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.

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.”

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.

Home grown technology-spurred innovation: Live.Give.Save – the FitBit for finances

Our friends at Red Wing Ignite are celebrating a local win …

Last week four southern Minnesota entrepreneurs pitched their businesses to judges at the second annual Ignite Cup business competition. The winner, Susan Sorensen Langer, founder of Live.Give.Save., will go on to be an automatic semi-finalist at Minnesota Cup, the nation’s largest startup business competition. Live.Give.Save. is located in Red Wing and is a member of Red Wing Ignite.  The other businesses participating were Thaddeus Medical Systems, How to Babysit and Rad-Path.  The Ignite Cup is a way to encourage southern Minnesota entrepreneurs to take the next step. It is a collaboration of community builders, including Red Wing Ignite, Mayo Clinic Business Accelerator, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF).

Here’s a little bit more about Live.Give.Save …

Live.Give.Save. calls itself the “Fitbit” of personal finance. Its mobile-first technology enables people to spend wisely, save for a secure future and help others in need without changing behavior.  Live.Give.Save seeks to address the problem that 62 percent of Americans don’t have an emergency savings for a $1,000 hospital visit or $500 car repair and the 50 percent of Americans not saving for retirement.

And their take on how valuable it is to have infrastructure around to support good ideas …

“We appreciate the great partnerships which enable events at Red Wing Ignite to take place,” said Pam Bishop, Vice President of Economic Development. “Events like the Ignite Cup and Minnesota Cup greatly benefit our work of economic development; the energy and innovation our region’s entrepreneurs provide are crucial to regional vitality.  “Winning the Ignite Cup, earning a spot as a semi-finalist at the prized MN Cup, blew a big burst of wind in our sails,” said Langer, founder of Live.Give.Save. “The exposure alone is immense. Much like Shark Tank, just being a presenter (at MN Cup) offers tremendous opportunity to connect with much-needed resources. Being part of Red Wing Ignite in 2015 was the best business decision I made.”

Usually when I talk about infrastructure I mean broadband and Red Wing has plenty with the partnership with HBC. But this heads up from Red Wing Ignite is a reminder that ideas aren’t made from broadband alone, Ideas need support with marketing, training, tech support, financial acumen and sometimes just a little cheer leading!