From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Redwood County…
Redwood County struggles with broadband access issues, ranking 81 of 87 Minnesota counties when it comes to reaching the state broadband speed goal of 25 megabits download / 3 megabits upload. As a Blandin Broadband Community, Redwood County undertook a feasibility study and market survey and have used the study to inform conversations with local internet providers about what might be done to improve broadband access across the county. In the meantime, the committee is working on providing new technology training, equipment and access, as well as on projects to connect the Lower Sioux Clinic and Community Center, and to launch a new telehealth initiative at Redwood Area Hospital.
One learning from the Steering Committee was the idea that you need to give people a good experience with broadband and technology; people won’t use broadband if the experience is negative. That’s why the focus on training, equipment and access to quality programs/applications is so important. When people have good experiences and learn how broadband can positively impact their lives, they will demand it – which will make it easier to make the business case to build it.
One project was to increase the library’s ability to serve residents who lack access to computers or the internet at home. The committee purchased 20 computers and two tablets for use by patrons at the Redwood Falls Public Library. The users have been pleased, and staff has reported a reduction in noise on the part of students who now can use the computers when they come to the library. According to library director Teri Smith, “In order to have a healthy rural community, all citizens must have access to needed resources, feel connected, and have a safe place to work or play. The computers and technology provided through this grant will help the library provide the services that help our community be and stay strong and connected.”
Coordinated marketing of the new training opportunities via print and social media proved extremely effective in increasing participation in the trainings. The committee created a Redwood Connect Facebook page, promoted Google Mapping for cities and businesses, and conducted internet usage and training surveys.
The committee also hosted social media events through a Lunch ‘n Learn technology series and community education classes, which culminated in a well-attended Social Media Rockstar event, a day-long, digital and social media marketing conference in rural Minnesota.
For a more recent look at Redwood County – check out the Redwood County profile I did earlier this year.
From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Nobles County…
According to Nobles County Administrator and Blandin Broadband Community Steering Committee Chair Tom Johnson, the Worthington School District is the most diverse in the state. Thus, one of the goals of the Nobles County BBC Steering Committee was to use technology to implement programming for new Americans. One way they did this was through the myON Digital Library project. The myON program and tablet devices were purchased for use by Worthington schools, and utilized primarily by ECFE and ESL instructors at all grade levels. According to project implementers, the students and families who use the literacy resource are reaping great benefit. Project administrators report that both children and their parents have increased their English language skills through their participation.
Nobles County has also focused on digital literacy for other county residents, including through the creation of college credit technology classes for high school students and digital literacy programming in alternate languages including Spanish, Tigrinya, Amharic and Karen. Participating immigrant families have learned how to use the computer for connecting with relatives back home, saving a lot of money on long distance telephone charges.
Nobles County also conducted a feasibility study. Using the results of the study, the county’s provider-partner, Lismore Cooperative Telephone Co., was awarded a $2.94 million Border-toBorder Broadband grant to create a hybrid fiber and wireless network to bring high-speed internet to the entire county. During testimony before the House committee charged with broadband policy, Johnson told state legislators: “If not for our participation in the Blandin Community Broadband Program we would not have been in a position to apply for and receive this much-needed state funding.”
Other projects in Nobles County increased public access to broadband, including through the installation of new public hotspots and upgrading to world-class symmetrical fiber the broadband connection available at the county’s flagship Biotechnology Advancement Center.
For a more recent look at Nobles County – check out the Redwood County profile I did earlier this year.
From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Martin County…
Martin County went into the BBC program with high hopes for raising the level of service throughout their county. However, due to the complexity of the issue and the tough economics involved they decided to prioritize adoption projects while they built the knowledge and partnerships required to improve availability and access.
One such project was an “App Camp,” offered to 5th and 6th grade students in several of the county’s public and parochial schools. Participating students learned the basics of computer programming by building mobile apps. The camps were fully 13 enrolled and generated a lot of interest in the community, with area newspapers publishing photographs of students receiving their program completion certificates. They also enjoyed broad parental support.
Another successful project was the community calendar. The Steering Team was aware of the need of diverse organizations to collaborate better when it came to community activities. In small towns, when a spelling bee, hockey tournament and a wedding or two fall on the same weekend, amenities – particularly lodging – can be stressed! Their biggest challenge wasn’t generating support or funding from key organizations, but marketing and training to get those organizations to actually use it consistently. They learned that the marketing was well worth it, and the calendar has been a great success. They’ve already received positive reviews from visitors to the area, including a couple who learned of a kayaking club, and were able to make contact, borrow kayaks and attend an event while in town.
Martin County’s efforts came full-circle in fall 2016 when they used the results of the Robust Network Feasibility Study they conducted as part of their participation in the program to apply for a Border-to-Border Broadband Development grant from DEED’s Office of Broadband. The county was awarded $1.68 million to serve 1,784 unserved households, 51 unserved businesses and nine unserved community institutions.
For a more recent look at Martin County – check out the Redwood County profile I did earlier this year.
From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Chisago County…
Chisago County leveraged their participation in the Blandin Broadband Communities program for a wildly successful entry in Frontier Communications’ America’s Best Communities (ABC) competition. Over the course of the competition, the Chisago Lakes Area was awarded $150,000 to implement projects to promote their region. Many of the projects were born of the broadband steering committee’s visioning work. The team made it to the final round in the national competition, and their enthusiasm to work on the projects begun under the competition’s auspices has yet to wane.
Chisago County’s “Got Internet” survey yielded some striking results: of the 876 respondents, 35% said they would telecommute if they had better broadband; 45% would use it for schoolwork; 31% would open a business; and 94% would subscribe to better broadband if it was available. One respondent commented: “My son says he will never move back to Chisago County from college – not with the current broadband.” Another: “I am a realtor – people do not buy in this area because the broadband is not sufficient.”
Chisago County broadband advocates have used these results to inform the state-wide debate over public funding for un- and under-served rural communities. Steering Committee chair and HRA/EDA Director Nancy Hoffman used the survey results in testimony before the Governor’s Broadband Task Force and House and Senate committees.
Chisago’s BBC and ABC Competition activities leaned heavily toward leveraging the capacity of the Internet to market their area, including tourism, arts and culture. These efforts include the creation of an integrated, collaborative website where cities, attractions and other agencies can now list their events in a “no-wrong-door” portal to the region; support for the Old Hwy 61 Coalition, a group of businesses and community boosters which works to preserve and promote the old thoroughfare including through the use of GIS-enabled map applications, and through extensive promotion of utilizing Google Maps to promote area businesses.
For a more recent look at Chisago County – check out the county profiles I did earlier this year.
From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Central Woodlands (east central Minnesota)…
The Central Woodlands is a self-identified “community of place” comprised of the northern portion of East Central Regional Development Commission’s service area. It includes northern Mille Lacs, Kanabec and Pine Counties, and southern Aitkin County. This region is very rural, has high rates of unemployment, low incomes (75% live in poverty), and a large percentage of older adults. Thus, many of their projects focused on older adults.
Someday Isle is a nonprofit shop and community economic development center on Isle’s main street, where local artists sell their wares. Someday Isle also hosts public access computers for people to use and offers training in using technology for small business and marketing. One local artist, Art Carr, reported an increase in sales by 400% after creating a Facebook page for his art.
The Central Woodlands Steering Team also prioritized partnering with township boards on broadband access. The Central Woodlands Inventory and Assessment project was designed to help townships move forward on broadband projects. For example, in Wilma Township in eastern Pine County, a retired resident leveraged $3000 in grant money for equipment to install new Wi-Fi technology to bring wireless internet to the town hall. According to project coordinator Penny Simonsen of East Central RDC, “Do not underestimate the power of a local stakeholder to influence the success of a project. Wilma Township is an excellent example of this, in a very positive way.”
For a more recent look at Mille Lacs, Kanabec and Pine and Aitkin Counties – check out the county profiles I did earlier this year.
From Blandin Foundation’s recent assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program – the highlights from Carlton County…
Carlton County focused on getting people using devices. One of their particularly innovative ideas was a Community Education class that invited attendees to come in with their new devices (post-Christmas) to work with students and others to ask questions and learn on a one-to-one basis.
Another area of focus was to improve broadband access in the rural countryside, outside of towns. One of the interim solutions they put into place was to acquire for the library a number of Internet hotspots that library patrons can check out for use at home (this project has since been duplicated by other BBCs).
The county also chose to explore a more comprehensive solution to the poor access experienced by many of its residents by commissioning a feasibility study as part of its participation in BCBP. The feasibility concluded that it would cost approximately $70 million to bring fiber to the home across the county. It noted: “Carlton County is in a challenging position. With its geographic proximity to the Duluth/Superior area, many businesses and residents find it hard to believe how drastically the level of speeds diminishes within such a short distance from these population centers.”
The county board and broadband champions will use the report recommendations to determine a strategy for pursuing their goal of better broadband their residents.
For a more recent look at Carlton County – check out the county profile I did earlier this year.
Sometimes it feels good to look back, see the road we’ve traveled and progress we’ve made. So while the task is arduous, we always enjoy the assessment of the Blandin Community Broadband Program, which includes work of the BBC (Blandin Broadband Communities) cohort, annual conference and other meetings, webinars, the Blandin on Broadband blog and other broadband-focuses efforts supported by Blandin.
I’d like to thank and recognize our 2015-2016 BBC Partners:
- Carlton County
- Central Woodlands (east central Minnesota)
- Chisago County
- Martin County
- Nobles County
- Redwood County
- Red Wing
- RS Fiber (Renville & Sibley Counties)
- Resilient Region (Region 5 in north central Minnesota)
- Sherburne County
We’ll share their stories from the report on the blog in the next week or two. The stories have been told here but the recaps are valuable too. (I would like to point out the table of grants awarded that start on page 28. It’s an inspiring list of community projects that have helped spur local broadband adoption. If you have looking for activities to try in your own community – this is a good starter list.)
But the work doesn’t stop with the BBC partners. Blandin supported technical assistance with 11 communities, hosted or supported a number of events from local hackfest to the annual broadband conference, maintained the blog, which is read by practitioners, community leaders and policy makers in Minnesota and beyond and supported efforts to lift up broadband as a tool to expand opportunities in Minnesota and make it possible to commit (re-commit) to rural areas.