Blandin Broadband eNews: Archive of the Broadband Conference Notes from the Task Force

2017 Border to Border Broadband Conference
The conference was a big success. Here are links to sessions from the event:

Minnesota Broadband Task Force finalizing their report
The MN Broadband Task Force met in November to tie up loose ends of the upcoming report. They talked about updating the projected cost to get broadband to everyone in Minnesota; with lots of caveats, they came up with a number of $5,527 per passing or a total of almost $1.4 billion to reach all of the unserved households.

They also met in October when discussion was on cybersecurity. They decided that the main tenet for their upcoming report would be to recommend continued support of the Office of Broadband Development and continued funding for grants.

CentruryLink News
CentutryLink’s acquisition of Level 3 on track. Also, the Court ordered CenturyLink to improve pricing transparency for customers.

Blandin releases report from 2015-2016
Blandin Foundation releases the Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program using the Mountain of Accountability Framework (2015-2016)

Political views from candidates, elected officials and others…

Local Broadband News

Benton, Morrison, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd and Wright Counties
Great River Regional Library (GRRL) provides library services in Benton, Morrison, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd and Wright Counties. Patron Internet use has seen a dramatic growth, from 134,000 patron Internet sessions in 2004 to 264,000 in 2009, a 97 percent increase.

Despite its proximity to the Cities, even parts of Burnsville can feel unserved to folks who don’t have enough broadband to do what they want to do online

Cook County
CoBank releases a case study of Cook County MN and their experience building a case, building partnerships, building broadband

Ely is doing a broadband feasibility; community input is requested

Kandiyohi County
Kandiyohi County gets fixed wireless broadband

In September, Fillmore County and AcenTek broke ground to mark the start of building a Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) network in the rural town of Lanesboro, Minnesota.

Meeker County
In an effort to support local manufacturing, Meeker County is looking at improving broadband. Part of that process is asking residents for their input

Minnesota becomes 23rd state to ‘opt-in’ to FirstNet

Nobles County
$2.57 million in tax abatement bonds proposed for broadband in Nobles County

Resilient Region (Region 5)
Wadena Pioneer Journal provides an update on the multi-year, multi-million dollar project aimed at bringing high-speed internet access to all residents in Region 5.

Rochester looks at hat goes into a decision for municipal broadband

The Post Bulletin looks at how broadband helps remove obstructions to health care in Minnesota

Southwest Minnesota
AT&T brings a faster network to Southwest Minnesota

Upcoming Events & Opportunities

  • Nov 9 – Blandin Webinar: Homework Gap: How Lack of Broadband Hinders K-12 Education
  • Nov 22 – Nomination deadline for MN Excellence in Economic Development Awards
  • Dec 7 – MN Task Force Meeting
  • Dec 14 – Blandin Webinar: The Online Health Care Experience
  • Jan 11 – Blandin Webinar: Tele-work, Telecommuting and Home-Based Businesses

Looking for more events? Check out TechDotMN’s calendar Many events are based in the Twin Cities but it is a comprehensive list. (If you have an upcoming event, consider submitting it.)

Stirring the Pot

Thanks to all who attended the broadband conference.  I have been to many such conferences both here in Minnesota and elsewhere and I have to say that this was a very good event.  Those who could not attend can check out the videos and PowerPoints listed above.

We had a great mix of community and regional leaders and tech vendors, especially many providers seeking community partners.  Noticeably absent were some of our largest providers which was their loss.  Special thanks to all of our presenters – from the pre-conference sessions to the learning stations.

For years, my presentations to community leaders were future-oriented – that broadband would be a necessity.  That the future is now.  Roberto Gallardo provided great data linking broadband availability and adoption to population and economic growth and also the inverse.  Our Minnesota case study project, led by Ann Treacy and supported by the testimony of our case study participants, demonstrates that smart economic development strategies built on a base of great broadband is enabling a clear separation between thriving and struggling rural communities.  The huge opportunity cost paid by broadband starved communities is evident as they focus on better broadband rather than marketing, workforce development, innovation and tech adoption.

My advice to those communities with great broadband: continue to partner with your providers to spur community transformation.  For those still seeking better broadband: double your efforts on network deployment, but don’t forget adoption efforts.  As people and investment increasingly choose well-connected communities, it will be increasingly hard to catch up.

Blandin Webinar: Homework Gap: How Lack of Broadband Hinders K-12 Education – Nov 9

When: Thurs., November 9 from 3-4 pm
Register Now

Education processes are now infused with technology.  Many school districts benefit from Gigabit level services on-campus.  One-to-one device initiatives, flipped classrooms and virtual school snow days are now part of the educational lexicon.  This is all well and good until students head to their unconnected home.  How are schools coping with this inequality of educational opportunity and capability?  In some school districts, ubiquitous connectivity and affluent families make connectivity a slight challenge.  In poorly connected regions with high levels of poverty, schools face a significant challenge to cope with the digitally excluded.

Join us for a webinar roundtable discussion with regional school technology experts.  Marc Johnson of East Central Minnesota Educational Cable Cooperative and Josh Sumption from the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative will discuss the present challenges, the current responses by education leaders and options for overcoming this broadband challenge.

Minnesota leading the way to bring broadband to rural communities through collaboration

Here is the official press release from the Blandin Foundation on the conference last week…

BRAINERD, Minn. (Oct. 31, 2017) – “The number-one threat to community and economic development in the 21st Century is the digital divide,“ said technology researcher and development expert Roberto Gallardo last week at the Border to Border Broadband Conference, co-hosted by Blandin Foundation and the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development.

“Rural communities can take a big piece of the digital-economy pie if leaders look inward and develop the assets they already have at home,” Gallardo said.

Gallardo, assistant director and community economic development specialist at the Purdue Center for Regional Development, urged more than 150 broadband leaders in the room from across rural Minnesota to double-down on local efforts to prepare for the digital economy.

Gallardo showed conference participants how economic benefits to Minnesotans could be boosted by nearly a billion dollars over 15 years if broadband access and use improved. This number comes from the Digital Divide Index (DDI), a tool Gallardo created to look at broadband infrastructure, adoption and socioeconomic makeup at the county level to determine the amount of missed economic benefits due to lack of broadband access and use. Ranging in value from 0 to 100, where 100 indicates the highest digital divide, Minnesota scores a 21.51, positioning the state as a national leader in bridging the digital divide. DDI profiles for all Minnesota counties are at

Blandin Foundation-commissioned research released at the conference informed attendees about the impact public investment in broadband infrastructure has had on five well-served rural Minnesota communities. Using formulas to measure annual economic benefit per household and increased home value with broadband, findings indicate that each of the communities will recoup public investment within one to six years.

“This research looks at economic benefits to an entire community, not just to a broadband provider,” said Ann Treacy of Treacy Information Services, the report’s co-author. “Just because there’s not a business case for a provider doesn’t mean there aren’t economic benefits to be had for the community.”

The case studies report can be found at

Cooperation: a broadband development strategy

In hard-to-reach rural areas, new forms of cooperation are needed to reach the last mile, said conference speaker Kevin Edberg, executive director at Cooperative Development Services.

“Communities have to think differently, think collaboratively, to see progress,” said Edberg. “We need to rediscover what it means to connect with our neighbors and our communities if we’re going to have the things that we want.”

Successful broadband partnerships start with conversation and assessing assets, said Laura Withers, director of communications at NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, during her address to conference attendees.

“Broadband partnerships are the future of our industry,” Withers said. “Minnesota is leading the charge and we’re noticing it at the national level.”

Public-private partnerships lead the way for broadband expansion in Minnesota

From fixed wireless to fiber, cooperative partners to legacy providers, eight public-private partnership were highlighted to illustrate the many ways Minnesota communities are finding the right Internet solutions to fit their needs. The projects had been funded in part by the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development, which has funded 72 projects totaling more than $65 million and are currently reviewing proposals to grant an additional $20 million. A complete project list can be found at

One of the grants featured at the conference was $1.7 million awarded to Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC) to reach Aitkin County, Minnesota’s least-served area. MLEC has partnered with nearby Consolidated Telecommunications Company to bring fiber optic service to year-round residents and draw in new seasonal residents.

OBD Executive Director Danna MacKenzie’s leadership was recognized during a special ceremony during the conference, citing the national award she recently received for “outstanding individuals that identify local broadband needs and apply homegrown solutions.”  MacKenzie received the “National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisor’s “Hero of the Year” award.

“The reason that the Minnesota program has risen to national attention is that all of us working at the ground level are pulling on the same set of oars,” MacKenzie said. “I accepted this award on behalf of everyone in this room. Thank you for your work.”

“Minnesota has a lot to be proud of,” agreed Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement at Blandin Foundation. “We are beginning to see the impact that creative broadband partnerships can have in a rural community. We cannot stop. Only by working together will Minnesota realize the full potential of border-to-border broadband.”

For 14 years, Blandin Foundation has tackled rural broadband as a strategic priority, positioning it as a national leader and partner in community broadband leadership development and adoption. Partnering with more than 75 communities, the Foundation has invested more than $9 million in rural Minnesota’s capability to design and claim their future, one enabled by high-speed Internet and the digital literacy to put it to work for all residents.

A full archive of conference sessions is at


About Blandin Foundation: Blandin Foundation works for vibrant rural Minnesota communities by investing in community leaders and working with partners to expand opportunity for all residents. Located in Grand Rapids, Minn., it is one of only a handful of foundations in the U.S. focused exclusively on rural communities and the largest rural-based private foundation in Minnesota. Information on Blandin Foundation grant-making, leadership development programs and public policy initiatives: Information about the Blandin Broadband Communities Program:

Media contact:

Blandin Foundation

Allison Ahcan, Director of Communications

C: 218-259-2893 Blog and

Twitter @BlandinFound

Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program using the Mountain of Accountability Framework (2015-2016)

I’m pleased to share the assessment of Blandin’s broadband work looking at the last cohort of Blandin Broadband Communities – the Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program using the Mountain of Accountability Framework (2015-2016).

This assessment of the 2015-2016 cohort of ten Blandin Broadband Communities and associated broadband-related activities was written by staff as part of the foundation’s overall efforts to build an assessment system that answers the basic question: “What do we need to know to do better?”

The report looks at the work of Blandin (related to broadband), including the following program components include:

  • Community Broadband Resources (technical assistance)
  • Blandin Broadband Community (BBC) partnerships
  • Annual Border to Border Broadband conferences
  • Webinar series
  • Convenings
  • Broadband grants
  • Minnesota Broadband Coalition policy work
  • Blandin on Broadband blog

And goes on to look at the impacts of these efforts at the following levels:

  • Individual persons
  • Individual grants/projects/events
  • Individual businesses/organizations/institutions (schools, health care facilities, local governments, etc.)
  • Communities
  • Regions
  • Statewide
  • National

Ely is doing a broadband feasibility – if you’re in Ely you can help

Ely is looking to get input from local residents and businesses about their broadband use and need. I wanted to share to help spread the word to folks in Ely. But also it’s a good model for any community that might be looking to do the same.


The Ely Echo reports…

Ely area residents and business owners, your input is needed.
In the quest to create a broadband fiber loop downtown and improve high-speed internet service in the city limits and into the surrounding townships, area leaders have commissioned a pair of public surveys.
One is for residents and the other is for business owners, and both come as part of an ongoing area broadband feasibility study that encompasses the boundaries of the Ely School District.

A little background on the project…

Earlier in the year, Ely was named one of six Blandin Broadband Communities in northeastern Minnesota, and a $25,000 grant from the Grand Rapids-based foundation will help fund the feasibility study.
The study is the next step in what could be an effort to improve internet service in the Ely area.
City officials have talked about establishing a fiber loop downtown and expanding the network outward, and Langowski said efforts aren’t limited to the city limits.
In a nod to those who live outside of town and have wrestled with slow internet speeds, Langowski said the project could involve towers for improved wireless service in the outlying areas.

And a link to the survey…

The survey is already up on the city’s website ( and has been distributed via e-mail to some interested parties.
The residential survey includes questions about demographics, satisfaction with and the level of current internet service, current internet speed, how respondents use the internet, reliability of current internet service. Respondents are also asked how much they’d be willing to pay for faster, higher quality internet service.
Business owners are asked similar questions, as well as specific questions about how their business might use faster service and the importance of redundancy – which provides additional protection and network availability in case of technical failure.

Blandin Webinar Oct 12: The Smart Home: Energy, Security & Entertainment

Smart Home Showcase

Learn how integrated technology is changing the home environment and the role ubiquitous broadband networks play in this technology  deployment and use.  Energy management, lighting, security, entertainment and other functions are increasingly available and easy to deploy.  Bill Coleman of Community Technology Advisors will provide an overview of these tech possibilities.

Many are here today; others are coming fast.

When: Oct 12 at 3 pm
(Register here!)

Case study of Cook County MN – building a case, building partnerships, building broadband

CoBank recently published a helpful (and inspiring!) report on Making the Move to Broadband: Rural Electric Co-ops Detail Their Experience. The whole report is worth a read if you’re looking at tackling rural broadband and even you’re not an electric cooperative. One of the communities they highlight is Cook County and old ARRA project deployed by Arrowhead Electric Cooperative.

A little bit of background on the project. IN 2009, Cook County was listed as least served counties in Minnesota; last I looked they had 94 percent coverage for speeds of 25/3 and 100/20. ARRA Funding is the impetus for the jump. (Although they were also part of Blandin’s MIRC program, which certainly helped boost use of the network.)

The case study is in the form of an interview – Jenny Kartes from Arrowhead talking to Mark Doyle from CoBank. I am just going to pull out the section (pg 43-44) that I think will have the most value for the greatest number of reader – so folks with and without a relationship to a cooperative – although I have to say the ethos for the cooperative certainly seems like a good fit for getting rural broadband done…

MD: Did you partner with anyone?

JK: We did. At the beginning of our project, we had a number of options as to how we were going to do this. Were we going to be the retail provider or the wholesale provider? We found quickly that there is a large learning curve especially related to phone and the assets you need for providing phone service. We wanted a partner with our same values and good industry knowledge. We found Consolidated Telecommunications Company (CTC) out of Brainerd, Minnesota, which as a cooperative really had our same values and has been doing this for a very long time. They were a good fit for us, and they were very excited to work with us as well. It was a good partnership as a small entity. There was a lot more on the front end than we had originally realized. We did indeed need that partnership and rely heavily on it.

MD: How are you funding the project?

JK: We funded this project through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the broadband initiative program. It was funded through a $16.1 million federal grant and loan: $11.3 million in grant and $4.8 million in federal loan. After our application, we realized that due to our terrain and the seasonality of our customers, it was going to cost a bit more than that. We then went to our county, and they

provided $4 million more in grant funds to us. It was a $20 million project in total, roughly 75 percent grant funded.

MD: Did you collect contributions in aid to construction from your subscribers?

JK: On the initial rollout of our project we did not. We had a window of a few years, as we were rolling out our construction, when we allowed people to essentially sign up for free construction to the home. It did not require them to take service. Once that window closed, and if you did not sign up within that window, then we do require 100 percent aid to construction from the subscriber. Since our subscribers are not necessarily members of our cooperative, we do require them to fund that construction.

MD: Was the project on time and on budget?

JK: Based on our original projections, it was not. As I mentioned earlier, our original budget was significantly short and we required an additional $4 million to complete the project. We then reworked our budget a few times, and we did stay very close to our second budget that included the additional $4 million.


However, that did create a timing issue as far as securing the additional funds to complete the project. The project was initially to be done at the end of 2013, and we finalized the project in 2015. Construction delays were mainly due to the terrain. We have a lot of rock, and construction is slow going in our service area. Additionally, the very short construction season in northern Minnesota

slowed us down.

MD: Did you encounter any surprises or challenges along the way?

JK: Yes. I could talk for quite a while on that. Having detailed maps and accurate plant records would have saved us a lot of frustration and a lot of time as the project began. We also did not realize the importance of on-site engineering, on-site contractor management and constant quality assurance throughout the project, at every point. We ended the project with those elements in place. We also ended up changing some of our contractors/vendors mid-project. Many of our contract crews were a bit surprised by our service territory and the time it took to complete work, never doing work up here before.

MD: What is your long-term measurement for the success of this project?

JK: The long-term measurement for success, being that our goal was to just get our community connected, is that the broadband project and division can be financially self-sustaining. We do not want the project to have any risk for our electric members. We’re not looking to make large profits off of it. If it can stand on its own financially, and provide good customer service and good broadband service to our community, we will call it a success.