Feasibility study is first step to better broadband in Greenwood MN (St Louis County)

The Timber Jay does a nice job detailing a recent (Oct 29) meeting in Greenwood Township to discuss bringing better broadband to the community. I wasn’t there but it sounds like meetings I have attended in the past. If you live in an area with good broadband and you have any interest in knowing how the other half lives and/or if you’re a policymaker, this article strikes me as a good example of what people deal with in some rural areas….

[From Frontier] Bohler was one of over a half dozen local elected officials and representatives of telecommunications companies and state agencies who came to speak at a roundtable-style meeting here on Tuesday to discuss telephone and internet issues in the township. About 50 area residents filled the town hall at the Oct. 29 meeting.
Frontier currently supplies DSL level service in many areas of the township. “Most homes can get 10 mbps service,” said Bohler, “or a little higher if they are near a terminal node.”
For rural telecommunications providers, it comes down to numbers.
“Folks here are spread out,” said Bohler, noting that raises the cost per household for providing upgraded service. “State funding is vital in making the projects economically viable,” he said.
Fiber optic cable has already been installed in several of the more populated areas of the township, but at present, only the town hall has been connected to the broadband-level service. This fiber, installed by the Northeast Service Coop, stretches down Echo Point as far as the Bois Forte Reservation, down Birch Point, Moccasin Point, and toward Frazer Bay. But whether that fiber could be used to connect to individual homes and businesses in those areas is still an open question.
Audience members stressed the need for reliable service at speeds that would allow residents to work from home, having the township apply for state or federal grant funding to get a project started, and making sure the quality of internet service is sufficient for the needs of area businesses.

So much to unpack here – and I do this for readers who don’t live in these areas. First, he says “most homes can get 10 Mbps service” – I assume this means 10 Mbps down and likely 1 Mbps up. For federal funding that 10/1 speed is a benchmark. For comparison, the MN state speed goal for 2026 is 100/20.

Second, “State funding is vital in making the projects economically viable” – no explanation required but worth highlighting.

Third, “Fiber optic cable has already been installed in several of the more populated areas of the township, but at present, only the town hall has been connected to the broadband-level service.” How can a community thrive when they are looking at 10/1 access and their neighbors have fiber? Where do you buy a house, start a business or plan your vacation? Rural broadband may be expensive but the cost of not getting it may be higher in the long run.

In Greenwood, the commitment to move forward has been made…

Speakers all agreed that conducting a feasibility study was the most important first step. That study helps to determine how many residences and businesses desire high-speed service, how much they can afford to pay, and exactly where they are all located in the township. The study is also a prerequisite for any request for any kind of funding application.
Such a study is about to begin, thanks to the efforts of the local Blandin Broadband Committee, which is being led in large part by Greenwood residents Joanne, John, and Kate Bassing. The township has committed to help fund the feasibility study, which ensures that data on Greenwood’s needs and residents will be part of the study. The Blandin Foundation is providing matching funds for this study and will host a kickoff event for the feasibility study on Nov. 8 in Aurora.

The article goes on to detail potential pricing or at least factors that might impact pricing and talks about what broadband leaders are doing in communities in the area to make this happen. The costs are staggering (“$20,000 – $25,000 per mile to bury fiber optic cable, but that cost could double if the ground has bedrock”) and the volunteer hours are long. But the plan moves forward!

Iron Range Tourism struts their broadband stuff: putting local art on the map and more

We made our last Strut Your Stuff visit today with the Iron Range Tourism. It was fun to hear about their projects.

Artist database/map
Creating a map of local artists. It’s given a broader range of artists attention. The State Arts Board has been working on something similar. So we might be a pilot. One difficulty has been defining a location for the artists. Often the artist would prefer to list a location where their art is available, not their home where they may work.

They are using MailChimp and could send out annual emails to update any info. It would be nice to create a color coded map (different colors for types of art) but with a Google map that’s difficult when people don’t have exact addresses. They are also trying to make it mobile-friendly. There is an opportunity to showcase and get more info at a statewide artist summit.

Also working on tablets and kiosks. They are working on making the arts site the homepage.

Digital Marketing
Trying to get in with folks who don’t traditionally focus on marketing – folks who provide services. We help them claim their Google Location. We also have funds to have small sessions in each member community – especially in how to lift each other up as a community via tagging and shared hash tags.

We will be able to get into each community – starting with restaurants. That’s a good hook to spread the word. We’ll get focused this fall, during a slower season.

Internet Access Assessment
We haven’t been able to meet this summer. We are going to try to track access in campgrounds and other areas. But summer is their busiest time so we decided maybe a phone survey in the fall would be a better time to gather info. It might be nice to have someone do a speed test too – although experience would be dependent on number of guests.

Doing a survey would be a nice way to figure out what people need on a slow day versus a busy day. And you might create a list of the best places to stay if access is a priority.

Talent Attraction Microsite
They have a plan and ideas on what we want. They are working with three groups to define their needs: Chambers, businesses and potential workers. The Tourism Board is also getting a new website so there’s an opportunity to make sure that they complement each other.

Maybe there’s an opportunity to match this with the interview station they are working on with the Laurentian Chamber.

Virtual Reality Mine Tour
Might not be done until next year – but it’s going.

Local Pride
A way to get local people more enthusiastic about where they live. A social media initiative to change the narrative. It might be nice to get local editors to feature arts and culture once a week.

Four MN communities launch into better broadband with the IRBC

A couple weeks ago, I shared the announcement of the four new IRBC (Iron Range Broadband Communities). They will be working with the Blandin Foundation broadband team to better use broadband locally to help build demand and build the communities. Today they met to launch the programs and I was on hand. The day is an introduction to the program – they will create a team, vision and plan over the next few months. That will culminate into grant proposals and they will spend 18 months deploying, assessing and iterating plans.

They also talk about what success of the program would mean to them. I was lucky enough to attend the session and record those goals. My favorite line (a little misquoted) is – our community is at a crossroad. We could be terrible or great. Broadband will make us great.

And one community was kind enough to meet for a follow up:

It will be fun to watch their projects progress.

Will Morse township strike out on their own for broadband without Ely-Area Join Powers?

The Ely-area Community Economic Development Joint Powers Board met last month to discuss a numb of issues. The Joint Powers Board is a collection of local communities working together to expand economic opportunities in the area. But as a recent article in the Timberjay points out, there are times when the members have to balance community with regional goals and needs. That came up with broadband…

Morse Township representatives dropped a bombshell on the Joint Powers Board by announcing they could be stepping away from an area-wide broadband project and going with their own plan.

The recently-completed broadband feasibility study, partially funded through the Blandin Foundation, is moving into the next phase, according to Novak, to determine costs and coverage area.

“We are looking at getting this off the ground quickly and offering a basic core of fiber optic service tied to the Northeast Service Co-op, and run the fiber to some poles and provide wireless broadband across the lake to Burntside and within the school district, and later on, as revenues come in, to start reinvesting and running fiber all over,” he said.

“As we were all participants in that study, it is upon us as leaders to make a decision if you are going to continue to be in (the co-op) or not be in,” Novak said.

Morse Supervisor Len Cersine announced that the township is planning to move forward on broadband alone. “We are going to try and run some broadband into the township, because right now we have nothing, absolutely nothing,” he said.

“The whole feasibility study was completed to lay out the best way to put broadband in,” Novak said.

“They have it running from Babbitt to Ely,” Berrini said, “but it doesn’t go to anybody’s house.”

Novak clarified that the project Berrini was referring to was the defunct Lake Connections plan that ran out of funding several years ago. “This is a totally different project,” he said.

“So is ours,” Berrini shot back. “We have six different poles. We put in for a grant. It will cost about $36,000 per pole, and they cover something like two miles. We can make a circle completely around Ely with ours.”

Novak pushed for a confirmation that Morse Township is going with their own broadband plan.

“We’re going to check on it. We’ll see what happens. We can’t wait. We can’t just have one part and the rest get nothing,” Berrini said.

Cersine said the “high-speed” internet project under consideration by Morse officials is through Frontier Communications.

“I wouldn’t put any faith in Frontier,” Novak said.

Cersine asserted, “Chuck, we are not abandoning your project, but we are checking on what we can do.”

Catching up with broadband projects in Aitkin MN: Hotspots that have encouraged private investment in FTTH, landing page, training

Today we’re in Aitkin 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…

We learned that when people don’t have broadband, that’s all they want to talk about. The broadband expansions in the area have made a huge difference. This was an area that lacked access so effort has been spent on increasing access with hotspots in the library, buses, for checkout and in community centers. It’s been nice to se private investment follow the interest in the hotspots. There have also been efforts, such as remote training and a landing page that encourage use.

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Catching up with broadband projects in Cook MN: classes, hotspot checkout and library programming

There were 15 people in the room this morning in Cook where it seems like building an ark would make as much sense as talking about broadband. 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 library has a point system for teens that engage in the library (volunteer, check out books…). If you get enough points you get to an overnight at the library – taking advantage of broadband there.
  • The town halls are connected and offer wifi. People take advantage of it.
  • They are looking at classes on broadband as a home security tool.

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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.