Minnesota speed tests –spreading to other states and a competition is formed. Time to take a test!

I love a competition in January – from St Paul Winter Carnival Treasure Hunt to beating others states at taking state broadband speed tests. And while I have my Carnival button, just incase I find the medallion first, I’m feeling better about the odds for winning the most speed tests award.

Regular readers will know that GEO Partners have partnered with Minnesota Broadband Coalition to encourage people throughout Minnesota to take the broadband speed tests. Traditional broadband maps have been built largely on broadband provider-supplied data; GEO Partner maps are built on user-supplied data. Well, Kentucky is the latest state to take on the user-focused mapping, largely with the help of the Center for Rural Development.

GEO Partners report in an email…

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman announced today the launch of the Kentucky Broadband Speed Test, a crowd-sourcing project that will gather data from Kentuckians needed to expand internet home access for distance learning, telework and telehealth. Kentuckians can take the free, anonymous speed test from Jan. 19 to Feb. 18 at ewdc.ky.gov/Initiatives/Pages/KBI.aspx.

 

This means four states are using the mapping:

You can see from the map, that Minnesota’s definitely in the running but here are the map stats:

  • Minnesota has mapped 32,171 locations.
  • Washington has mapped 32,307.
  • Kentucky is at 10,984 (as of Sunday)– but they have only been up a few days.
  • Main has mapped 10,083

We’re going to need a burst of energy to get the most mapped!

Kandiyohi County (MN) is looking for more fiber in 2021

West Central Tribune reports…

Connie Schmoll, from the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, hopes 2021 is the year a major broadband project is started in underserved areas of the county. She presented information Tuesday to the Kandiyohi County Board, looking for board support on a potential project that could require financial backing from the county.

Here’s a list form of the various opportunities:

  • survey conducted in Kandiyohi County last year of internet availability and usage showed many were not happy with their internet as the pandemic added significantly to the data being used at homes across the area.
    The good news is there might be fiber broadband expansion on the horizon. Late last year LTD Broadband was one of the winners of the Federal Communications Commission Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction. …
    “They are going to be providing fiber in a large portion of the south part of the county,” Schmoll said.
    While that would reduce the number of underserved households, there would still be pockets of need.
  • There is some positive news on that front. The Federated Telephone Cooperative has been allowed to expand its service area.
    “They are interested in Kandiyohi County, to move into our county, especially the west side and northern area of our county,” Schmoll said. “That was a huge plus.”
  • Schmoll is hoping to bring together a fiber broadband project with at least three rural townships in partnership with Federated, which has said it will provide 25 percent of the project costs.
    A similar project that never quite got off the ground in Dovre, Hamre and St. John’s Townships was estimated to cost close to $4 million and the service provider was only willing to provide 15 percent of the cost.
  • Border to Border Broadband Development Grant from the state, if awarded, could provide up to 50 percent or $5 million toward a project. However, the state Legislature has not yet approved funding for another round of grants for this year, Schmoll said.
  • County Administrator Larry Kleindl said even if every township in the county wanted that $25,000 for a broadband project, the county could financially make it work.

And end with a statement that shows the level of priority in the area…

“The viability of our rural areas is literally at stake here,” said Commissioner Steve Gardner. “I don’t believe that we as a board can afford to be bashful about supporting financially the efforts to bring broadband to all of these underserved areas.”

The Institute for Local Self Reliance highlights the work of Le Sueur County

The Institute for Local Self Reliance highlights the work of Le Sueur County on their road to getting better broadband…

Over the last three years, Le Sueur County, Minnesota has assembled a task force of citizens, local officials, and business leaders which have succeeded in dramatically improving broadband for thousands of residents who previously had poor or no connectivity. In doing so, they’ve also forged relationships, inventoried local resources, and created a model which is likely to see the landscape go from one where nearly all residents in the county were under- or unserved by basic broadband at the beginning of 2018 to one where the vast majority of the community will have access at 100/20 Mbps in the next couple years. And if efforts continue to succeed, it’s possible we might see full fiber coverage in Le Sueur by the end of the decade, making it one of the most connected counties in the state.

They follow the story from start…

Until the middle of the last decade, residents were largely on their own to find solutions. Starting about five years ago, however, things began to change. One Le Sueur resident who had paid individually to bring better Internet access to her home so she could run her small business took the initiative to bring up issue to the county board. Shortly thereafter, a diverse and energetic group came together to form the local broadband task force, including community residents, the IT director for a collection of the town school districts, IT Manager for Le Sueur County Jeff Niesen, local business leaders, the county board, and the county administrator. All agreed that there was a case for better broadband for homes as to drive economic development.

Le Sueur worked on a feasibility study…

Work to improve local connectivity began in 2017, when the county helped secure a $50,000 from the Blandin Foundation to do a feasibility study and look for solutions. At the same time, in 2018 the county put out a broadband survey to get a handle on where service was and wasn’t (for reasons we’ll reiterate until we’re blue in the face or it’s fixed), illustrated in the map to the left where red areas of the county are unserved, purple areas underserved with connections between 25/3 Mbps and 100/20 Mbps, and green areas served by wireline broadband of at least 100/20 Mbps. By 2019 these preliminary endeavors were done, but the county — realizing that tackling the entirety of the $14 million project consisting of 800 miles of fiber in one attempt was unrealistic — approached expanding broadband in a targeted and incremental fashion instead.

That led to a successful MN Border to Border broadband grant…

The first move was to use the feasibility study as the basis for issuing an RFP to partner with local ISPs to apply for a Border to Border Broadband grant operated under the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) program, which in 2019 led to a successful partnership with a local telephone company for a project covering 225-250 homes using 100 miles of fiber in Derrynane (pop. 525) and Lanesburg (pop. 2,100) Townships on the northern end of the county, along with a handful of homes in nearby Montgomery and Lexington townships.

Then reaction to the pandemic…

Le Sueur had no more warning than did any other community in forecasting the current pandemic, but when it hit the local broadband task force kicked into high gear. Three projects were realized to bring better connectivity to the region.

  • The first of these is a partnership with ISP MetroNet using CARES Act funds for a fiber network expansion which has connected about 420 homes (including 59 completely unserved) using 49 miles of fiber in Waterville, Kilkenny, Montgomery, Cordova, Sharon, Lexington, and Kasota.

  • The second project is a partnership with NetWave Broadband to add wireless hardware to seven towers throughout the county in Cleveland, Cordova Township, Kasota Township, Le Center, Montgomery, Tyrone Township, and Waterbill with a rough range of seven to ten miles each to bring service up to 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds out to the remaining 80% of the unconnected.

  • Third and finally, the county has installed free public Wi-Fi access to seven areas around the county, including boat landings, community parks, and campgrounds.

Blandin gets a nod…

You can see the gains made in te last two years in the map to the left, where red areas (unserved) turned purple and purple areas (underserved at <100/20 Mbps) turned green. Le Sueur is a Blandin Broadband Community for 2020-2021, and the county attributes its success over the last three years to the energy brought by local residents and county officials. It seems from the outside that part of their success, also, has been in finding and forging relationships with local and regional ISPs to the benefit of both residents and those companies.

Burnsville not interested in sharing public fiber with private parties

A lot of times, broadband gets built as a public-private partnership. It feeds into the dig once ethos – of put as much fiber as you can info the ground at once. So a public agency might share the “pipe” with a private partner and each gets so many strands of fiber. Dakota County has done a lot of this with the idea that local government can support broadband for end users but through partnerships with private providers, they don’t need to serve the end users. The Dakota Broadband Board (DBB) works on leveraging such opportunities.

It looks like Burnsville is interested in doing things differently. Council Member Dan Gustafson has been the Burnsville seat DBB for two years. But recently the Burnsville City Council voted to replace Gustafson with Council Member Cara Schulz as the council’s representative to the DBB. The reason is because a majority of the Burnsville City Council do not support the public-private sharing of broadband.

The Sun This Week reports

The replacement reflects a long-running policy dispute on the council over the direction of a board formed in 2017 to efficiently manage cities’ individual fiber networks and support broadband expansion.

[Burnsville City Councilmembers] Schulz, Kealey and Workman oppose using excess capacity on the publicly owned “I-net” linking government buildings and utilities as a “C-net” that private Internet service providers can lease.

“Through these partnerships, additional businesses and residents throughout Dakota County can be served, and communities can pursue future economic development opportunities,” the board says on its website.

Burnsville “may be headed off the DBB” because the board is pursuing the C-net, Kealey said during Tuesday’s council meeting. The council’s majority position is “quite different from what it might have been five years ago or four years ago.”

Here’s the view of sharing infrastructure…

In a post-meeting interview, Gustafson said the council originally joined the board — an initiative of the county’s Community Development Agency — knowing that part of its mission was economic development through access to high-speed broadband not uniformly available throughout the county.

C-net lease availability could attract new Internet and content providers to serve residents and businesses and foster competition, Gustafson said.

“The three of them don’t want that to happen,” he said. “They want to keep the incumbents in place.”

The city would collect a lease fee and the community would get better service, he said.

And the view of NOT sharing infrastructure…

In a post-meeting interview, Schulz said federal law is the barrier to competition, and C-net leases paid by private providers would be heavily subsidized because of the public cost of maintaining the fiber network.

Eagan, which didn’t join the county broadband board, lost “millions” on its own C-net, Schulz said.

In the years since the board formed under a joint powers agreement, the county has gained access to other funds it can use to run fiber to areas without high-speed service, she said.

“What we don’t want, is we don’t want the city in competition with businesses to provide something that businesses provide,” Schulz said. “We’re not going to suddenly get into selling clothes, either.”

The C-net was “just an idea that didn’t get done before it was outdated,” Schulz said. The concept is outdated “both in technology and where we’re at with infrastructure,” she said.

EVENTS Jan 13 & 21 : Blandin Broadband “Lunch Bunch” online discussion sessions

An invitation from the Blandin Broadband Team…

The Blandin Community Broadband Program announces a new virtual series for 2021 – the Blandin Broadband Lunch Bunch. Sessions will take place the second and third Wednesdays of the month from noon-1:00 pm.

Sessions will alternate between Broadband Infrastructure (2nd Weds) and Digital Use and Equity (3rd Weds). The idea is to get colleagues in a shared space, introduce a topic, and talk. We learned during the 2020 virtual broadband conference that people really enjoy the opportunity to talk to one another, and we often found that the wisdom is often in the room – even in a Zoom room. Topics will be announced monthly and may include some experts to get the ball rolling.

Here’s what we have for January:

January 13 – Broadband Infrastructure: Everything You Want to Discuss about RDOF

The FCC’s Rural Development Opportunity Fund is a game changer for rural broadband development. Are the pending results of the reverse auction a win, loss or is the game still in play. Come bring your questions, share what you know  and tell the group how the RDOF auction is changing your local broadband strategies.

(Register here – for the first, all, or several of the upcoming Infrastructure sessions.)

January 21 – Digital Use and Equity: Share a success story

Note – this session was originally scheduled for January 20, which is also Inauguration Day. We decided to reschedule to Thursday.

The inaugural Lunch Bunch on Digital Use and Equity is an opportunity to talk turkey with colleagues and cohorts around Minnesota and beyond! Normally there will be a specific (but loose) topic but to get the ball rolling – but for January, planners invite folks from the front lines to share their best stories of success. Please come and brag!

It will give us some good ideas to replicate. It will give us stories to share with legislators. Most of all, it will help set the stage of success for 2021!

(Register here – for the first, all, or several of the upcoming Digital Use & Equity sessions.)

We’re planning on holding Lunch Bunch sessions through June – at least! The monthly topics will be shared on the Blandin on Broadband blog, and in our monthly Broadband e-Newsletter. Links are also available on the Webinars page on our website.

Questions? Contact Mary Magnuson at memagnuson@blandinfoundation.org.

EVENT Feb 17: Data as the Foundation for Broadband Planning

Another great event coming up…

Data as the Foundation for Broadband Planning

The federal government compiles huge broadband datasets cataloguing broadband availability and subscriptions through the US Census Bureau and Federal Communications Commission, among others. These can be augmented with commercially available speed test data to provide a better insight into broadband access and availability. Join BroadbandUSA on February 17, 2021 to gain a fuller understanding of these datasets and how to use data to strengthen your broadband planning efforts.

Wed, Feb 17, 2021 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM CST
Register now!

Tips for marketing your network from Craig Settles

Craig Settles has shared his tips on how to find and get funding for your community network

This isn’t a grant writing guidebook. Rather, this document helps you design a foundation that enables your community to create something great. It gives you valuable tips and recommendations, plus the benefit other communities’ experiences. These pages also reflect lessons learned through many years of hightech marketing.

The guide emphasizes five areas:

  1. Selling the goal is key
  2. Proper previous planning gives proposals an edge
  3. Grab your partner for the digital dance
  4. Broadband & telehealth is a winning combo
  5. Funding beyond the “Usual Suspects”

If you’re looking at trying to sell your network of project in the next year, this document would be helpful in getting you there – especially if you’re new to network funding.

Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Mt. Iron-Buhl

Every year, the Blandin Foundation does an assessment of how the Blandin Broadband Communities projects. Here’s the update from Mt. Iron-Buhl …

The IRBC group in Mountain Iron-Buhl (MIB) was led by the school district. During the first round, several of the team’s projects were school-based, including instillation of Wi-Fi on buses; procuring equipment for a new journalism class and Makerspace classroom; and bringing technology to outdoor classroom opportunities.
Other projects supported by the MIB BBC team included:
• New web-presence for Great Scott Township
• Upgraded technology at the government buildings in Great Scott and Kinney
• Upgraded Wi-Fi at Mt. Iron City Hall, the Library, and other public spaces around town
• Hosted technology breakfasts and technology training classes, and
• Offered marketing audits for area businesses.
During the second round, the MIB BBC team continued with projects to support the use of enhanced technology in the school forest by acquiring twelve GPS units, geocaching container, a weather station, and a community greenhouse. The school aspires to attract even more users of the forest through enhanced environmental learning, and to open up the STEM Lab and technology offerings to the public. The school has sought and received additional funding that will allow instructors to develop curricula, programming and other opportunities for community members to interact with the technology. Participants will learn about graphic design, CAD, web design, video editing and publishing, and engineering. The school also is establishing a community journalism program and opening its journalism program to community members.
Other community-generated projects that received MIB’s BBC support include:
• An upgrade to the Open Y software program and upgraded technology at the Mesabi
YMCA, including offering Wi-Fi throughout the building
• A new app developed for the City of Mountain Iron to provide information to residents
• Improved Wi-Fi at Mountain Iron Community Center
One self-described “direct” result of the work of the MIB BBC team that required no
funding, but did require leadership, was the decision by the Range Area Municipalities
and Schools (RAMS) to create, host, and manage a website to serve as a central
shared location for all of the documents related to broadband projects on the Iron Range, including feasibility studies, public presentations, fact sheets, and media reports. Fulfilling this information management function is a key component of the civic infrastructure necessary to support collective impact, according to Kania and Kramer of FSK and Harvard’s Kennedy School. Claiming and executing ownership of this project undergirds the enhanced role RAMS has begun to play as an advocate for the broadband needs of its members since joining BCBP.

Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Grizzlies (Bois Forte, Cook, Orr)

Every year, the Blandin Foundation does an assessment of how the Blandin Broadband Communities projects. Here’s the update from Grizzlies (Bois Forte, Cook, Orr)…

North Woods School is home of the Grizzlies; and was opened in 2012 when the schools in Cook, Orr and Bois Forte were consolidated — which is how “Grizzlies” became the name for the IRBC effort within the school district’s boundaries.
Broadband access and use are both key concerns for this sparsely populated area. The region’s long-standing efforts to partner with existing providers began to pay off in 2020 when Bois Forte Tribal Government received Border-to-Border Broadband grant funding to connect ten unserved and 468 underserved locations throughout four sectors of the Bois Forte Reservation (details on page 41).
Other first round projects that address both access and use included adding public hotspots to the Cook Library and the Orr Center; upgrading computer labs in Nett Lake, the Orr Center, and at the Cook Library; purchasing five mobile hotspots for checkout at the Cook Library; and hosting a wide variety of technology trainings throughout the three communities.
For the second round, the Grizzlies are continuing with adult education classes and technology support at the Orr Center and the Cook Library, and will expand on the QuickBooks training classes that were offered to small business owners during round one. A project emerged in spring of 2020 to help at-risk residents with social distancing by helping the local grocery store set-up an online ordering system.
The Bois Forte Reservation acknowledges that its heritage, language, and culture are at risk. To help preserve and document for future generations existing cultural knowledge and practices the tribe will use second round project funds to establish a video creation, collection and archiving program of culturally relevant materials.
Finally, when looking at project ideas to unite the three communities that now share a school, the IRBC team agreed that creating a sports blog and website would fulfill that goal. Students and community members will help design and contribute content to the site, which will include a journalism education component. Plans for the site include
development of video and radio broadcasting capability through Bois Forte Reservation’s KBFT Radio. A related but separate project extended the school’s Wi-Fi to the athletic fields surrounding the building.

 

Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Ely

Every year, the Blandin Foundation does an assessment of how the Blandin Broadband Communities projects. Here’s the update from Ely …

Ely completed a variety of projects during the first round of IRBC work, including: a feasibility study of better connectivity throughout the school district; opening of a thriving coworking space, ”Ten Below”; creation of a showcase regional marketing website, the Elyite; support to local businesses and entrepreneurs through technology and social media consulting, training, and meetups; and a broadband use and business development survey to support community efforts to recruit better broadband services.
The second round of projects developed by the Ely BBC team leverage the power of the
internet as an engine of economic development and quality of life. They include creating a complete Google Local Listings on behalf of all businesses in Ely, which will make those businesses more visible online. Ten Below coworking space will facilitate free professional development “skillshares” workshops for local business owners on leveraging the power of the internet and social media to drive engagement and sales year-round, which were ultimately delivered via Zoom.
Hak Ely will utilize the Meetup.com event-marketing and scheduling platform to allow
organizations to input their own events into a shared marketing platform. Proximity marketing is another fun way to engage park visitors and generate greater awareness about scheduled events and activities; Bluetooth enabled beacons will push notifications to visitors’ devices. A video series will further engage residents, visitors, and potential visitors by highlighting stories of the unique characters found within the community.
The Ely team considers Ten Below a successful pilot. As of March of 2020, they had 77 members and were looking into larger spaces. However, as a non-essential service, they were forced to close just as the need intensified. Once the COVID situation improves, they hope to start up again.
The arts are a major asset in Ely, and another project will create an internet based directory that will link artists, art consumers, and materials providers in an easy-to-access and maintain website.

Looking at what’s been going on: Treehouse broadband, our downtown fiber loop with our feasibility study done by Design Nine, the funding made available through IRRRB, all of these things are coming together and I think we’ll be way farther ahead at the end of this than we would ever would have been without this help from Blandin, and being a Blandin Broadband Community. On behalf of the council and the city I thank you guys for the assistance you gave us. We’re going to keep forging ahead and with the help of Eva and Richard and the rest of our team there is going to be a lot of exciting things, I can guarantee, that are going to come out of this.
– Harold Langowski, Ely City Administrator

Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Chisholm

Every year, the Blandin Foundation does an assessment of how the Blandin Broadband Communities projects. Here’s the update from Chisholm…

During its first round as a BBC, the Chisholm team supported projects to fund Wi-Fi on two school buses; develop a community website/portal; create Wi-Fi hotspots at the Chisholm Public Library, Balkan Community Center, and the Lake Street Pocket Park; make ten mobile hot spots available for check-out at the public library; offer computer training programs, and provide device training to older adults. The team also helped the Minnesota Discovery Center upgrade the facility’s internet connection and improve Wi-Fi throughout the building and grounds. The team continues to explore the idea of opening a coworking/business center in town.
The BBC team in Chisholm underwent a leadership change between the first and second rounds of BBC grant funding. ReGen, a nonprofit organization of young Iron Rangers, took over project leadership from Chisholm EDA. They continued work from the first round through support of a new Balkan Township website, and increased marketing for the Chisholm55719.com web portal. Additional projects include:
• The Chisholm Schools Wi-Fi hotspot project will allow the schools to acquire 100 mobile internet hotspots to address the needs of the 100 (out of 535) school-age who lack internet access at home. Students will be able to check out the hotspots for two-week intervals.
• Minnesota Discovery Center’s Distance Learning program will fund the purchase of
distance learning equipment and curriculum development staff can use to conduct
online educational field trips. This will expand the outreach capacity of the center and
increase the visibility of the region.
• Individualized 1:1 professional technology and digital marketing consulting for ten local
businesses and nonprofits.

Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Aitkin County

Every year, the Blandin Foundation does an assessment of how the Blandin Broadband Communities projects. Here’s the update from Aitkin County…

Aitkin County invested most of its first round of IRBC grant funds on improving broadband access in this very poorly served county. These investments included upgrading satellite internet service to Long Lake Conservation Center, acquiring library mobile hotspots for check out, installing Wi-Fi on buses, and equipping public meeting centers with internet, computers and other technology tools.
The public meeting centers established with round one funding have seen considerable use, so with the second grant round the Aitkin BBC team is investing in additional technology upgrades for those centers, and in the spring of 2020 invested in Zoom accounts and training. They have continued their focus on public access by funding the establishment of a Wi-Fi hotspot at the Jacobson Community Center, the first public hotspot in the town.
The team also has invested in a fiber connection build to Long Lake Conservation Center, finally bringing to the environmental learning center the future proof technology solution it needs to support program delivery across its large and wooded campus. The COVID-19 pandemic increased the importance of this project when LLCC shut down to in person visitors but was able to use the new fiber connection to offer online outreach.
Lastly, the county is working with Riverwood Healthcare Center to increase MyChart usage amongst patients and caregivers to improve patient outcomes and give them a greater feeling of ownership over their health and treatment options.

Thank god for broadband in Aitkin County! Honestly, we’ve really relied on virtual medicine and we’ve served over 900
people in the first few weeks. We’ve been able to serve over 900 people with virtual appointments, and if it wasn’t for
broadband that, obviously, wouldn’t be possible.
– Liz Dean, Riverwood Healthcare System

Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Tower Economic Development Authority

Every year, the Blandin Foundation does an assessment of how the Blandin Broadband Communities projects. Here’s the update from Tower Economic Development Authority …

In developing its 2025 Vision Plan, the City of Tower recognized the need for better broadband. In their application to Blandin they wrote: “Our area has been anxiously awaiting more technological growth for quite some time. To be able to entice more businesses, families, and tourism with world-class internet access would give us the edge we need to grow and sustain our local economies.”
With their unique way of life and remoteness, the City of Tower needs access to broadband to be able to promote a “work anywhere” lifestyle, retain residents and attract potential newcomers. To explore options, the Tower BBC team obtained support from local units of government to participate in a Feasibility Study project along with the East Range and Laurentian Chamber BBCs. The City also upgraded their website to improve the look and feel, and to share information about services and opportunities.
Increasing their own knowledge and educating residents about the importance of broadband was another key activity for the BBC team. They also implemented projects to install public Wi-Fi at Hoo Doo Point Campground, and at the Tower Depot and Farmer’s Market. Internet at the Farmer’s Market will allow vendors to use their mobile devices to take credit card payment, thus improving their sales while allowing visitors internet access in the public space around the Depot.
To improve the quality of tech education and training available in local schools the Tower BBC team supported projects in the two local schools:
• Tower Soudan elementary received funds for a mobile computer lab and AV equipment for their media center. The mobile lab will allow more classes to incorporate computers in teaching and learning. The community hadn’t had access to a computer lab or AV equipment previously, and this equipment will be available to them when school isn’t in session.
• Vermilion Country School (VCS) will receive support to increase and improve the use of Smartboards in classrooms and to create a computer lab. The lab will be used by VCS students and families, as an internet café for AEOA Senior Dining clients, and as a
training venue Tower Soudan Community Ed classes. VCS will also create an interactive field trip and music lab. This space will allow for increased online curriculum, and receive online music instruction, and be available for other community members
outside of school hours.

Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Laurentian Chamber of Commerce

Every year, the Blandin Foundation does an assessment of how the Blandin Broadband Communities projects. Here’s the update from Laurentian Chamber of Commerce…

The Laurentian Chamber promotes business through education and advocacy to advance the prosperity of the service area, which includes the Quad Cities of Eveleth,
Gilbert, Mountain Iron, and Virginia. The Chamber has identified broadband as critical for economic vitality, civic engagement, and enhanced quality of life and place in the
region. The Laurentian Chamber’s service area struggles with some of the poorest internet in the state.
To address this challenge, they have joined with fellow Iron Range Broadband Communities of East Range and Tower to conduct a joint feasibility study of options for expanding affordable broadband services across their region (details on page 33).
While most projects implemented by the Laurentian Chamber have a business or workforce focus, some cross sectors. Recognizing the paucity of free public Wi-Fi availability in the Quad Cities area, the Laurentian BBC team set out to create more safe places for residents and visitors to access the internet. Better Wi-Fi was installed at the Gilbert Campground, and in three downtown areas in Gilbert. Eveleth, Gilbert and Virginia school districts were funded to install Wi-Fi on school buses allowing students to do homework on long bus rides.

To address their goal of improved profitability for local businesses through enhanced tech literacy and sophistication of use, the Laurentian Chamber BBC team decided to implement a digital marketing and tech audit program modeled on efforts that have delivered great results in other BBCs. Ten area small businesses were selected to receive professional consulting services from Northeast Minnesota Small Business Development Center. These businesses received one-one-one tech advice on topics
that concerned them most — from websites, to POS systems, to social media use along with an actionable report — and included recommendations for next steps, along with up to $1,500 of additional investment in technology or marketing to implement those recommendations.
Other projects developed and implemented by the Laurentian BBC Team include:
• Equipment and technology upgrades to the chamber’s meeting space facilities, enabling the chamber to better serve their members’ training and professional development needs.
• Creation of a virtual interview room at the CareerForce Center to help the region’s
employers attract knowledge workers. The facility will allow job seekers to apply and interview for positions remotely, and can also be used for mock interviews, and other training purposes.
• Installation of an ITV system in the workforce center conference room allowing the center to offer distance learning training content of all kinds. The facility will also be available for public use.
• Creation and promotion of a “Small Business Saturday” mobile app to promote local business. The app will encourage shopping local on Small Business Saturday and throughout the year by enabling push notifications, promoting specials, and giving
customers a resource to find local shopping options.
• Technology upgrades for Rock Ridge Schools including Adobe Creative Cloud software and STEM curriculum for middle schoolers.
• Software training for Mesabi Humane Society staff and volunteers.
• PCs for People mobile internet subscriptions for 75 income-qualified households.

Assessment of Blandin Community Broadband Program: Iron Range Tourism Bureau

Every year, the Blandin Foundation does an assessment of how the Blandin Broadband Communities projects. Here’s the update from Iron Range Tourism Bureau …

The Iron Range Tourism Bureau (IRTB) BBC is the first “community of interest” to participate in the program as a Blandin Broadband Community. IRTB is a tourism association that serves the communities of Hibbing, Chisholm, Buhl, Mountain Iron, Virginia, Eveleth, Fayal Township, Gilbert, Biwabik, Aurora, Embarrass, and
Hoyt Lakes. The IRTB team‘s goal as a BBC was to help small tourism businesses better use the internet and technology to attract new visitors to the area.
Attracting and retaining workforce is a big concern for tourism businesses. To address this challenge the team is implementing two projects in 2020: a “local pride” campaign promoting activities and opportunities available on the Range, and a “talent attraction” microsite targeted at people considering moving to the area.
Another priority for the IRTB BBC was to improve the digital marketing and social media
skills of the region’s tourism businesses through one-on-one trainings, professional design services, and equipment upgrades.
Arts are a great asset throughout the region, but not always very visible to the general
public. IRTB is showcasing the work of area artists and cultural opportunities in the region by creating a digital map. The map will help raise resident and visitor awareness of arts opportunities, increase the audience for cultural events and improve artists’ ability to market their work.

Empowering community members creative expression, while educating the community and potential visitors about life and culture in the region, is the aim of the Stories of the Mesabi project. IRTB will teach people how to create their own documentary about their experience of the region, and their stories will be shared online. A particular emphasis will be placed on diverse experiences.
Another community video and photo project will focus more squarely on tourism with a specific attraction or recreational activity featured monthly online. The Sounds of the Mesabi project will also find a home on IRTBs website. This adventure in sound could include ATV engines, waves on the shore, or mining trucks.

Empowering community members creative expression, while educating the community and potential visitors about life and culture in the region, is the aim of the Stories of the Mesabi project. IRTB will teach people how to create their own documentary about their experience of the region, and their stories will be shared online. A particular emphasis will be placed on diverse experiences.
Another community video and photo project will focus more squarely on tourism with a specific attraction or recreational activity featured monthly online. The Sounds of the Mesabi project will also find a home on IRTBs website. This adventure in sound could include ATV engines, waves on the shore, or mining trucks.