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.

 

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.
Grizzlies

(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.

 

 

 

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.)

Broadband Efforts in Orr, Cook and Bois Fotre Band – digital inclusion classes, broadband upgrade and new equipment

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 rounded out our trip to day with the Grizzlies – aka the communities of Orr, Cook and Bois Forte Band.

Here’s the presentation:

Notes (these notes are rough because they mirror the PPT – I tried to add points of the conversation that might be helpful to other communities):

Grizzlies Classes

  • A wide range but for the community and in the school.
  • Classes went well. We were surprised at which ones really took off. QuickBooks, iPad/iPhone and Basic Windows were a popular classes. Less popular classes were: email accounts, buying and selling and computer protection. Other classes that didn’t work out well – social media, bring your device, web design and online employment opportunities.

How were classes advertised?

  • Local papers
  • Via social media
  • Weekend training
  • Provide 1 on 1 training for Quickbooks for business owners
  • Have second training on hand for more than 5 attendees
  • Incentive such as purchasing software for Quickbooks for business owners.

Lessons Learned:

  • Don’t schedule of football/volleyball…
  • Advertise more effectively
  • Never schedule a class on Thanksgiving
  • You’re not going to make everyone happy
  • Trainers were terrific

Equipment

IN Library – WiFi hotspots in library – they have 5 with 24 checkouts. Mostly folks from townships are checking them out. People are amazed at the opportunity and how fast they are. They have questions about cost (there is none for patrons). There’s a 7-day checkout period and people have been pretty good about getting it back. The supply and demand are well matched now.

At Orr Center – Switches for internet connectivity, TV and rolling cart and 5 laptops.

Telecom/Broadband Update

  • All new fiber was dropped from Cook to several areas (along highways) (used CAF 2 from CenturyLink)
  • New fiber into the reservation – VBSL drops by summer. So anyone within miles of the highway will get DSL (speeds dependent on distance)
  • They are building based on population density.
  • T-mobile is installing equipment in towers (then going through NESC) – hope to be a cheaper options. Verizon is part of some conversations.

We should require  broadband providers to look for existing fiber before they build out with public funding.  A provider recently overbuilt a network using CAF 2 funding – if they had used existing infrastructure they could be offering FTTH instead of DSL to community members.

Cell access to shaky in Orr.

We might be looking at wifi on the buses in the future.

And video:

Ely MN Broadband Efforts – Feasibility study, community portal and helping local businesses do online marketing

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. Here are some of the highlights from Ely…

Feasibility Study – still in process with Design Nine. We’ve had some pole ownership issues and we have some pre-engineering work done. We’re looking at wireless in remote areas, such as YMCA camp. Now – how do we go from study to doing? We will be meeting with Frontier soon. The Timber Jay New had an article on the provider lately – that helped start a conversation.

PCs for People – distributed 50 PCs to families. Everyone loved them. No problem solving was involved. The project has helped the school talk about using more technology. It’s making parents happy. We selected the families not only by first come, first serve so that folks with perceived needs had a greater opportunity. We still have more folks who could use a PC. We are looking at bringing computers to older folks. In fact we’ve had school kids working with seniors to help them get on Facebook, email and use other tools that keep them engaged. The PCs for People folks are really nice.

We’ve got money from the Northland Foundation to continue on with the high schoolers working with seniors.

Ely Portal – http://elyite.com/ for tourism and recruitment. Includes videos with Ely community members. We’re hoping to be done March 1. We won’t be doing a community calendar because we already have several in the area. Mission is to recruit people to visit as tourists, as new community members and drawing from retired community.

Tech Center – newest project. There is a site established. Space has been donated by a local law firm. We have local hardware and software experts – to help us get started. There’s a committee and we’re starting this like a business. Hope to open April 1. There is fiber to the building – but it’s 15 years old. We have a new Executive Director at Incredible Ely.

Helping Local Business Better Use technology – funding for 7 businesses; got 31 applications. Created a website for online applications. Half the people who visited the site went to apply. Hoping to grow revenue through

Businesses in the area spend about $1400/month on digital marketing. That’s more than other areas so we could help get them smarter. Each business will get about 20 hours or consulting.

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.