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

Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

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.