Border to Border Broadband meeting in Spicer

According to the West Central Tribune there’s a meeting in Spicer to discuss the recent Border to Border broadband grant (next meeting April 4)…

The second in a series of meetings on broadband expansion in northern Kandiyohi County will be at 5 p.m. [yesterday] today at the Dethlefs Center in Spicer.

Representatives of Consolidated Telecommunications Co. will be on hand to explain the project and answer questions. Those who live or do business within the proposed project zone also will have an opportunity to sign up for future services.

Consolidated Telecommunications was awarded a grant earlier this year through the Minnesota Office of Broadband Technology to bring high-speed internet to unserved rural neighborhoods in north central Kandiyohi County.

They were talking what they need to happen to help the project succeed…

Connie Schmoll, business development specialist for the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, said 53 people attended the first meeting, which was held Monday evening.

Consolidated Telecommunications Co. needs at least half of the potential customer base within the target area to become subscribers in order to make the project financially feasible. Because of the state grant funds, those who sign up during the project deployment will not be charged installation fees, Schmoll said.

Monthly fees are competitive with services offered by other local carriers. Bundles that include landline telephone service and TV also will be offered if there’s enough interest.

A final informational meeting with CTC will be held at 5 p.m. April 4 at the Dethlefs Center in Spicer.

Boreal Corps Goes to the Minnesota State Capitol! A guest post from sixth grader Sammie Garrity

I am pleased to share Sammie Garrity’s notes from last week’s Broadband Day on the Hill. I met Sammie briefly at the event. She’s very bright and did a great job speaking at the press conference at the event. That’s all I’ll say as she tells the story herself below – and does a great job!

Boreal Corps At the Capitol’s Broadband Day On The Hill

By Sammie Garrity, Boreal Corps Editor
Grade 6, Great Expectations School, Grand Marais
Last updated: Saturday March 18, 6:59 a.m.

ST. PAUL, March 15, 2017 – Fast wireless connections and highspeed internet are modern services many people take for granted—we do in Cook County because we have broadband installed. But we’re unusual. Actually, most people in Minnesota do not have broadband (see slide show map above) or internet service they consider fast or reliable.

That was the point made over and over Wednesday at the Minnesota State Capitol during the state’s first-ever workshop focused on finding solutions to providing world-class internet service to everyone in Minnesota, no matter where they live, big city or “middle of nowhere,” as several panelists gave as an address. It was called “Broadband Day on the Hill,” sponsored by the Minnesota Broadband Coalition. ​

At right: Cook County residents at the Capitol in St. Paul. Danna McKenzie of Grand Marais, executive director of the Office of Broadband Development, walks through the Senate tunnels to the March 15 broadband hearing room with Boreal Corps Editor Sammie Garrity of Lutsen.


Minnesotans are divided on the answer. But some at the March 15 workshop thought a simple 50-50-50 formula is best:

·50mb download

·50mb upload

·For $50 a month

·​No data caps

Not Just Nice, Necessary
The problem of access to good internet service is especially bad in rural Minnesota. As  State Senator Thomas Bakk (DFL-Cook) put it: “These metro kids have such an advantage over rural kids with the internet resources they have.” Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith agreed. In the opening meeting she said, “It’s a matter of fundamental fairness. Highspeed, reliable internet is not just nice to have, it’s necessary.”

All sorts of people are affected by slow data speeds and limited bandwidth, according to panelists. There is a:

·graphic designer in Ely whose job suffered because she couldn’t upload large design files to clients

· a resident of Chisholm who considered moving because it was too frustrating to do her hobby of online gaming with slow internet connections

· a doctor who had to sit in his car outside of a McDonald’s to connect to the restaurant’s internet to read medical journals

·kids near Warroad who Lt. Gov. Smith said stayed on the school bus even after it reached their bus stop because it had wireless, which they needed to finish their homework because their homes didn’t have internet. “Imagine if kids in Edina or Eden Prairie had to stay on a bus to finish their homework…It’s just not fair,” she said.
Why Boreal Corps?
As editor of Boreal Corps, (the new kids’ digital media team of, I was invited to talk on a panel to explain how Cook County kids in grades 4-12 are using a new Blandin Broadband Innovation Grant that just received to actually create a newspaper: we use broadband to be creative and to connect our community.

​This is a new message for legislators to hear – how kids really can do important work with the internet. We’re not just all about social media, playing games or listening to music. In the language of Wednesday’s Broadband on the Hill, we’re about “uploads.” Boreal Corps kids make stories and art that we upload to the internet. The internet serves our stories and art back in “downloads” to readers. We do this by using our imaginations, education, curiosity and digital media skills we are learning at We are not just “downloaders” playing games or watching videos and Snapchats that other people make.

When I visited The Capitol, mostly everybody had the same thing to say: “We need internet and broadband for our work, and ourselves and for our kids’ education.”  Some noticed a regular dip in service at around 3 p.m. when kids got home from school and everyone jumped on the internet and there wasn’t enough bandwidth to support all that use.

Fixing the Problem
Legislators in Minnesota are trying to fix this problem. One bill was introduced asking for $100 MILLION to make sure every community has the fiber optic cable and other systems needed to support highspeed internet connections like ours in Cook County. But legislators said it’s a hard problem because there are so many competing needs in the state for money. Sen. Bakk put it this way: “There is not a very good solution to the problem— there is a huge fight about how to meet the needs of the un-served and the underserved.” Rep. Rob Ecklund agreed, and said many people are working on a solution.

“No Bar” Lake
The realistic dollar amount of what broadband projects are probably going to get is, $30 MILLION in each of two years, 2018 and 2019 (total of $60 MILLION). That’s what Danna Mackenzie wanted, so a total of $60 MILLION in two years. To that, I say, “YOU GO GIRL!!!” And same to everyone else helping. All of them want “border to border” broadband internet in Minnesota as a way of giving everyone a fair chance to be connected.

At the meetings, wireless and fiber optics and copper cable were all debatable subjects. Some people said wireless won’t ever work well in northern Minnesota communities like Cook County where all the things we love are in the way of reliable wireless signals– hills, trees, lakes, rivers, rock cliffs, snow.

One woman who lives on Bar Lake said they call it “No Bar Lake” because their internet service is so weak. “Clear line of sight is everything,” she said.

One question came up that really struck me as interesting: “How can we encourage private investment in rural communities?” A panelist answered this question with a statement he had made before in the conference:  “In 30 days something incredible in going to be available with Minnesota internet.” He also said lawmakers should give higher priority to businesses that use broadband to demonstrate and promote economic development.

Kids Should Visit the Capitol
​When I met with Sen. Bakk (District 03) and Rep. Ecklund (District 3A), Mr. Bakk told a story of the time when 125 sixth graders came to the Capitol and sat in on some sessions. At the time, lawmakers were passing a bill to make fourth of July sparklers legal. Mr. Bakk was standing in the middle of the Rotunda when he asked the kids, “How many of you have held a sparkler before?”

​He said that every hand went up.

He then proceeded to tell them, “Then you all broke the law! Until now, lighting sparklers were illegal in Minnesota.”

He recalled that a little girl raised her hand and asked, “Have you ever broken the law?”

Learn more! More to come soon at!  Also, we just got a shout out from an organization called Growth & Justice. Thanks G&J! They are working on fairness in internet access at the legislature by urging improving broadband service for all Minnesotans–you can read download their priorities at the Capitol below.

Kandiyohi County & CTC get started on their Border to Border project

The West Central Tribune reports on a fantastic way to start a Border to Border Project…

A series of “meet and greets” will be held over the next three weeks for residents and businesses within the proposed service zone of a broadband project by Consolidated Telecommunications Co.

The meetings are scheduled for this coming Monday; Thursday, March 23; and April 4. All three will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the Dethlefs Senior Center in Spicer.

The sessions will be an opportunity for residents to meet representatives of Consolidated Telecommunications Co., ask questions and sign up for future broadband services.

Those who aren’t sure whether their home or business is within the proposed project area may go to the company’s website at www.connectctc.comand enter their street address and zip code.

Kandiyohi County residents who live or own a business outside the project zone are also encouraged to attend. Their input will help Consolidated Telecommunications gauge local interest in future broadband expansion projects.

So smart to get the community involved at the onset. AND I want to highlight the door that has opened because of the grant. They are inviting others to come to help decide where to go next.

National Digital Inclusion Conference unveils wealth of resources in the Twin Cities


The National Digital Inclusion Conference is coming to St Paul, Minnesota this May (16-17). We couldn’t be more excited! We look forward to great conversion, new people and experts from around the country. We also look forward to showing off some of our local digital inclusion efforts.

I am on the conference planning committee and leading up the charge to pick the best of best that logistically fit into one of the three tours we’re planning. First step was gathering the list of possibilities, which I wanted to share to help you all get a little excited too. We can’t visit them all but it will give you a flavor of what might pop up…

In Downtown St Paul

  • St Paul Library’s Innovation Lab is a mini-maker space for adults. It includes tablets, a sewing machine, a recording studio and more. You can smell the newness of it too.
  • The Minnesota Science Museum is great for all ages. It offers a host of hands-on computer classes and they have a whole center focused on leadership and STEM programs for underserved youth.
  • Genesys Works offers technology training to high school students, matches it with meaningful (and paid!) internships to build relationship with local employers. What a great way to get a foot in the door.
  • Right Track is a training and internship matchmaking services. The train youth (14-21), help them find jobs (or help local employers find motivated workers) and work with both to make sure the match is successful.
  • Comcast is just across the Mississippi River from Downtown. They offer reduced rate broadband access to low income households but they also sponsor and support a number of local digital inclusion efforts.
  • The Lac qui Parle County Computer Commuter will be driving three plus hours from the west to show us the how they rehabbed a bus for mobile training. The Computer Commuter usually travels from rural town to rural town with computers and a mobile network – like a bookmobile gone digital.


  • PCs for People refurbishes donated computers and sells them at affordable prices to low income households. They also provide affordable tech support when you need it. A real bonus to a new computer user.
  • SPNN (St Paul Neighborhood Network) is the local public access network. They host AmeriCorps workers for their Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) program. They find ways for they to help youth and adults use technology to better access social, civic, educational and economic opportunities. You can see their fingerprints doing good all around town.
  • Hubbs Center is an Adult Basic Education center and part of St Paul Public School system. They teach a range of classes including GED preparation in multiple languages. They have distance learning options.
  • Rondo Library is home to many digital inclusion programs including classes ranging from digital life skills to building a website. They have computers that are set up with assistive technology for people of all abilities and they have homework help.
  • MN Literacy Council teaches a wide range of literacy skills, including technology literacy. They also lead advocacy efforts.
  • SPNN (St Paul Neighborhood Network) is a public access and community communication  nonprofit. Among other things, they sponsor the Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP), which matches AmeriCorps members with community-based organizations. You can see their fingerprints doing good around the Cities.
  • The Independent Filmmaker Project is an SPNN project that supports filmmakers – from training to help marketing to grants. They work with folks of all ages, especially youth.


  • Best Buy is a retail consumer electronics corporation headquartered in the Twin Cities. They are very supportive of many local Digital Inclusion efforts, including SPNN, Reve Academy, Boys & Girls Clubs and more.
  • UROC (Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center) connects the University of Minnesota with urban communities to advance learning and work on solutions to critical issues. Programs are patron-focused and include Metro Food Access Network to 4H, Lao Assistance center, Digital Storytelling and Youth Empowerment and many others.
  • Teen Tech Center at Hennepin County Central Library has Technology and multimedia tools available for music and video production, interactive programming, digital photography, graphic design, and much more.
  • PPL (Project for Pride in Living) Learning Center focuses on job and skills training for a range of positions. Some courses offer college credit and there are a host of technology classes. (Stipends available for completion of some courses.)
  • Fix IT Clinics are events that happen around Hennepin County. Visitors bring in small household appliances, clothing, electronics, mobile devices and more and receive free guided assistance from volunteers with repair skills to disassemble, troubleshoot and fix their items.
  • Nordeast Makers is a maker space with a wide range of equipment (a huge industrial CNC router, a 4′ x 4′ CNC router, two ultra-precise liquid-cooled laser cutters, high-resolution 3D printers, a vinyl cutter, full woodworking shop, electronics lab, and more) and a membership willing to teach each other to become better makers.

Grants for library white space projects – deadline March 27

It would be great to see some funding come into Minnesota…

“Beyond the Walls” Deadline EXTENDED!
Apply before March 27, 2017
$15,0000 subgrant awards to fund five community TV WhiteSpace projects.
Tens of millions of people in the U.S. rely solely or in part on public libraries to access Internet. Libraries are crucial in connecting communities. With TV WhiteSpace technology people can connect beyond library walls. The “Beyond The Walls” Awards will provide five $15,000 grants to libraries for the most innovative proposals to use TV WhiteSpace (TVWS) technologies to enable new library hotspots in the service of their communities.

Thank you to those who have already submitted proposals. There have been some very strong proposals already, but the door remains open for two more weeks! Spread the word about this opportunity and apply today.

Apply now!

Minnesota Broadband on the Hill Day: 80+ citizens 40+ legislators

More than 80 people joined the Minnesota Broadband Coalition at the Capitol earlier today. It started with a breakfast with Lt Governor Tina Smith, a panel with Legislators and a press conference. I was impressed with the substantive discussion. People want broadband. People need broadband.

Folks were talking about how much money would be available for Border to Border funds. It was nice that there was no discussion on whether or not to fund the fund – just talks about how much. The amount bandied about ranged from $100 million to $30-35 million a year – for two years or even on an ongoing basis. Representative Garofalo announced that there would be a big announcement in 30 days related to broadband – but didn’t give details. We heard stories of great success and stories are great need. It’s really punctuated the point – broadband is a game changer. Communities with broadband thrive and those without it feel the pain.

Legislative Panel

First Part of Press Confernece

*Note we had some interruptions with the live video. We’re not broadcast quality … yet!

After the sessions, rural community members met with their legislators – more than 40 legislators participated. A lot of a good conversation happened.

And starting soon (5:00) there’s a reception at the Rathskller in the basement of the Capitol.

Here are notes from Mark’s Erickson’s portion of the press conference…

Broadband Day on the Hill Remarks

Good morning. Thanks to everyone for coming.

I’m here today to talk about the importance of ultra-high-speed broadband, what challenges RS Fiber had in bringing the project to fruition and to talk about the need for public funding to grow more fiber networks.

There have been several transformative technology changes during the past 150 years. From railroads, to electricity, to radio and TV, computers, medicine and transportation, to name a few, the pace of change has been constant and unrelenting.

The big one in the 20th Century was electricity. When Nicholas Tesla perfected alternating current in the late 1800s, he unwittingly changed the world forever.

But it was the growth of electrical distribution networks to communities and farms in rural America that really provided the fuel for innovation and growth. The electrification of Rural America was a seminal moment in the history of this country.

Today we are challenged to find a way to grow a fiber network with the same potential to lift rural communities from their second class technology status to full partners.

The ten communities and 17 townships in the RS Fiber Cooperative project worked collaboratively to not just find a way to construct a fiber network but to develop new learning opportunities for education, new health care delivery models, new ways for people to live independently longer and to grow new businesses and business opportunities.

The RS Fiber network is the most important economic development and quality of life tool we have today in Renville and Sibley counties.

The fiber to the home and farm network will not just put us on par with our city cousins, it will vault us ahead of larger cities with respect to access to nearly unlimited amounts of bandwidth for years, if not decades, to come.

We had our share of challenges when we started work on the network late in 2008.

We spent the first 18 months talking with our phone and cable providers urging them to work with us to build the network. We even suggested a partnership that would have us pay for the network while allowing them to operate and eventually own it.

Our primary concern wasn’t ownership, it was access.

Interestingly when we decided to move forward as a collaboration of cities and counties we faced very little opposition from our friends and neighbors as we began to educate them.

The story of fiber to the home is easy to tell. The information is overwhelmingly positive.

In more than 100 public presentations, we told an honest and sincere story about how fiber can be a game changer in rural communities. We didn’t disrespect our providers and we acknowledged the risk that comes with building a brand new network that will have to compete with existing networks.

As we told our story, people quickly realized that the real risk in the project was to do nothing.  If we had decided to wait for the providers to affect change, our children might be having the same conversations in 10 years.

And the reason for that isn’t because the providers don’t care about their customers or Rural Minnesota, because they obviously do.

Providers need the financial nudge offered by the State Broadband grant program to be able to maintain their profitability while making the necessary higher cost investment.

The state of Minnesota leads the nation in many respects through its active involvement and financial support for next generation networks.

I have attended scores of broadband conferences across the nation during the past 15 years and talked with literally hundreds of people from many states and I can honestly report most, if not all, are envious of what we are doing here in Minnesota.

The Office of Broadband Technology is an outstanding example of a government agency that works in a very impartial and efficient manner to get the job done. The office needs to be funded.

The state broadband grant program has provided about $65 million to the cause since it was created. We all appreciate the financial support provided by our elected representatives we should be spending more.

We need to fund the fund in an amount that will meet the current demand being shown by rural communities, counties and providers.

I support the $100 million figure put forth by the governor’s Broadband Task Force.

Fiber networks are the electrical networks of the 21st Century.

If we want to truly improve the lives of all Minnesotans, then we need to find a way to construct a Border to Border fiber optic network capable of providing everyone a symmetrical gigabit connection to the Internet and to each other.

Thank you.

Early Bird Registration for Net Inclusion is Ending Soon – in MN on May 16-17

It’s happening in Minnesota. It’s going to sell out. Now is the time to get your tickets for a discount prices (until April 6)…

Hosted by the St. Paul Public Library, Net Inclusion 2017 welcomes digital inclusion community practitioners, advocates, academics, Internet service providers, policymakers and entities reliant upon online access and digital skills of their clients/users. The conference agenda is being finalized now, and will include sessions on:

·  Local, State and Federal Policies

·  Current and Potential Sources of Financial and Programmatic Support

·  New Strategies & Best Practices for Digital Inclusion

A wide range of speakers, stakeholders and participants from across industries and across the country will be in attendance. Come be a part of the community, and help define the future of digital inclusion!

May 16-17 in St Paul – register now!