talking with people about their broadband projects. (It is actually cool up  here – so very nice!) They have been part of a project (IRBC) with the Blandin Foundation and IRRRB focused on increasing use of broadband in the area. I’ll include full notes below – but a couple of highlights…

  • The have made a big push with digital marketing – classes and consulting
  • Their feasibility study has raised some opportunities and options for partnership
  • They have a new website to recruit new Elyites – filled with fun videos.
  • They have a new coworking space – open only a month and they have 12 members!

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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.