Aitkin County gets Blandin grants for wifi, community website and high tech conference center

The Aitkin Age reports on Aitkin County’s community broadband partnership with the Blandin Foundation, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) and St. Louis County. They have been working on plans and have recently received funding for a few specific projects…

Residents came together last winter for a visioning session to name their technology priorities and create project ideas to help meet those priorities. Grant funding from this round will drive those projects forward. They include the following:

Wi-Fi for Palisade and Hill City: wireless Internet hubs will be launched in each community to attract commercial growth, promote connectivity, enhance educational opportunities and allow caregivers and their families to expand their availability to resources/support.

Aitkin County landing page: this webpage will combine information from a number of different sources to be a one-stop destination for area events.

Conference centers in Aitkin, McGregor and Hill City: a conference suite will be created complete with a mobile computer bank, smart boards, technology information centers and Wi-Fi hotspots.

“It is exciting to see so many Aitkin County residents and organizations working together to get these projects funded,” said Ross Wagner, Aitkin County Economic Development and Forest Industry coordinator. “Creating more access to broadband and educational opportunities will benefit the entire county.”

Role of broadband in bringing Koochiching County “back from brink of demographic doom”

MinnPost recently ran a story on the diminishing population in Koochiching County…

In the last 35 years, Koochiching County lost an estimated 4,845 people — more than a quarter of its 1980 population. In the next 35 years, it could lose nearly as many, according to new population projections from the Minnesota State Demographic Center.

Koochiching County isn’t alone. More than half of Minnesota counties are projected to lose population through 2050, based on calculations by Minnesota State Demographic Center. Most of them are in rural parts of the state, especially parts of northeastern, central, southeast and southwestern Minnesota. Meanwhile the seven-county Twin Cities metro area is projected to see the fastest growth, about 27 percent between 2015 and 2050.

The article outlines the efforts to reverse the trend – through diversification and attracting residents – by calling out to former residents who went away (perhaps for college) and might be persuaded to return. They are working on databases of former residents and using touch points like high school graduation to reach them.

The article doesn’t focus on the role of broadband – but it comes up – most prominently in the main story of one resident who returned…

RaeAnne Conat, 36, grew up among the pines, lakes and rivers of Koochiching County … Six years ago, she moved back to Koochiching County (population: less than 13,000), looking to be closer to family. There, she started Swanky Sweet Pea, a boutique that makes bath bombs, salts and soaps that are sold to thousands of retailers across the U.S. With the help of the Internet, Conat has grown the company from a small storefront in International Falls to a manufacturing facility in nearby Ranier with several full-time employees in the last half-decade.

I heard an interesting comment the other day – used to be the economic core communities were on the coasts, then by the rail roads. Now it seems like if you can get online you can make your own economic core community.

Bemidji MN innovates and reinvents with focus on future and a little fiber

Yesterday I went with the Blandin team and the Iron Range Broadband Communities to Bemidji to talk about innovation and reinvention. The meeting wasn’t all about broadband – but I wanted to share notes – because it was a great opportunity for attending communities to learn from a community that very intentionally set goals and met them. Part of that was getting and using broadband but to a larger degree it was about getting the community to take continued and renewing responsibility for the community future.

The day started with a presentation from Jim Benson (former Bemidji State University president) on how Greater Bemidji planned from their future. The created a vision of what they wanted to be and then worked toward it. They began with a meeting to figure out their expertise, passion and hopes. Leaders stepped up at the meeting and they have been meeting monthly for 15 years.

One lesson was the importance of language and intentionality. One quick example is that they wanted to work on a 4-land highway from the Twin Cities to Bemidji – not a highway to the Cities. Also and at least as important is the continued effort. They meet goals and set new ones – which keeps the motion forward.

We heard from a few folks who have worked on efforts in the community to spur innovation, invention and entrepreneurship:

Bemidji TEDx
They held first event in April (2017). Limited to 100 attendees but livestream viewers were up to 650. Learned that the most curious people are often the more involved in a community so TEDx has been a way to gather and cultivate curious people. They will be releasing videos in June. (There’s apparently one on broadband in rural communities and I’m looking forward to that!!)

Gig Gamers
Gaming has been a way to really pound the heck out the gig access. They held an event (sponsored by Paul Bunyan) where 28 teams participated. It got the attention of very techie people. Builds local techie skills. This year 23 people applied for internships at Paul Bunyan this year – based on recognition from the gaming event. Previously they had not been such a hot spot for interns.

The idea of a gaming event seemed crazy but the folks in charge approved whole heartedly and now it’s made an impact.

Launch Pad – Coworking space

There are 35 coworkers in the space. Rural coworking is rare – but internationally it’s big. Transplants to Bemidji made the transition easily. It’s a place for meetings. It saves people from isolation. It provides resources and motivation.

Used Million cups as a model to create a weekly meeting for entrepreneur that suits Bemidji. They have 35-50 people come each week.

Hackfest

Bemidji hosted a hackfest to bring techies together with a problem to solve. They had 9 teams. At night there was a game design challenge. Kids loved that! The next day was a more traditional hackfest.

PCs for People

They distribute refurbished computers. Working with Blandin, they have been able to bring computers to rural communities. Sometimes those computers go to households, maybe a public computer center, key nonprofits or used a rewards to get people to participation in digital inclusion training or other efforts.

GigaZone – Steve Howard from Paul Bunyan
Steve talked about the power of gig economy from the provider perspective. It has been an investment for the company (and a big one at that) but they are happy with their decision to invest.

They have found some ways to be the economy of fiber optic infrastructure work?

  • Economies of scale
  • Reduced transit costs
  • Reduced backhaul costs (DWDM)

He had some advice for how to attract a rural broadband provider?

  • Get data and do a survey – map the results!
  • Economic development staff and community champions
  • Identify needs
  • Identify how much money people are willing to pay
  • Map the results and get them in front of the providers.
  • Be responsive when communicating with providers
  • Consider grant funding – offer to help get letters of support and assist with applications
  • Be polite but professionally persistent

We ended the tour with a stop at Bemidji Brewing to hear about how the story of how those owners decided to move to Bemidji to start their brewery. They actively looked at communities all over Minnesota. Part of the decision was based on the “up north” feel of the area but support from the community was important as well.

50 innovative ideas – MN gets nod for rural broadband plan

Fast Company just published a list of “50 projects that are really making America great again” – one for each state. Minnesota gets a mention for the Border to Border broadband grants.

Minnesota
A high-speed hookup for rural residents
More of Minnesota will soon have access to what’s become a necessity: reliable, affordable high-speed internet. In January, the state announced its latest Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant to expand service to some 16,000 households and 2,000 businesses in underserved areas.

Not all of the ideas were technology related – but here are the ones that were (with abbreviated decsritions)…

Arkansas
A push for faster classrooms
The state’s effort to bring high-speed internet to all K–12 schools will be complete by summer. …
Delaware
A statewide embrace of blockchain
With last year’s Delaware Blockchain Initiative, the state became the first to adopt distributed-ledger technology, to underpin its public archives. …

 

Virginia
A technology employer for all
Richmond’s Maxx Potential is a five-year-old tech company whose workers are paid (starting at $12 an hour) to learn on the job. …

 

Connecticut
A help desk for citizens
New Haven resident Ben Berkowitz created the SeeClickFix app to allow locals to quickly report nonemergency issues (broken meters and streetlights, potholes, and even excessive noise from ice-cream trucks). …

 

New Hampshire
A bridge with a mind of its own
… sensors along the span that gather data on everything from structural soundness and traffic patterns to the effect of the bridge on the marine life below.

 

New York
A big-city tech-talent pipeline
…steeps students in digital product development and entrepreneurial thinking while giving them an appreciation for the real-world needs of society…

 

Kansas
A lifeline for rural hospitals
… a tech platform that connects remote clinics with primary and specialty care from bigger facilities, eliminating the need for long drives or costly transfers….

 

Missouri
A database for smart cities
…opened its data to residents so that they can access traffic patterns and find available parking spots. It’s also sharing its information with other cities to help them develop best practices.

 

Nebraska
A digital connection for seniors and their families
…LifeLoop, a web-based platform that connects employees at senior-care facilities directly with residents’ families. The LifeLoop site offers relatives real-time updates on their loved ones’ daily activities, along with the ability to send messages to staff…

 

Colorado
A marketplace for adventure
…inviting ski coaches, yoga experts, musicians, and more to list their services on its app and find eager clients. The app, which has developed a robust community with more than 1,000 experiences in the Denver area, is setting its sights on nationwide expansion.

 

Idaho
A new lens for nature lovers
… an online platform that provides emerging shutterbugs with a million-person community and tools to perfect and sell their work, including online photo tutorials and preset Lightroom-editing filters.

 

Oregon
A housing service that doesn’t discriminate
…NoAppFee.com, a platform that runs a background check on applicants and returns a list of buildings guaranteed to approve them.

 

Wyoming
A map of the natural world
… an interactive mapping system that encourages outdoor enthusiasts to contribute on-the-ground info and photos of the state’s trails. ..

New Smart City Toolkit Guides Government to Help Disabled

You know how Microsoft has handy templates you can use for everything from a cover letter to a graduation open house invitation? Turns out their templates aren’t limited to small business and personal use –  they have a whole suite of tools and templates focused on how local governments can use technology to better serve people with disabilities.

Smart Cities for All currently has four toolkits:

  • Guide to implementing priority ICT accessibility standards
  • Guide to adopting an ICT accessibility procurement policy
  • Communicating the case for stronger Commitment to digital inclusion in cities
  • Database of solutions for digital inclusion in cities

And it looks like they’re gearing up for more.

Insufficient Internet means no more therapy for autistic boy in rural MN

Today I wanted to share a story from Kirsten K just outside Biwabik about her son Dalton. It’s a reminder that not everyone in Minnesota has access to adequate broadband – and not having access limits opportunities. Here’s Kristen’s story…

My son has autism, and because of our lack of sufficient internet service here, they dropped us from his ABA therapy program. Unfortunately, it has very noticeably affected his progress socially and behaviorally. Autistic kids learn extremely effectively by electronic methods, especially videos. However, since moving here from Eveleth a couple years ago, I am sadly unable to offer him the video options that would help him to further develop behavioral and living skills. Autistic children like mine, who usually have limited communication abilities, blossom under the help of therapists who cannot physically travel to my home, but who can bridge the distance with a laptop computer and a face-to-face video call app like Skype or Facetime.

We pretty much gave up on using the dialup. I think it’s pretty obvious to most people that it’s not even usable with today’s technology. We then tried Hughesnet which was extremely costly and worked a total of maybe 15 minutes per day. We finally gave up and turned off the service, losing over three hundred dollars in the process. We now have a small, closely monitored data package on satellite, but it crashes often and is too expensive to help my son with videos.

We had hoped that in due time, a company would want to serve the roughly two hundred households affected by our lack of internet options. We were wrong. We now have as few internet options living four miles from Biwabik as people who live in the middle of a desert or in a forest. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. I was told that Lake Connect gets so many calls from our area, but they don’t have money to come this far. They stop somewhere between Hwy 53 and Cedar Lake, which not far from us either.

Asian Penguins – St Paul middle school Linux group giving computers to kids

Your feel good story today comes from the Asian Penguins in St Paul. Middle school teacher Stu Keroff started a Linux user group. Kid joined. They realized that some kids in the school didn’t have computer – so they started to refurbish them and deliver them to families in the district. They even installed them and gave parents a quick lesson on how to use it.