Koochiching County Chat: Broadband helps deal with COVID when affordable

Looking at the map from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD), Koochiching County is looks unserved, but 68.8 percent of the population has access to speeds of at least 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up. On the ground that means if you are in International Fall, you are served but get just three miles away and folks report they have trouble streaming Netflix. Fortunately most folks do live in town but for those who don’t there are some barriers. Affordability is another barrier exacerbated by COVID.

Koochiching County has been working on getting better broadband for a while. They are well organized and engaged through Koochiching Technology Initiative (KTI); they are a Blandin Broadband Community. They have done innovative work in providing access in the homeless shelters. They have been active in getting residents to take the statewide speed test. Last year, Paul Bunyan Telephone was awarded a Border to Border grant that will help deploy FTTH to about half of the currently unserved households. But that project competition date is a year from now (2021). So while good news it doesn’t help today.

Today I got to speak with Jim Yount, Isaac Meyer, Ariana Daniel, Derek Foss, Jaci Nagle and Kathy LaFrance – all from social services, healthcare, the county and an IT business. Everyone recognized that broadband was a help; they mentioned that there were “holes in the service” where residents lack broadband access and some areas where cell coverage wasn’t good but that didn’t seem to be the major issue – affordability was. The County is especially concerned with affordability and making sure that access is equitable.

Ariana and Isaac both talked about strides to reach folks on the far end of the digital divide. Ariana is  Executive Director of Servants of Shelter. She noted that at the onset of the pandemic less than 25 percent of their guests had a device aside from their phone. That makes it difficult to go to school, work or fill out necessary paperwork to get assistance. So they have been working to get affordable laptops through KTI. They have also been working on training guests on how to use the devices and making sure they have access while on site.

People experiencing homelessness were especially vulnerable during the strict shut down due to COVID. When libraries closed many lost their connection to broadband, which meant a break in some services and often the loss of social connections. It increased the onus on shelter and housing providers.

Jaci talked about the business of the County. They had two days to shift everyone from onsite to remote work. They did it but it was precarious. They were successful because they were prepared. But such a shift was unchartered water. Same with Derek in the healthcare world. It was thanks to broadband and Webex that they were able to even put together an Emergency COVID Response team. Meeting remotely they were able to assess needs and come up with solutions. The solutions were made more difficult because the access is not ubiquitous. Swaths of the county, especially Western Koochiching are served by satellite only. Also worth nothing, Koochiching is a border county, so not much relief or connectivity coming from the North.

The COVID Response team came up with a mobile emergency network – a redundant network that could be used in a healthcare facility if there was an unexpected outage.

Making healthcare work remotely was not only a healthcare concern, but as Isaac pointed out an economic concern as healthcare is a local industry. Insurance waivers to promote telehealth have been a boon and there are hopes that they will continue even in a post-COVID world to help with mental health especially.

We spoke briefly about local business. It seems to be going well. They have actually seen an increase in new residential recruits to the area from out of state. The beautiful Northwoods and broadband have been a draw.

There are some difficulties now with getting devices and technology tools, but that is not limited to Koochiching. There are also challenges with training, especially with seniors. Koochiching is looking for a COVID-appropriate way to deploy intergenerational learning. (We’d all love to hear that!) They see that more of life has moved online Kootasca Social Services has seen online traffic triple and calls to 211 have also increased. But as Jaci noted, people have also gotten nicer. People are ready to help each other and everyone, most notably policymakers are recognizing the import of broadband, which everyone thinks will help drive resources to improve coverage throughout the county.

Lac qui Parle (LqP) County Chat: Broadband made COVID easier, and boosted interest in adoption

Looking at the map from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD), Lac qui Parle (LqP) County is served. They rank third in terms of county coverage (99.57 percent)  at speeds of at least 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up.

The county is well served because the County and Farmers were awarded a $9.6 million ARRA award in August 2010. Pam Lehmann was the Director of the Economic Development Authority at the time and instrumental in that project. At the same time, they outfitted a small commuter van with computer and internet access. The Computer Commuter. Ten years ago it was all the rage and folks may remember it. It is still making the rounds, mostly helping seniors make better use of technology.

So it was fun to talk to her today about whether broadband has been help or hindrance in dealing with COVID. It’s a help!

Pam works with small businesses and does recruitment for healthcare. The effort to move businesses online has not been difficult. For some businesses it was a matter of choosing a higher tier service than they currently use but is fiber installed so the upgrade is easy.

Having broadband has made it possible for Pam to connect with state and federal funders quickly, which in turn has allowed the community to get COVID funding. What took a few hours to download and process would have taken days before the upgrade. Although as Pam says, it’s hard to remember because they take the connection for granted now.

Many businesses have allowed people to work from home. Business owners note greater productivity this year over last! For Mainstreet businesses, it’s been a matter of getting creative with offering new services – like a lunch to pick up instead of a meal at the café. Knowing that the business and the customer have great broadband has made that easier.

Great broadband has helped with recruitment too. The healthcare facilities have been hiring and have been holding all of the interviews online. It’s not the same as having someone come to town but, especially in the healthcare industry, you don’t want people coming from their hospital to fly to LqP to local hospitals; so adequate broadband for video interactions have been a potential life saver. And one of the big questions is recruitment is how to make the family and partners of employees happy. Increasingly they are finding that the partner of the healthcare professional can keep their old job and work online.

The schools has planned on in-person classes this year but when the middle school had a case of COVID and the high school flooded due to a construction incident, they are now (temporarily) online. They send no paper packs home. They all sign on. At Pam’s place, which is a farm, she has two adults working on laptops, two kids working on Chromebooks and half a dozen devices all going at the same time. No hiccups or slowdowns.

For healthcare it’s the change in reimbursement and other waivers that have made life easier. That and the impetus for many people to just start using Zoom and other technologies. The comfort level for using technology has increased since COVID but the means to use it has not.

Sherburne County Chat: Broadband is OK, not a big hindrance nor a big help with COVID

Looking at the map from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD), Sherburne County is a mixed bag of served, underserved and unserved. They rank 49th in terms of county coverage at speeds of at least 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up.

It’s surprising given their proximity to the Twin Cities but the market has driven deployment, which means densely populated areas are served and other areas aren’t. But in terms of COVID response, they have one advantage and that is good cell coverage (with limited hills), which means you can get households decent coverage with mobile hotspots. But mobile hotspots don’t build for the future.

I met today with Dan Weber and Bruce Messelt from County Administration, County Commissioner Raeanne Danielowski, County Commissioner Tim Dolan, and David Roedel from Public Works. I have to say that these guys are no broadband freshman. They have upperclassmen experience and knowledge. They are acutely aware of the state, federal and industry policies that make things go smoothly and make things hard.

Five years ago the county had a feasibility study done. Subsequently, they have received some MN Broadband grants; they have (or are) taking advantage of opportunities such as the State Telecommuter Forward program and the chance to use CARES funding for broadband. They have seen COVID dramatically increase the need for broadband and it are reignited a fire under the team.

They recognize that broadband deployment has largely been led by the providers and that has left some holes. They are looking for ways to work with providers, such as building out conduit as they do construction to make it easier and cheaper for providers to extend services.

Not only has COVID reignited the interest in deployment but across the county people have experienced forced adoption as schools, jobs and services move online. COVID has accelerated the pace of technology adoption but the acceleration hasn’t been unilateral so the County is still required to provide services online and offline for folks who don’t have technology. It’s a tricky and expensive position.

The move to telework has also been uneven. They are working on managing productivity and equity of/in access. Some jobs are easier to do online; some jobs and more difficult. The county has had success with virtual interviews, visitations and courtrooms. While field social workers are finding that they would like to visit their clients, maybe not always but sometimes. Also, not everyone in a department has access at home, which leads to different workloads based on broadband access, which can create an imbalance that isn’t fair and/or doesn’t produce what needs to get done. They are working on fair solutions that get the job done.

Somewhat related, some folks have access to broadband but choose not to get it or choose lower tier services. Sometimes that’s a budget issue, sometimes it’s a priority issue, sometimes it’s a lack of understanding of needs. Especially for people working for the county, there are questions about who should pay for household connectivity.

They are also learning that while five years ago, they were focused on getting broadband to the businesses, now they are finding that the businesses are often at home. So they are full circle to looking for ubiquitous coverage and realizing that the county/community will need to get involved in a public private partnership if they want to see areas that aren’t economically viable get access.

The good news is that Sherburne is the fastest growing county in population. While there was a slow down in 2008, growth has caught up and new development is happening. Broadband follows new development; and development follows broadband but as growth continues those paths seem to catch up to each other.

Finally, right now schools are using a hybrid model for education for sustained continuity. It offers some wiggle room if COVID numbers increase. But they also have students who elect an distance-only path. So the schools and teacher accommodate them. In the spring they had homes without access and without devices but they were better able provide for those students because mobile hotspots worked for all of the students. That has not been the case for other counties.

It seems like the situation in Sherburne is that everything is OK but it’s not good. The difficulty with that is that it’s easier to let OK go than to let a problem fester. Hotspots work for the students but again, it doesn’t build infrastructure. I think it was Commissioner Dolan who said that 25/3 just isn’t enough anymore. They need to change the metrics, they need to focus on coverage for homes and businesses.

Swift County Chat: Broadband made COVID life easier – except in Appleton

Looking at the map from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD), Swift County is *nearly* green throughout, which means they are *mostly* served with speeds of at least 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up. (In fact the rank fourth for coverage!) There are a couple spots of red and those include Appleton, which is the second largest town in the county after Benson, the county seat.

Swift County is well served because in 2015, Federated Telephone (now Acira) got a $4.9 million MN Broadband grant to bring FTTH to the county. Appleton is not served because at the time they were considered served and did not qualify for the grant-funded upgrade. Today I spoke with Librarian Cindy Hendrickx in Appleton and Amanda Ness, from County Admin not in Appleton. It was two tales of one county!

An important lesson here is that a policy decision made defining served, underserved and served areas years ago has caused the digital divide in Swift county. In the Task Force meeting earlier this week I heard someone say they were hesitant to update the speed goals because so many didn’t reach the lowest goals (25 Mbps up and 3 down) and to move that goal post would mean making it even harder to get to ubiquitous coverage. And while that’s true, keeping the barrier low helps reach the goal, on the frontlines it doesn’t help. Those lower speed goals (because they turn into definitions that impact funding) hold some areas back.

Amanda told a story that will make many readers jealous. She has fiber. When the schools moved to distance education in the spring she had family come from Little Falls to stay with them because they had better broadband. Their home connection served three adults working and four kids going to school.

Her work at the County wasn’t disturbed. Because the county had technology in place and most folks had adequate access at home, they were able to pretty seamlessly move everybody to a home office. It has worked really well for some and they are thinking about remote options even post-COVID. Others found it didn’t suit their work. And a handful scrambled to find the broadband they needed.

Cindy was on the opposite end of the spectrum. The library was closed for five weeks. She and her husband tried to work online from home but they couldn’t work at the same time. For example, if one was on a Zoom call, the other couldn’t check Facebook. To get her work done, Cindy was able to get special dispensation to go to the library. But she had patrons in Appleton who weren’t able to do that – households had issues working and going to school.

The library turned up their Wifi for “remote” patrons. (People probably in the parking lot.) They have a few computers to check out and the school had some hotspots. But they are expensive and cover nine counties, which means they had to choose a mobile provider that worked best but that doesn’t mean it works everywhere. So there are homes where it doesn’t work. There are kids without the devices they need.

During the summer the library was open (and still is) but only half the hours as usual. They did summer programming with outside book club and “make and take” projects that used both digital and traditional media.

Kids in Swift County are in school now. But both Amanda and Cindy expect that could change any time.

We spoke briefly about other sectors. Telehealth has been more prevalent; but not available to everyone. The hospital in Benson apparently set up a room where people could get online to use telehealth applications. Businesses have done what they could with reduced hours. They didn’t know of any restaurants or main street businesses that had closed but it was tough. And there is CARES funding available for small businesses.

It sounds like there are been some real estate inquiries from people looking to move into the area now that they can work online. But they aren’t looking in Appleton. And we talked about the need for human contact, especially for older citizens and how much easier that is to provide safely with broadband.

Rock County chat: broadband made work, school and healthcare seamless during COVID

Looking at the map from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD), Rock County is green throughout, which means they are served with speeds of at least 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up. As Superintendent Todd said, they are like Little House on the Prairie with broadband. And that level of broadband means the pandemic is an inconvenience but not a stopper.

I spoke with librarian Calla Jarvie, Kyle Oldre at the county, Superintendents Todd Holthaus and Craig Oftedahl and Jane Lanphere at the Luverne Chamber of Commerce. I could keep this quick and say I asked if broadband was a help or a hindrance – they said help, dropped mic and left the room. Everyone had heard stories from other counties but in Rock County, they are set.

What’s the difference in Rock County? They have fiber to the home. They ranked number one for county coverage of broadband at speeds of 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up with 99.93 percent having access. They have received two MN Broadband Border to Border grants. [Addition – one grant was for $5 million and they county put in $1 million; the other had a smaller impact on the county becuase they were part of a 20-county middle mile project with an MVTV grant award.] The primary provider is a cooperative, Broadband Alliance, which attendees at the meeting today made sure to call out for their support.

So what does that mean? In Kyle’s house it means that his wife (a media specialist with a local school) and two sons (one home from college and one in high school) could all work online at the same time. They could even stream music while they did it. It really means everyone who could work online (based on their job requirements) could do it from home – no matter where they lived in the county.

The schools had a handful of students without access but that was a device and/or affordability problem. So they worked with the provider to get lower cost access. They worked with a local grant and with PCs for People to make sure everyone had a computer. As most of us will remember in March, schools had two weeks to prepare to move classes online due to the pandemic. That was enough time for Rock County to get the infrastructure ready because the work was minimal – but as someone pointed out, you can’t get fiber to everyone in two weeks.

The schools used Zoom to host classes and Schoology as a Learning Management System. They didn’t need to worry about paper packs for those without access. They are waiting to hear whether they will have class in person, distance or a hybrid – but it sounds like a likely solution will be in-person for grade schoolers and hybrid for high schoolers. They are prepared for the handful of folks who want to opt for online and for any changes in the plan based on COVID changes.

The libraries are open now, but even during the shutdown they were able to offer ebooks and special read-aloud events via Facebook.

Healthcare has moved online, which has been a boon. With changes in policy and reimbursement, nearly everyone has moved to online care. That has opened the door to greater mental healthcare coverage as counselors can now be located anywhere. It has improved privacy and has been a time saving for patients and their loved ones.

Civic engagement has never been easier, as county commission and other meetings have moved online. That makes it easier for citizens and county employees to pop in and see what’s going on.

Local businesses are doing well too. For many businesses it’s just been a matter of moving folks to work from home. For retail and restaurants, it’s been a matter of using online channels to sell and promote their business. Apparently one restaurant has done well promoting take-and-bake meals. And more and more local businesses are using social media.

Broadband has kept folks living facilities, such a nursing homes, in touch with each other and the outside world. It’s been a social lifeline to seniors who have otherwise had strict COVID quarantine rules in place. And that social connection is essential.

Everyone talked about how having sufficient broadband has allowed them to collaborate and innovate. They are living the future! It was fun to talk about the things that we’re glad to see change – like the option to work at home, telehealth and civic engagement. We’d all like schools and restaurants to open but recognize that life can continue seamlessly until they do.

They have had inquiries from potential new residents, including some from the Cities. When you’re top of the chart for broadband, you can attract people from anywhere.

Kanabec County chat: spotty broadband means different COVID experience across the county

Looking at the map from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD), you can see that outside of the town of Mora, Kanabec is awash in pink (unserved) and purple (underserved). And talking to two people who live in town (served) and work with people around the county, I learned what a difference a mile or two can make. I also heard from Karen Onan, she wasn’t able to make the call but I have included her notes to me below. Most notably, telling about a coworker who parks in a cemetery to get enough broadband for remote meeting!

I spoke with Marc Johnson from ECMECC (supports school technology for 14 member school districts) and Realtor Lonnie Less. Again both have good access at home. IN fact Marc noted that he can do everything from home that he could do from the office with the broadband he has. We mused at what we would have done with a pandemic like this before broadband was around.

Unfortunately many of his students are not in the same position. They sent a survey home with kids. Turns out 6-12 percent of students (depending on location) didn’t have access to broadband. BUT when asked if that broadband was sufficient, 20-30 percent said they lacked access. The survey included a question and a link to a speed test. That means while some students worked online; some got paper packets.

The plan this fall is a return to school but Marc noted that 10-15 percent of the students will elect to stay home due to health concerns. And of course they need to be prepares to move to distance education if the COVID situation changes. Marc is working on a digital navigator project, which sounds like a great tool. It is a person who will help students who aren’t connected get connected. Think of it as your techie uncle or niece that you call when you need to know what you can do. SO they will go in and find the best solutions they can.

Lonnie talked about how they managed in his house with kids home from college, kids in younger grades and parents working from home and taking on kids from nearby who didn’t have sufficient access in their homes. So he would pick up a classmate of his kid and let him join the Ness study pod. It’s great to see when that happens but it’s frustrating to see the need.

Lonnie sells homes. He said he’s had enquiries from folks from the Cities looking to move to a quieter neighborhood after some of the civil unrest spurred by the killing of George Floyd. A few folks have already moved. He has a mom who was an x-ray technician, who could work anywhere with broadband. And that’s really the trick, some people are looking to get out of the Cities but they will only move to a house with broadband. They need it for work, school and telehealth.

Broadband will definitely be a help to any community in a position to draw from folks wanting to get away from the Cities due to the pandemic and the civil unrest.

Karen shares her story or have-not, have and almost has again – which involves a decision to move herself…

I can’t imagine what I’d be doing without it.

I moved into the town of Mora Jan. 2018 from where internet was spotty at best  –  about 8 miles NW of Mora. (We/I had an aircard – that was the best we could do). When I moved into town, I was able to get onto Midco’s service. WOW! Great speeds, t.v., streaming, all the bells and whistles! Then when Covid hit in March 2020, we were told that we all had to work from home. Luckily, I had great service and was able to do virtual meetings, handle calls easily… though I did notice those who were not so lucky! One gal who works for another RDC has to go to a cemetery and sit in her car to get service when meetings are held – I’m serious!!

Well, in the midst of all of this, my life made a turn and I desired to move north to the small town of Aitkin. I spoke with my boss and he was fine with me commuting one day a week and teleworking the other 4 (which wouldn’t have been even a thought if Covid hadn’t hit). Before I purchased, I was assured by the Aitkin homeowner that internet was pretty good (CenturyLink). Then I had the good fortune to find out from Marc that because Mille Lacs Energy services this area I would be able to sign up for their upcoming fiber to the home through the B2B funding (yeah!!!) which I have been promised to have by year’s end.

Upon the move in last week, I asked my somewhat techy daughter to hook up the modem/router (?) that I’m renting from CenturyLink (until the fiber comes through). After about 3 hours and after looking at my gnawed fingernails, she assured me that she got it working.

So here I am, happy as a clam in my newly found forever lake home where I can work in my own comfortable space with my dog in the chair next to me, working at 2am if I so please (insomniac), with speeds of 22.46mbps down and 1.57mbps up (ping: 28) that will get me by swimmingly until the whiz bang high speed broadband comes in! I’ve been allowed to create a new life because of adequate internet speeds. I count myself extremely lucky.




Le Sueur County chat: broadband reliability is a hindrance but also spurring optimism

Looking at the map from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD), you can see that Le Sueur County has a lot of unserved places (in pink). They have been working on changing that. In fact, I think Le Sueur (in part) is to credit for doing such an amazing job with their local speed testing that has gone statewide! During the conversation I heard a lot of optimism and frustration. High level – there was frustration with reliability, data caps, access and digital skills. There was optimism with the increased attention broadband was getting because it was important in keeping life as normal as possible (school, work, access to healthcare) during the pandemic. A COVID silver lining, Le Sueur is using CARES funding to improve broadband use.

Thank you to the large group that joined us: Barbara Droher Kline, Shannon Frost, County Commissioner John King, Carl Menk, Ann Traxler, Susan Rynda, Janet Nordstrom, Marlene Johnson and Bill Coleman. They spoke about their work and personal experience – and many have positions to be thinking about the community perspective. Ironically, several attendees had broadband issues getting on the Zoom call, in part because we met during a thunderstorm.

There was frustration is reliability. Someone pointed out that they switched from CenturyLink to Mediacom for the speed but have found the connection to much less reliable. There’s a teacher who had experienced three outages in the last week 2 weeks before school even starts! I heard folks mention reliability more than I do in some other communities.

There’s frustration with limited access. Barbara mention folks with developmental disabilities living in community settings who don’t have sufficient broadband to work. John mentions that broadband has gone from a nice to have to a must-have. Everyone is noticing the need, even veterans that hadn’t felt that way before. Families really noticed this once the schools went online. They tried to support folks without access with hotpots but those don’t work everywhere. So the plan this year is to again have hotposts and also WiFi access in the school parking lot and via van that can go to various areas. Data caps are another frustration, especially for people in the county.

There’s frustration with digital skills. Shannon mentioned in lack of digital skills being a barrier to getting things done in the schools; it starts with the terminology and tech support.

There’s also a lot optimism about the increased awareness and interest in the need for better broadband and even the increased use. Carl and several other attendees brought up the power of being a BBC (Blandin Broadband Community). In fact, Le Sueur is the first COVID community to go through the program, which means where previous communities met in city halls, church basements and coffee shops – Le Sueur met online with Broadband coach Bill Coleman. While they clearly miss the opportunity to interact in person, it sounds like it’s going really well. Ann brought up the opportunity that broadband brings to equality to the community.

The County Commission meetings have gone online. Sue spoke about how healthcare are moved online – thanks to quickly learning and waivers and there’s great hope that the waivers will continue moving forward. Half the staff love it and love the privacy; the other half are struggling. My favorite observation came from Janet, who noted that using broadband because of COVID is better for introverts.

Le Sueur County is looking at using CARES funding to improve broadband use so there is a direct impact. So even if broadband hasn’t been a universal help to handle COVID, COVID has been a help to getting better broadband.

Chisago County chat: broadband has been a help and hindrance in pandemic planning

Looking at the map from the Office of Broadband Development (OBD), you can see that Chisago County has very uneven access to broadband. Many areas (including some of the green area) have fiber to the home; while other areas (in pink) are completely unserved lacking broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps up and 3 down. According to the OBD, 84.34 percent of the county has access to 25/3 or better.

As part of the annual county broadband profiles I’ll be doing later this fall, I am trying to touch base with a few counties to see what it feels like on the frontlines of the county. Big thanks to Nancy Hoffman, Sara Peterson and Dan Omdahl from Chisago County for meeting with me today to talk about their experience – specifically in terms of whether their broadband connections have been a help and a hindrance in pandemic preparation.

Nancy and Sara work for the Housing & Redevelopment Authority – Economic Development Authority (HRA-EDA). Dan works for Boston Scientific. Normally, he would go to the office but has been mainly working from home since the start of COVID. Both Sara and Dan have kids in school.

I was struck immediately when Dan explained that his service “while sounds pretty good” at 25 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up, really wasn’t enough now that his son was on Zoom for classes much of the day while both he and his wife worked from home. I think many people are finding that to be the answer. The MN broadband speed goal is 25/3 by 2022 but COVID has accelerated and exacerbated the need for faster speeds. Dan explains that the asymmetrical was fine when downloading or watching videos was a main activity online but now that people need to work, we need symmetrical connectivity.

Dan also noted that his speeds at home are as good as they are because they are close to the node. Meaning they are near the place where broadband come via fiber into the community and is then redistributed via DSL to the houses. The speeds are greatly reduced based on distance from the node. So a few houses away, they will not see speeds of 25/1. Part of Dan’s frustration is that federal funding (CAF 2) recently went into upgrading the fiber, but that doesn’t help much when the last mile is DSL.

Nancy and Sara are both able to work remotely. They miss the personal contact but the office has recently moved to SharePoint and because they have connectivity at home, devices they need and the office software infrastructure, they can get their jobs done. Their clients, which include many small businesses, are not always as lucky. There has been a push to get businesses to start selling online or moving transactions online when possible but they need the connectivity, skills and devices to make it happen. You can look back to the map to see where that probably works better than other areas. I did some e-marketing consulting with a dozen or so businesses and I know I met in person with two because they did not have adequate broadband to support a Zoom call.

School is another issue. Sara said that it works. Her daughter can get her work done; it’s not best case scenario but it’s working. Dan’s son has missed classes due to outages at their home. Apparently they have been down 9 times since the pandemic hit – only for a couple of hours, but that mans classes get missed. He mentioned that he has neighbors who have been down for much longer.

The community is looking at perhaps opening a satellite local for students (and maybe others) to work. They have hotspots and devices to give to kids who need them but even the hotspots don’t work in all areas of the county. Chisago has been innovative in getting better broadband to the county and they continue to strive for more but for now – it is county with two tales. One story for folks with broadband and a different one for those without. Dan has been working to improve connectivity in Franconia. They did a survey last year and have been following up with people more recently. Turns out they have already heard from people who have moved rather than try to thrive with inadequate broadband.

There were some silver linings. Dan likes not going into the Cities for work every day. Sara likes the efficiency and Nancy notes the cost saving in gas alone.

*I am looking to connect with different counties and tribal communities for similar chats. (Learn more.) Please let me know if you are interested.