Hibbing broadband expansion plan: hotspots, social media and tech fair

According to the Hibbing Daily Tribune

The local Blandin Broadband Cohort tasked with developing ways to improve and advance high-speed internet access and the skills to use it has identified its top three priorities, and Blandin Foundation has stepped in to help make it happen.

Blandin Foundation announced Monday that it has awarded 11 grants totaling $483,090 to assist rural Minnesota communities.

Hibbing — which is largely unserved by broadband access of 25 megabits per second upload and 3 megabits per second download — is a recipient of these grant funds.

Grant funding from this round will drive three specific projects forward. They include:

  • Public hot spots: wi-fi hotspots will be placed in public locations and available for checkout through the public library.

  • Website and social media consulting: small businesses will be invited to compete for training to grow their revenues and brand awareness through online strategies.

  • IT knowledge and career fair: Hibbing Community College will host an IT Fair that will focus on the many ways IT interfaces with everyday life, what career options exist, and the education pathways to get to those careers.

2nd Annual GigaZone Gaming Championship Set for Sept. 29-30 in Bemidji

I’m not even a gamer and I have to say – what’s not to like here?!

2nd Annual GigaZone Gaming Championship Set for Sept. 29-30 in Bemidji

The region’s stadium style e-Sporting event returns with over $4,500 in cash and prizes

 

(Bemidji, MN) (June 22, 2017) – The first stadium style eSports event in the region, the GigaZone Gaming Championship returns to the Sanford Center Ballroom in Bemidji on Friday, September 29 and Saturday, September 30.

 

Northern Minnesota’s best League of Legends teams will compete for more than $4,500 in cash and prizes and teams interested need to register by July 1st at www.gigazonegaming.com  The League of Legends tournament is free and open to anyone 13 years of age or older that resides in the 218 area code.

 

In addition to the League of Legends Tournament, the public is invited to participate in open console and arcade gaming along with tournaments of Street Fighter 5, Mario Kart 8, Madden 18, Overwatch, Super Smash Brothers, Magic the Gathering, and more.  Pre-registration for the Overwatch and Madden 18 tournaments will begin on Tuesday, September 5 at 4 p.m. until full.  All other tournaments will be open registration at the door the day of the tournament.  Admission is free for both tournaments and the event plus there will be a chance at great door prizes throughout.

 

“eSports has explored across the country and coming off the success of the first GigaZone Gaming Championship last November we are making this year’s event even bigger and better.  There is a large gaming community in our area and this will showcase not only some of the region’s best but give everyone a chance to get in on the action!” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.

 

“Our cooperative continues to expand one of the largest rural fiber gigabit networks in the country and that brings many advantages to our members.  The GigaZone provides extreme speed and low latency which are critical for the best online gaming experience which the GigaZone Gaming Championship showcases,” added Leo Anderson, Paul Bunyan Communications Digital Services Supervisor.

 

For more information on the 2017 GigaZone Gaming Championships visit www.gigazonegaming.com

 

“We’re excited to bring this back to our region!  Whether someone is a big time gamer or not the GigaZone Gaming Championship is a great chance for people to come together, have fun, try out a wide variety of video games, and experience the growing eSports phenomenon.” added Brian Bissonette, Paul Bunyan Communications Marketing Supervisor.

Community calendar catches on in Fairmont

I always enjoy highlighting BBC (Blandin Broadband Communities) projects. It’s fun to hear how folks are using broadband. Some porjects are entirely unique and some really catch fire. Knowing that, I was intersted in hear that Fairmount was really happy with their online community calendar.

Community Calendars are hard. They require constant updating. In theory, it’s great to get folks to add in their own events. In practice that great idea doesn’t always catch on. Fairmont’s calendar has caught on.

I think they had two secret ingredients: they worked hard to get people engaged and invested AND they found a calendar system that works for them.

I asked Margaret Dillard at the Chamber how they got peoeple to use and update the calendar. She said…

It is gaining the reputation of being a one-stop online presence for events here. Previously, the chamber was responsible for attempting to keep track of events, happenings and entertainment throughout Martin County, so our strength comes from working with multiple government entities and other organizations. In addition, we utilized billboards, newspaper, radio, CER catalog, chamber and city social media and publications and email campaigns.

Next I asked about the calender software. It seems they were able to grow a community calendar from the online school calendar. And better yet – the school calendar comes from a Minnesota company. I contacted Ray Drestke, CEO of the company for more info. I’m going to include most of what he said because – having worked on community calendar projects myself, I know that folks who are looking into this will appreciate the details. (And the rest  of you can save this until you might need it.)

We are based in Winona, MN and are a 24 yr old company that has a suite of 16 web software programs and 5 mobile apps that serves the K-12 and College market.  We currently serve over 5,000 school organizations in 44 states. (www.rschooltoday.com)

 

The calendar behind the Fairmont project is the Community Calendar version of our popular Activity Scheduler.  Activity Scheduler is a school calendar and Athletics Management System used by over 5,000 schools for the last 16 years.

 

With the Community Calendar, we set out to solve 3 problems that every community has:

 

1) Some say “there’s nothing to do around here.”

 

2) Community and Event Planners say. “Argh, if i had known these other 2 events were happening that weekend, I would have scheduled ours for a different weekend.”

 

3) Some say, “I would love to have gone to this event if i had only known about it beforehand.”

 

Why solving this has traditionally been hard:

1) Most of the organizations in any town have web sites that have calendar events on them.  But it forces the community to go to so many sites to get a real picture of what’s happening.

2) Nobody has time to enter their events on multiple sites

3) Even if you could afford to hire someone to aggregate all the calendar data in a community and repost it to one calendar, things still slip through the cracks. Date/time/location changes are mostly missed, etc.

4) Nobody wants to use a shared calendar as their organization’s calendar.  They want a calendar that is 100% theirs.

 

Solution: So, with the rSchoolToday Community Calendar, the goal is no one has to rekey anything!  Every organization in your community that wants to participate (city/county government, chamber, CVB, churches, youth groups, Park/Rec, schools, service organizations, etc) can have their own low-cost rSchool calendar, and that becomes their Web site calendar. It is simple to use, powerful, 100% editable, includes a free mobile app, and can be branded to match each organization.

 

When data is entered into each organization’s calendar to show on their web site, those events automatically also write to the community calendar.   And, the schools are likely already using our calendar so their data will already be in the Community Calendar.

 

But…”I have spent so much creating a special look to the calendar events on our CVB page – I don’t want to lose that.”  No worries.  rSchool can feed calendar data into any other calendar that can accept a data feed. So, by using the rSchool calendar to enter the data, you have the best of both worlds.

 

Advertising?  You can choose for NO ads on the calendars. Or, you can use our Local Ad model and control the ads on your calendar.  you can feature all local businesses and charge whatever you want each month or year. This can make the Community Calendar a powerful revenue-generator for the community as well.

 

Buying Tickets online for events?  If you have a ticket program, you can link any ticket site to that event in the calendar to make things easy.  Don’t have a ticket app? We can provide one.

 

Social Media?  Your community can promote any calendar event to their social media sites.

 

Can I be selfish?  “I only care about restaurants, live music, art galleries and soccer.”  No prob. Select the things you care about, generate a personal calendar, and push it to your smart phone or tablet. Now any changes to those activities auto-update your smart device.

 

But I tend to forget….No worries, sign up for reminders and change notices for the activities you care about and receive email or text messages automatically.

Come for the fiber jobs – stay for the Lifestyle – Lac qui Parle County MN

If you got it, flaunt it. And that’s what Lac qui Parle County is doing with their fiber network through a partnershiph with Southwest MN Careers

MuniNetworks provides a quick history of LqP’s efforts to get better broadband – thanks to ARRA funding…

Back in 2009, the county began working with Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative to find a way to improve Internet access. Through their collaboration, the two entities received a 2010 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to deploy Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) connectivity and replace antiquated dial-up. At the time, about 52 percent of premises were still using their telephones to connect to the Internet.

Lac qui Parle had approached incumbent providers, but none were interested in upgrading in the sparsely populated region. Farmers Mutual Telephone Cooperative had deployed in other communities in western Minnesota and had the experience required in such a rural area. The project’s $9.6 million ARRA combined grant and loan allowed the project to be completed by the summer of 2014.

While LqP is well served most places, Madison, the county seat, does not have Fiber to the Home. Because they were considered “served” in 2009, they were not part of the original grant. They are actively seeking options for better broadband.

Chisholm and Balkan Township get Blandin grants for wifi on buses, community portal, community hotspots

Hibbing Daily Tribune reports on recent Blandin broadband grant recipients…

Chisholm and Balkan Township are among the recipients. The two communities have been identified as being largely underserved by broadband access of 25 megabits per second upload and 3 megabits per second download, according to a press release.

The projects include:

• Wi-fi on buses: Chisholm School District will equip two school buses with wi-fi, especially for students on the longest routes, who live most remotely and participate in special activities, to complete homework.

• Community website/portal: Created to be the “go to” online hub for Chisholm, consisting of an interactive community calendar, links to community resources for residents, tourists and potential business developers.

• Hot spots: equipment will be placed at high-volume areas in the community currently lacking strong connectivity.

• iPad/Hotspot check out: equipment will be made available for checkout at the Chisholm Public Library for two-week installments.

The Chisholm Community Foundation (CCF) has awarded a matching grant to help bring these projects to fruition.

IRRRB Commissioner Mark Phillips said addressing broadband in unserved and underserved areas of northeastern Minnesota is a top priority for the region’s residents, businesses, schools and local units of government — especially in rural areas.

“We’re pleased that partnerships such as this between Blandin Foundation, St. Louis County and IRRRB are helping a half dozen communities move forward in implementing creative ideas to increase broadband use and to promote future development,” he stated in a release.

As a precursor to project grants, Chisholm and Balkan Township, in collaboration with Hibbing, Mountain Iron/Buhl and Cherry Township, launched an effort to assess the community’s current broadband access and use. This knowledge will inform current and future project development.

“Today’s rural leaders know that for their communities to reach their fullest potential, they need a strong Internet connection,” said Blandin Foundation President and CEO Dr. Kathleen Annette in the release. “We’re honored to stand with the City of Chisholm and Balkan Township as they pave the path to a broadband-enabled future.”

Wifi on the buses in Moose Lake – usage overrules initial skepticism

The Blandin Foundation recently got word on a project they funded. I thought it was worth sharing the view from the frontlines…

This grant enabled Moose Lake School to enhance our goal of providing one to one learning opportunities for our students. At Moose Lake School we give Chromebooks to each student who attends our school. The grant gave us an opportunity to provide WiFi on one bus in the district. When we started the grant I was skeptical whether students would even use the WiFi and I was also met with resistance from our bus drivers who were required to have it on their bus. What I found out was that once the students knew that they had WiFi on the busses the usage shot up to almost 700 MB per month, which was the maximum usage that we were paying for. The resistance from the bus drivers also went away as when they saw  that the students were engaged in work on the bus. The bus drivers were reporting that the students were using their devices consistently on the bus. We used the money specifically for equipment and telephone service to enable the WiFi to work.

We placed the WiFi on the bus with the longest route. Some students ride for one hour on the bus to be picked up and dropped off. We also used that bus on sporting activities that are long rides such as to Grand Marais or other cities.

The grant covered WiFi on busses in in several communities. We found that the project worked best where leadership (Super independents) were involved.

Affordable, uncapped Internet means uncapped potential

Mobile Beacon provides affordable mobile broadband to anchor institutions (schools, libraries, healthcare facilities, nonprofits). They also provide affordable mobile broadband to low income households. They have a Minnesota connection – they have been working with PCs for People. Clients come to PCs for People for affordable refurbished computers and now they can also get low cost subscriptions to Mobile Beacon through a program they jointly call Bridging the Gap. They pay $10-13 per month for uncapped access to 4G LTE.

Mobile Beacon just released a report on the impact of affordable access has on the recipients – or What Affordable, Uncapped Internet Means to Digital Inclusion. Here are the highlights from the report – taking from their key findings.

  • 73% of respondents stated that Bridging the Gap provided their first home internet service.
  • 94% reported they now use the internet daily (with 82% reporting to use it for several hours a day).
  • While only 17% of respondents owned a computer prior to enrolling in Bridging the Gap, 39% obtained a computer at some point during their enrollment.
  • 94% of households whose previous internet service was subject to data caps had access to 8 GB or less of data per month (68% had access to 5 GB or less and 30% had access to 2 GB or less of data per month).
  • 60% of respondents whose previous internet service was subject to a data cap reported difficulty using the service for online classes or homework.
  • 22% said there were online educational activities they were unable to do prior to enrolling in Bridging the Gap due to data caps on their previous service.
  • 94% of parents said having Mobile Beacon’s internet service has helped them better support their child(ren) academically.
  • 54% of parents reported their children spend more than 4 hours per week doing homework online.
  • 95% of all respondents with school-age students reported they can now communicate with their child’s teachers more often since enrolling in Bridging the Gap.
  • Nearly one-third (32%) of respondents reported that an adult in their household is currently taking a continuing education class or attending college.
  • 24% said they started taking daily or weekly online classes after signing up for Mobile Beacon’s internet service through Bridging the Gap.
  • Those reporting to take online classes use a whopping 19 GB more per month on average than those who do not.
  • The median cost-savings for the national Bridging the Gap subscriber base is $110,646 each month, or $1,327,752 every year!

I’m also including a couple of graphics that hit me – probably because I have three daughters. I can’t imagine dealing with education without broadband. It was fun when they were little to have them ask “what’s a tornado” and find a video. It’s not “fun” – it’s imperative to have access when they want to do homework. It’s imperative to have access when applying for colleges, financial aid or visa for kid going to college in Canada. It’s imperative to have access when someone asks me to help with any math after 9th grade. It’s imperative to have access to set them up for success! I can’t imagine staying on this side of any gap much less closing a gap without broadband.