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 ( 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.

Broadband Efforts in Aitkin County – Wifi filling the gap between the haves and have-nots

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. This week we stopped by Aitkin to talk with the folks on the front lines. It was fun to hear about what a difference better broadband and better tools are making. A highlight was the woman who was able to get her GED through remote studies and is now able to take college classes – what a game changer!

Here are notes on the different projects…

Long Distance Learning

PCs for People distribution meant they were able to get computers to students. One recipient got her GED online – facilitate through the home computer in Deer River. Thinking about telepresence for teaching. We’ve been successfully been having online classes since the beginning of January (3 weeks). Now students have access to the teacher all week – otherwise the schedule was set by location.
What classes? Reading skills, Start your career, Money management. These classes prepare them for GED, Acuplacer (college) and computer skills for the workplace.
Great in better weather.
What speeds do you need? Not much – 10 Mbps
How do students take to technology?  We are experimenting together. It’s nice to have students in the classroom to start. But there are students who are whiz kids who have been showing me new things. And there are some students who need a little bit more help. Running an application or getting sound to work are tasks that can be a hiccup.
Students can also access from home. Some just use the cell access through the phone.
Which students qualify? 17 or older and unenrolled from high school. SO 20s, 30s, 40s or older
Seniors are able to use the program too – for employment programs
Lessons learned: I had fear about teaching online. I was nervous. That fear can show – I just wish I had known the technology better before I started. Teachers need to know the subject they’re teaching. So it is with technology too – but technology constantly changes.
See an up tick for customers using technology? It’s been fantastic – it means I can see people more often. Suddenly I can see people in Aitkin more often.
There is an option to meet privately with students online – so I could help them get signed up with SNAP or other private transaction.
This gives the ability to do adult basic education classes in places where we couldn’t do before.
We can archive and save.
Outside of the classroom – We have diverse people on the foundation board – in lots of locations. Remote access opens the door to easier meetings.

East Central Regional Library Mobile WiFI

14 mobile hotspots to check out – will be available soon.
Planning on 3 week checkout period – and if there’s no one waiting you could keep it longer
We anticipate no charge for patrons.

Aitkin HS – WiFi on the buses

4 portable units – for buses going to activities after school; otherwise going to the buses going the longest routes
The use Exede and it’s been working well.

WiFi to increase bandwidth at Long lake Conservation

Two problems – not enough bandwidth coming in
They use Exede and it works well
WiFI access shows up at about 25 Mbps – so people can make presentations
It’s been one of several positive changes that has helped turned things around both for staff but also economically
This works because our services has better data caps, you can do different logins, and we ask visitors to leave their smartphones at home.

WiFi at Berglund Park
Continuation of previous project
Recently upgraded the park in many ways
WiFi is almost as necessary as water.
Working on Hill City too. Line of sight was difficult to get with the trees so they’re working on government buildings – if they can get 8 access points they can make it work. Just need the order fulfillment. Working on tower over ethernet.
Just need SCI to extend fiber.

Programming workshops that can use the conference centers
Be nice to bring in a speaker or something that can be conferenced into all locations.

Aitkin County Landing Page
Includes a calendar that draws from local high schools and other resources
Includes Public Notices.
Using Google Calendars to create the compilation.

PCs for People
82 computers distributed

CAF 2 (Frontier & CenturyLink) only requires 10/ Mbps service – where state definition/goal of broadband is 25/3. So there’s a disconnect. We did some surveys. Everyone in CenturyLink area had issues. Frontier businesses were in marginally better shape. Realtors have lost sales in Aitkin County due to poor broadband.

We had $450,000 (over 3 years) for projects for broadband projects that would meet state speeds. We asked providers to extend broadband. Mille Lac Energy & CTC got a state grant and that helped the industrial park. SCI also got a grant in the first round near Shamrock (Big Sandy Lake) – it’s the top valued township because of the prices of the home. They did Bridge Road. The response was so good they looked to expand. We were working on just a little bit more fiber into the ground. We also did another grant with SCI near Mill Lacs lake – it will be done next year. We know we’re successful because CenturyLink is now coming to us to talk. We say – if you want to do it, we’re happy to work with you. The 927 exchange will be upgraded from CenturyLink. We had one customer go from dialup to DSL and they were happy.

Chisholm MN Broadband Efforts – wifi on buses, in parks, to check out and an upcoming coworking space

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. We started in Chisholm.

Here’s the presentation:

Notes on  their projects:

Chisholm/Balkan Broadband Projects:

Wi-fi on Busses:

Organization:  Chisholm Public Schools ISD #695

Coordinator:  Joe Phillips, Chisholm Public Schools IT Director

Wi-fi to be installed on two school busses owned by the district.  Allowing for students taking longer bus trips to have access to the internet.  Busses may be used for community events such as the Chisholm All Class Reunion or Doc “Moonlight” Graham Days.


Community Website/Portal:

Organization:  City of Chisholm/Chisholm Area Chamber of Commerce/ISD #695

Coordinator:  Amy Rice, Chisholm Development & Economic Director

Developing a Community Portal and Calendar to provide a “go to” website for all community activities.  The portal will be used to market for economic development, tourism, growing population, the school district, city and chamber.  The three main entities involved will also develop websites that will interact with the portal.  Uploading calendar events and keeping information current.


Community Hot Spots:

Organization:  Chisholm EDA

Coordinator:  Amy Rice, Chisholm Development & Economic Director

Installing community hot spots in three locations, Chisholm Public Library, the Lake Street Pocket Park and the Balkan Community Center.  Each organization will be responsible for the ongoing maintenance and costs associated with the hot spots.


Ipad/Portable Hot Spot Check-out @ Chisholm Public Library:

Organization:  Chisholm Public Library

Coordinator:  Katie Christensen, CPL Director

Purchased ten portable hot spots as well as web access for each device.  The devices will be checked out of the library.  Security features and insurance will be provided on devices.   The Library will be responsible for continuing costs associated with the project.


Chisholm/Balkan Broadband Projects:

Community Training Project:

Organization:  Chisholm Community Education

Coordinator:  Dr. Janey Blanchard, Chisholm Community Education Director/Superintendent ISD #695

Monthly community training on all things broadband.  A monthly presenter will train on a specific topic relating to broadband, internet, social media, security and many more.  Student aides (CHS Seniors) will be trained by a mentor in order to provide help to attendees.  Monthly meetings for the first 12 months are planned, additional topics will be added depending on community input.  Our Community Portal will be showcased as well as the Hot Spot Checkout System at Chisholm Public Library.  Other partners will include the Chisholm Area Chamber of Commerce, ISD #695, Chisholm Public Library and area banks and medical facilities.


MDC Broadband Access:

Organization:  Minnesota Discovery Center

Coordinator: Ethan Bexell, MDC

The Goal is to provide broadband access at the Minnesota Discovery Center that is reliable, affordable and provides speeds adequate for a museum, educational facility, premier meeting facility and area attraction.


“Business Perks” Building:

Organization:  Chisholm EDA

Coordinator:  Amy Rice, Chisholm Development & Economic Director

We plan to create rental space for part-time/temporary/startup businesses with access to technology.  For example high speed internet service, webinar access, skype, google hangout and other options.  Staffed by an intern from our local community college, in addition to an intern opportunity with UMD-CED we plan to have that person also provide social media marketing and e-commerce training to our downtown businesses free of charge for the first year of operation.  We are looking at a building that is adjacent to our new downtown Pocket Park, with the recently installed Hot Spot equipment in the park we plan to expand that to cover the building. Plans call for a coffee hub in the front of the building that will have a side door opening to the Pocket Park.  The coffee shop will be open for the facility renters and eventually we hope to have it run as a viable business.  The space will be an incubator/business development tool, training center and brain hub for the community.  In-Kind partners will provide art work/decoration for the property.  Partners will include the IRRRB, AEOA Business Energy Retrofit Program, the Chisholm Community Foundation, Chisholm EDA, Chisholm Downtown Revitalization Committee, UMD-CED, Hibbing Community College and the Chisholm Area Chamber of Commerce.


And video of the meeting:


E-marketing training changed this Hibbing business completely

Broadband can help businesses but two things need to happen. First, you have to have adequate broadband. Two, you have to know what to do with it. I spend more time talking about getting broadband here, but I enjoy the stories of using it too.

The Hibbing Daily Tribune recent posted a story of seven businesses in Hibbing that received digital marketing…

Businesses were selected through a contest. In addition to Cobb Cook Grocery, small business assisted in round one included: Range Steel Fabricators, Pink Tie Design, Andy’s Auto Sales, Benders Shoes, Range Floral and Sunrise Bakery.

All combined, the businesses received $20,500 worth of consulting hours, according to Lory Fedo, president of the Chamber and co-chair of the Hibbing Broadband Steering Committee.

“Consultant Molly Solberg did an incredible job providing about 20 hours of time to each business, training them to bring their technology to the next level,” said Fedo. “Our goal was not to do the upgrade for them, but to teach them how to do it themselves so that they can continue to improve and grow after Molly is done.”

Andy Koschak of Andy’s Auto Sales said the training changed his business completely.

The project was part of the Iron Range Broadband Community project…

The consulting was a broadband project funded through the Blandin Foundation and the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources, according to the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce. Early December marked the completion of round one of the customized small business digital marketing consulting.

As one of six Iron Range Broadband Communities, Hibbing leaders have completed a process to identify the community’s top technology priorities and create projects to address them.

The Hibbing Broadband Steering Committee submitted these customized consulting and several other projects for funding in 2017.

Check out the Internet to bring home at Hibbing and Chisholm libraries

Fun news from the Hibbing Daily Tribune

The Hibbing and Chisholm public libraries recently broadened their capabilities offerings by adding Internet resources for patrons, thanks to a broadband grant [from the Blandin Foundation].

Hibbing Public Library received 20 wireless hot spots and a year of data for the devices this week through funds from the Blandin Foundation in cooperation with Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation (IRRRB), St. Louis County, Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce, Congressman Rick Nolan’s office and library staff.

The project has a value of nearly $10,000, according to a press release.

The goal is to close the digital divide on the Iron Range…

“The wireless hot spots are intended to decrease the digital divide in Hibbing between those who have access to Internet and those who do not,” said Lory Fedo, president of the Hibbing Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the Hibbing Broadband Steering Committee.

She noted the devices will be available for checkout around Jan. 1, 2018, and can be used to access the internet anywhere Sprint wireless service is provided.

Putting mobile Internet devices into the hands of those who don’t have access has been identified as one of the community’s top technology priorities. This was determined through a process by the Hibbing Broadband Steering Committee and projects were created to address those priorities.

Hibbing hosts a technology fair for kids – opening tech doors to new career ideas

The Hibbing Daily Tribune reports on the recent Tech Fair at Hibbing Community College…

Geared toward high school students in grades 9-12, five area schools participated in the fair that focused on the ways IT interfaces with everyday life, what career options exist in IT, and the education pathways students can take to get to those careers.

“The goal of the Information Technology Fair is to inform and educate our future workers of the many technological career options that exist on the Iron Range,” said Jessie Matvey, HCC marketing/admissions representative.

Organized into four sections, students heard from guest speakers working in technology within their specific industry.

Molly Solberg of MAS Marketing led talks on Technology and Digital Media. A duo from Fairview Range tackled the topic of Healthcare and Technology. HCC instructors shed light on IT Networking and Security.

Maki and Pierce presented on Manufacturing and Technology.

It’s a great opportunity to introduce kids to jobs that they don’t necessarily see daily and didn’t learn about in younger grades when we were all ready about becoming teachers, police of bakers. They told the story of one of the presenters, which I think best describes the opportunity…

 Had Brandy Maki heard the term “engineering” while in high school, her career path may have been more direct than it has been.

“As a teenager, I didn’t have any kind of direction or support. I knew I was interested in math and programming, but there were not many options at my school,” she said. “I

don’t think I had ever heard of an engineer at that age. I didn’t know one even existed. So for these kids to know one what is and does at their age is a big thing.”

Today, Maki is a development engineer at Detroit Reman-DMR Electronics.

The Fair is part of a larger broadband effort…

The IT Fair was part of a larger, technology initiative that the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce is leading to make the best use of information and services that high-speed internet can deliver.

Hibbing is one of the Blandin Foundation six Iron Range Broadband Communities (IRBC). Local leaders are working to identify top technology priorities and create projects to address them.

Iron Range Broadband Communities survey – good model for others

I just wrote about the IRBCs (Iron Range Broadband Communities) yesterday. I wanted to follow up by sharing their broadband feasibility study survey – and the email invitation they used to share it. If you are in a target community – please take the time to fill it out. (Only 21 questions!) If you aren’t in the community, you still might check it out as a model for your own area…

Take the Iron Range Broadband Communities survey

Survey targeted to residents of Hibbing, Mountain Iron–Buhl, and Chisholm school districts and Cherry Township
Not everyone on the Iron Range has access to high-speed internet, and local communities are working together to improve that access and to provide faster speeds. The Iron Range Broadband Communities project area includes all residents that live within the Hibbing, Mountain Iron–Buhl, and Chisholm school districts and Cherry Township.

The group has been supported by a grant from the Blandin Foundation, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation, and Saint Louis County to work toward improving internet access for everyone in the area. Additional funding partners include: Hibbing School District, Hibbing EDA, Cherry Township, French Township, Chisholm School District, Chisholm EDA, Balkan Township, Mountain Iron-Buhl School District, City of Mountain Iron, City of Buhl, City of Kinney, and Great Scott Township.
The first step in that effort is to determine what areas of the project area are lacking access and speed and what residents would like to see improved. To measure the current level of interest in higher speed internet access, the team is conducting a survey, which is available to every household in the project area.
The survey is designed to get opinions on current and needed internet access and seeks responses. By pinpointing clusters where rural residents have a strong desire for broadband, we will be better positioned to attract partners to invest in infrastructure. Your voice matters! The survey deadline is Aug. 31, 2017.
Residents have two ways to complete this brief survey:
• Stop by the Cherry Town Hall or the Hibbing, Chisholm, Mountain Iron, Buhl or Kinney public libraries to fill out a paper copy
Complete the survey online
The group would like to get a high percentage of residents within the project area to complete the survey. The survey will help the Iron Range Broadband Communities in its efforts to ultimately seek state or federal funding to increase access and internet speeds for the entire project area.

Iron Range Broadband Communities – it’s more than wires connecting!

The IRBCs (Iron Range Broadband Communities) met up last week to check in and re-energize with the Blandin Foundation team. I was lucky enough to be there.

These checks always serve to remind me that broadband isn’t an issue – it’s a solution. It’s a way to bring generations together (when kids teach seniors how to use computer) to help people stay in their homes longer with programming for seniors and caregivers to help with education when kids have computers and access to do school work at home. The IRBCs spoke about these programs and more – very specifically their feasibility study. Because broadband is a solution – but it’s only a solution for those who have it. And most of the communities on the Iron Range are trying to improve their access.

The also got a great presentation from Mark Zimmerman at the Itasca Economic Development Corporation. He spoke about how Itasca worked with Blandin to take on their challenges with digital inclusion programming and a feasibility study.

Folks noted that this was the first time the communities had really worked as a unit. And it was going well! I know that probably means tamping down some hockey rivalries – but especially for broadband, the regional approach is better. A regional approach helps fill “dead zones” that are just outside towns. Areas with lower population density but still benefit from full access to affordable, fast broadband.

PCs for People distribute 50 computers in Hibbing

The Daily Hibbing Tribune reports…

PCs for People partnered with the Hibbing Area Chamber of Commerce and the Blandin Broadband Steering Committee to provide 50 free computers to low-income individuals that needed access to a home computer.

The computers were distributed to the pre-qualified recipients Wednesday. They also had a brief orientation of the software installed on the computer and learned where they can find discounted internet service and what to do if the computer has any problems.

In addition to the LEE Center, those receiving computers included: Hibbing Tourist Center Senior Citizens, Hibbing Community Senior Citizens Center, AccessNorth, AEOA/Adult Basic Education, Assumption School and Victory Christian Academy. The computers are expected to be put in labs, in areas for public use and given to individuals.

Hibbing Community College’s IT program instructors and students have agreed to service the computers and assist with other technical aspects.

This distribution was made possible through funding from the Blandin Foundation, said Chamber President Lory Fedo.

Local media covers Chisholm’s Broadband Strut your Stuff Tour

Last week I wrote about our fun bus tour of Chisolm to visit their Blandin-funded broadband-related project. This week the Hibbing Daily Tribune  posted an article on the tour. It’s great to see the tour getting attention in a local media, which will help local residents learn about what’s happening with broadband in the community…

Chisholm City Administrator Katie Bobich and Tom Whiteside, a representative from Rep. Rick Nolan’s office, were tour guides. The two also engaged tour participants in a round of trivia on broadband.

They wrote about projects funded by Blandin…

A $75,000 matching grant awarded to the Chisholm Development Economic Development Authority (EDA) by the Blandin Foundation was used to cover the cost of a feasibility study of the project area. That area includes: Chisholm, Balkan Township, Hibbing, French Township, Cherry Township, Mountain Iron, Buhl, Kinney and Great Scott Township.

A $31,500 grant from the Blandin Foundation along with a $10,500 match from the Chisholm Community Foundation was used to cover projects being implemented this spring.

The school bus used for the tour was one example of these grant dollars at work. It’s one of two in the Chisholm School District’s fleet that are now equipped with WiFi, accessible for students to do their homework.

At a school board meeting this spring, Chisholm High School Principal Rich Aldrich talked about the benefit of having WiFi available to students traveling for sports or other school events. One of the buses equipped with the WiFi, it was noted on the tour, hauls students from a lengthy rural route.

A portion of the funds awarded this spring will also be used to build a common web portal for the chamber, school and city, and to update the current website of each of these three entities. …

In effort to bridge the gap and make high speed internet more readily available, grant monies received this spring will be used to create community hot spots at the Chisholm Public Library, Balkan Community Center and at the pocket park being constructed on Lake Street in Chisholm. The library will also be starting up a hot spot checkout program, where patrons may check out a hot spot for a specified period of time.

They also took a look at future projects…

The Blandin Broadband Committee is also looking ahead, identifying potential projects. They are seeking $43,500 from the Blandin Foundation to be paired with $14,500 from other sources, said Rice.

Some of the ideas being considered for fall, should they be awarded these funds, include adding a strong WiFi connection at Minnesota Discovery Center and adding a hot spot at Kiwanis Park. An e-training session for businesses and technology training for community members is also being considered.

Another idea being proposed is a technology center launch pad.

Mayor Todd Scaia on Thursday suggested exploring the possibility of getting a designated testing site, should the technology center come to fruition. Scaia and others on the bus tour talked about the distances professionals and students now travel for testing.

Bobich also talked about creating a Skype booth. This concept would involve a London style phone booth from which patrons could Skype without their conversations disrupting other patrons.