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.

 

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.)