Got community WiFi? Facebook help promote that in the future!

According to VentureBeat, Facebook is testing a feature that will highlight nearby public WiFi hotspots…

Facebook has begun early testing of a feature designed to highlight places where you can access free and public Wi-Fi near you. The social networking company confirmed that its Wi-Fi discovery feature is being rolled out now, though it appears to only be in select countries.

“To help people stay connected to the friends and experiences they care about, we are rolling out a new feature that surfaces open Wi-Fi networks associated with nearby places,” a Facebook spokesperson shared with VentureBeat.

It seems like a feature that would be useful enough (and a way to hone advertising, so profitable to Facebook) to get traction. It also seems like easy marketing for businesses and communities that have hotspots.

Several of the Blandin Broadband Communities have built public hot spots for the community to help people without broadband at home to get access. Many have done clever advertising locally to promote the WiFi and the businesses that host it – this might be a way to spread the word to travelers who might choose to stop based on access.

Maybe it seems like a great idea because tomorrow I’ll be driving home from Chicago – but all things being equal I will always choose a pit stop with WiFi so that my kids can quickly download whatever videos they want and I can upload whatever work I’m doing without pushing our data cap fee to four digits. And part what I save on the data cap gets spent on lunch or treat or headphones or other road trip emergencies.

Nominate a Digital Inclusion Leader for Next Century Cities and Google Fiber Award

As always, I’d love to see Minnesota sweep the awards – and the award is open to non-Next Century Cities too…

Next Century Cities and Google Fiber Announce Digital Inclusion Leadership Competition

2017 Awards Will Recognize Successful City Governments and Programs Bridging the Digital Divide

Pittsburgh, PA (November 18, 2016) – Next Century Cities, a nonprofit membership organization of over 150 mayors and city leaders dedicated to ensuring access to fast, affordable, and reliable broadband internet, today joined with Google Fiber to announce  the Digital Inclusion Leadership Awards program at the National League of Cities’ City Summit in Pittsburgh, PA. The 2017 Digital Inclusion Leadership Awards, first given in 2015, will celebrate city governments who are leading programs or investing in community-based organizations to tackle barriers to internet adoption.

“Approximately 50 million Americans don’t have internet in their homes. Families affected by the digital divide, many of whom are from lower-income neighborhoods, are at a disadvantage when it comes to doing homework, applying for jobs or staying in touch with loved ones,” said Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities. “Whether cities are leading or partnering on programs, city governments have a major role to play in getting residents the digital access and resources they need, and we look forward to celebrating their innovations with the 2017 Digital Inclusion Awards.”

All submissions will be due February 10th and winners will be announced Spring 2017. You can learn more about previous winners and the awards program here.

The 2017 Digital Inclusion Leadership Awards will feature two categories. Two winners will be chosen in each category based on the program’s ability to engage the community by providing digital training, internet access, and hardware at a reasonable cost to a diverse range of participants; an additional entrant in each category will be recognized for a uniquely innovative approach to bridging the digital divide. Award categories include:

  • Leader in Digital Inclusion Best Practices: this award will recognize existing programs with over a year of work in addressing the digital divide.
  • Most Promising New Plan: this award will recognize particularly promising new programs for ensuring digital inclusion in a community.

The winning projects from the inaugural 2015 Digital Inclusion Awards include:

On December 13 at 3:00pm ET, Next Century Cities will be hosting a public webinar to share digital inclusion best practices and offer details of the award application process. Information about the webinar and the awards program can be found on the Next Century Cities website at


Minnesota is Number One for Internet Usage

Entrepreneur Magazine just called out Minnesota as the state with the highest rate of Internet usage…

According to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, you won’t find the most connected people on the coasts, or deep in the heart of Texas, but largely in the Midwest. Just under three-quarters of U.S. households were online in 2015. But the most connected state isn’t located on one of the coasts — it’s in the heart of the Midwest…

In 2015, 83.1 percent of Minnesotans, or 4,307,850 households, used the internet. In 1998, 1,889,017 (then 41.5 percent) households were online.

It’s great to see Minnesota rank highly! However before we drink too much champagne, there are a couple of caveats – they are talking about Internet usage, not necessarily broadband. And they are talking about use anywhere (library, work, coffee shop, school), not necessarily home. We come in third for home access with 76.2 percent, which is good but still Internet access – not necessarily broadband.

That being said, it is nice to see Minnesota at the top of the list and I think it speaks well of the folks doing digital inclusion work in the state and our natural tendency to be well above average!

Red Lake Nation one of first reservations to get a Gig – thanks to Paul Bunyan

Good news for Paul Bunyan Communication – great news for Red Lake, Redby, Little Rock, and Pgigazoneonemah…

The GigaZone Comes to Red Lake, Redby, Little Rock, and Ponemah
Red Lake Nation one of the first reservations in the U.S. to gain access to all-fiber optic Gigabit Internet (Bemidji, MN) (November 14, 2016) – The Red Lake Nation is one of the first Indian Reservations in the country to have access to gigabit Internet speeds over an all-fiber optic network, Paul Bunyan Communications announced today.  Thanks to recent upgrades to the cooperative’s all-fiber optic communications network, more than 2,000 locations across the reservation including Red Lake, Redby, Little Rock, Ponemah and surrounding areas now have access to GigaZone services including Internet speeds up to one gigabit per second.

“This is exciting news for the Red Lake Nation and our tribal members! Having access to fiber Internet services is vital to our rural economy and impacts so many aspects of life.  To start a new business, find a good job, or get a high quality education you need a quality high-speed Internet connection. The GigaZone is on the cutting edge of technology and enhances the Red Lake Nation’s unique assets, including a large workforce and the Red Lake Nation College, for economic development and business expansion. We’re excited about the positive impact this will have on our Tribe now and well into the future,” said Darrell Seki, Sr., Red Lake Tribal Chairman.

“It’s a big day for our cooperative and the Red Lake Nation.  We’ve always been committed to offering our region the best possible communication services.  When we were formed 65 years ago, that meant providing telephone services in areas no other provider would serve.  Today it means delivering advanced data capabilities and Internet services to our members which are unsurpassed by any region or any other provider in the country – regardless of size or location.  The GigaZone will not only provide the capacity to handle current communication technologies quickly and efficiently, it will also meet the increasing demands of the next generation of innovations,” said Gary Johnson, Paul Bunyan Communications CEO/General Manager.

Paul Bunyan Communications’ GigaZone is currently available to more than 23,900 locations across north-central Minnesota and continues to expand, making it one of the largest gigabit fiber networks in the country.

Paul Bunyan Communications recently mailed out information to the new locations that are now in the GigaZone and the cooperative has an online map available at showing the active areas of the GigaZone as well as those areas that will be constructed/upgraded in the future.

GigaZone service options include unprecedented fiber optic Internet speeds of up to 1000 Mbps – a Gigabit.  Members who subscribe to GigaZone Internet can also add PBTV Fusion digital television service and/or low cost unlimited long distance service and a variety of other services offered by the cooperative.

Most current wireless routers cannot support blazing GigaZone Internet speeds.  To help, the cooperative is offering GigaZone Integrated Wi-Fi that uses the latest in advanced Wi-Fi technologies to maximize the in-home wireless experience. This service is free to all new GigaZone customers for the first six months, with a minimal charge thereafter.

Paul Bunyan Communications has the region’s largest and fastest all fiber optic network with over 5,000 square miles throughout most of Beltrami County and portions of Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Koochiching, and St. Louis Counties.  The Cooperative provides Broadband High Speed Internet Service up to a Gigabit per second, digital and high definition television services, Smart Home services, digital voice services, and more.   Service availability depends upon location, some restrictions may apply.

Carlton County has foresight for a more connected future

Pleased to share a letter to the editor from Blandin President and CEO Kathy Annette in the Pine Journal...

Recently a team from Blandin Foundation was in Moose Lake to celebrate the wrap-up of our partnership with Carlton County through the Blandin Broadband Communities program. What we saw was impressive: a diverse group of dedicated broadband champions working together to make their communities better.

Over the past 18 months, Carlton County’s Broadband Steering Committee assessed community technology strengths and gaps, brainstormed ideas, and identified ambitious goals: increase free internet sites in rural areas, promote telehealth and telework, market their communities to retain/attract technology opportunities, and increase access to devices and the use of technology in Carlton County, particularly by students.

Much of the efforts of Carlton County’s Broadband Steering Committee have been focused on increasing access to the internet for all county residents. The committee worked with PCs for People to distribute refurbished laptops to community members in need. They increased the number of Chromebooks available for use by students in the schools and have implemented wi-fi on activity busses. The Broadband Steering Committee also supported efforts by libraries in the county to procure hotspot devices for check-out and offer community education classes to teach people how to use devices.

Local leadership matters. Blandin Foundation commends all Carlton County residents who contributed to the work of the county’s Broadband Steering Committee, and in particular Brenda Nyberg and Connie Christenson, for their vision and dedication to a more connected community with opportunity for all.

Kathy Annette

Otter Tail County recognizes they are behind in broadband

The Perham Focus recently wrote about the lack of broadband in Otter Tail County…

The county has some catching up to do. Currently, Otter Tail is the fourth-worst in the state when it comes to fixed, non-mobile broadband internet service speeds, ranking 84th out of Minnesota’s 87 counties.

Only 1.75 percent of households and businesses in Otter Tail County have access to a broadband service provider that offers download speeds of 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) or better, and upload speeds of at least 20 Mbps.

They heard about State broadband goals from Jane Leonard…

By the year 2022, she said, Minnesota wants to be among the top five states in the nation in terms of available internet access and speeds. Within 10 years, state leaders want 80 percent of Minnesota households and businesses to have access to at least one provider of broadband internet that offers speeds of 100/20 Mbps or better.

And spoke to at least one local provider…

In an email to the Focus, sources at Arvig said these broadband goals are realistic and possible, but are also “very expensive to accomplish,” and funds allocated by the state to meet the goals “don’t come close to covering the costs of making it a reality.”

Arvig, based in Perham, is one of Otter Tail County’s major broadband providers, serving about one-third of households and businesses throughout the county. Currently, the company is capable of providing broadband speeds of 100/20 Mbps to 20 percent of its service area.

Other broadband providers in the county include Charter Communications, Otter Tail Telcom, Park Region Telephone Company and a handful of others.

Arvig gives a couple reasons why upgrades are a tough business decision without State funding…

With inadequate federal and state funding, Arvig said, “constructing the infrastructure required to provide these types of speeds to a relatively sparsely populated area” gets too costly.

What’s more, most customers aren’t asking for these high speeds.

“We pay close attention to what our customers want and we really don’t see much demand for speeds of 100/20 Mbps in Otter Tail County,” according to the Arvig email, “as evidenced by the fact that 70 percent of our customers remain on the lowest speed package available.”